Hyundai i20 VS Skoda Fabia
- Cracking exhaust
- Fun rather than ferocious
- A hoot on a track or (we expect) a winding road
- Too soon to properly judge it
- Manual only will deter shoppers
- Lacks the out-and-out punch of bigger hatches
- Looks sporty
- Fun on a good road
- Good ownership prospects
- No paddle-shifters
- Some slow-speed lurch
After we spent what felt like an eternity with the Hyundai i30 N being an only child in Australia, the lauded hot hatch is finally getting a smaller sibling, with the Korean brand confirming the i20 N will debut in Australia next year, likely in the first six months of 2021.
On paper, at least, the city-sized hot hatch promises to deliver the performance thrills of the N brand to a whole new demographic, given its utterly family-proof dimensions and what will obviously be a more affordable price point.
But is it truly worthy of the N badge? We put an early prototype version to the test on the track to find out.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The Skoda Fabia range has been updated and facelifted. You mightn’t be able to tell just by looking at it, but there are broad-reaching adjustments across all models.
We’re in the sporty looking, high-spec Monte Carlo. It isn’t quite a hot hatch - rather, it has the makings of one, but instead makes do with a downsized turbo engine and a dual-clutch auto transmission without paddle-shifters. Shock, horror.
Even if it doesn’t hit the highs of some closely-priced go-fast compact hatches, the Fabia Monte Carlo offers some food for thought in this tough-fought segment.
|Engine Type||1.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
We'll reserve full judgement until we've lived with a production version of the i20 N, but after our short, track-based taste test? We like it a lot.
Fun rather than ferocious, it's the kind of hot hatch you can have an absolute blast in without feeling like you're going to kill yourself or your licence, and you can't help but climb out smiling..
I like the Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo, but I’d have to love it if I was going to own it - especially considering I now live right in the guts of the city. If I still lived up in the Blue Mountains, it would make a bit more sense… but should that be the case for a city car? Arguably not.
Would you buy a Skoda Fabia? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
Again, this more an arbitrary score here, as the only i20 N we've seen to date was dropped in camouflage inside and out.
That said, you can tell from its silhouette that this a wide, hunkered-down hatch, with bulging arches and 18-inch blacked-out alloys, a domed bonnet, and little roof spoiler jutting out from above the rear windscreen.
Hyundai tells us the i20 N will also serve up a new air intake on front bumper, unique side sills, a new radiator grille, and a new rear bumper with a diffuser, as well as new rear lights. You can get the i20 N in seven colours, one of which will be the Performance Blue that's become the signature of the brand.
Inside, Hyundai says you'll find a "high-performance driving space" (whatever that means) with a host of N stuff, like a sports steering wheel and shifter, metal pedals, sport seats up front and blue highlights throughout the interior trimmings.
The redesigned front end of the Skoda Fabia is barely different to the model that preceded it, but trainspotters will note slightly redesigned headlights and a different bumper and grille. Those headlights include integrated LED daytime running lights, and there’s the option of full-scale LED headlights - but you have to pay for them.
In Monte Carlo spec you get sportier bodywork, including a black rear spoiler and black lower body kit, plus black 17-inch wheels with grippier Bridgestone Potenza rubber, and Monte Carlo badges on the B-pillars and door sills. Over lower grade models it also has front fog-lights and LED tail-lights.
There are changes inside the cabin, too, with different seat trim and a flat-bottom steering wheel. Check out the interior pictures to see if it’s to your taste or not.
I think it’s a sporty looking little hatch, with enough design flair to suit its compact dimensions. The Fabia hatch is just 3997mm long (on a 2470mm wheelbase), 1732mm wide and 1467mm tall.
Not particularly practical, to be fair. While Hyundai is yet to confirm the specification details of the i20 N, it is based on the brand's existing city car, so expect similar dimensions here.
It does, though, have four doors, which puts it ahead of some of its hot-hatch competition, and means climbing into the backseat isn't as hard as it could be. Once there, though, you won't be spoiled for space.
For reference, the regular i20 serves up twin cupholders up front, and bottle storage in each of the doors.
That car also stretches some 4035mm in length, 1734mm in width and 1474mm in height. That's enough to squeeze 326 litres (VDA) into the boot, or 1042 litres with the 60:40 split rear seat folded flat.
The cabin of the Fabia is compact. Admittedly, it’s a compact car on the outside too, but while most of Skoda’s other models manage to make you feel like you’re in something larger than you are, the Fabia - aside from its high roof and therefore very good headroom - is a little cramped.
Rear seat legroom and shoulder space is among the worst in the class, for instance - but if you’re not hauling 182cm-tall adults like me around in the back, then that mightn’t matter too much to you.
Youngsters will be comfortable in the back, and there are dual ISOFIX child-seat anchors and three top-tether points as well. Yep, it’s a five-seater.
There are bottle holders in all four doors, and a pair of map pockets on the front seatbacks, too. No cupholders in the rear and no centre armrest, either, and up front the cupholder situation could be better - there are two, but they are shallow and smaller than the standard Keep Cup. But hey, you get an umbrella hidden in the glovebox, and there’s a little rubbish bin in the driver’s front door pocket, too.
The materials used are on the cheaper side, with hard plastics on the doors and dashboard. But there are padded elbow rests on the doors and the small adjustable centre console cubby, and the carbon-look panel that runs across the dash is nice. The cloth seat trim looks great, too.
Boot space is good for the class, with 330 litres of cargo capacity with the rear seats up and 1150L with them down.
Not big enough? You can get a Fabia wagon - and as a Monte Carlo model if you’re completely sold on the look - and in that guise you’ll get a much bigger boot (530L/1395L).
Price and features
This is a tough one to answer, without yet knowing the pricing details. But Hyundai has told us that it will be priced on or around the money for the segment, which should see it land around the early $30k mark.
In terms of exactly what you get for that money, well, that remains to be seen. But here's what we know so far.
Expect 18-inch alloys wrapped in Pirelli rubber, a digital driver's display and a second, central touchscreen that will deliver both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, remote unlocking with push-button start, power windows, and...
Well, that's about all we could glean from our very camouflaged car. But you will also get a whole heap of performance kit, which we'll touch on under the Engine and Transmission section.
For everything else, though, you'll just have to watch this space.
It’s small, has some touches of luxury and sportiness, and is definitely no Toyota Yaris.
So, with an asking price of $25,490 drive-away, what other cars could you be shopping it against? How about a Mazda 2 GT auto ($23,680 plus on-road costs), or a Volkswagen Polo Comfortline auto ($21,990 plus on-roads), or if you really want something a bit more sporty, then maybe a Suzuki Swift Sport auto ($27,490 plus on-roads).
There are some other shortcomings for a car at this price point: you don’t get keyless entry or push-button start, for instance, and there is no leather seat trim, heated seats or built-in sat nav (add $950 if you want that). A panoramic glass roof will set you back $1000, too.
As has been the case in previous years with Skoda models, there are several packs that customers can choose to add to their car to boost the specification levels.
On the Monte Carlo model, that includes the Vision Pack (priced at $1400) consisting of full LED headlights, auto lights and wipers, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and additional safety spec in the form of blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert - our car was fitted with that pack.
There’s also the Tech Pack ($1800), which includes keyless entry and push-button start, rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, climate control air-con, driver fatigue detection, DAB+ digital radio and dual USB ports in the rear.
Add both those options to the price and you’re approaching VW Polo GTI money…
The Fabia is available in an array of colours, including the choice of a black roof finish. You can choose between white, grey, blue, black and red, but green is reserved for non Monte Carlo models.
Engine & trans
I like the engine. A lot. Not the most powerful in the class, sure, but not underpowered in my opinion, either.
That's enough grunt, Hyundai says, to deliver a "class-leading" power to weight ratio of 126kW per tonne.
So how does it stack up? It puts the i20 N about a touch under segment standard, power-wise, with cars like the Polo GTI making 147kW and 320Nm, while the Fiesta ST makes 147 and 290kW. Unsurprisingly, it’s also comprehensively shaded by the Toyota GR Yaris, which makes a whopping 200kW and 370Nm.
We have managed to extract some other key details surrounding Hyundai’s newest hot hatch, too. We know, for example, that there’s torsion-beam rear suspension, a mechanical LSD, Sachs dampers, dual-mode exhaust and, like it’s i30 N big brother, the i20 N should get Pirelli rubber wrapped around its 18-inch wheels. It also weights just 1250kg.
More? Well there's rev matching for the manual gearbox, launch control and the brand's N Grin Control System which allows you to dial through Normal, Eco, Sport, N and N Custom drive modes.
The chassis and suspension have been overhauled, too, and there's bigger performance brakes fitted.
Under the bonnet of the Fabia Monte Carlo is what Skoda calls the 81TSI engine - a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol producing 81kW of power and 200Nm of torque.
It has a standard-fit seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission, and like the lower-grade version, is front-wheel drive. There are no paddle-shifters, which might seem a bit of a silly concern - but after driving it, I found myself wishing there were.
Sadly, there is no manual version, which is a shame.
That I can't tell you, at least not yet. We were driving pre-production cars exclusively on a race track, and so taking an computer reading would have been grossly unfair, and Hyundai hasn't dropped an official figure on us yet.
We do know that the i20, in regular guise, is fitted with a 50-litre tank.
Claimed fuel economy is 4.7 litres per 100 kilometres, which is very good. But in the real world, you can bank on using about double that in city driving. Plus you’ll need to factor in that the engine requires 95RON premium unleaded petrol, so filling up will add a few extra bucks.
How should the success of a city-sized hatch truly be measured? Raw power and out-and-out pace? I don’t think so. There are bigger, more powerful vehicles for that.
Price? Well, at least a little. This segment forms the stepping stone to the performance vehicle world, and so they really can’t be too inaccessible, right?
If you ask me, the biggest - and possible only - criteria a car has to hit in this segment is that it’s fun. Plain and simple. Does it make you want to take the longer, twister way home, emerging at the other end of a winding road with a face-splitting grin and fighting the urge to turn around and do it again in the other direction? Or does it make you want to stick to the freeway?
Well, it’s safe to say that in the i20 N - in prototype form at least - the answer is definitely the former.
Yes, the light hot hatch segment has been in something a power arms race of late - one now won by the GR Yaris - but the i20 N doesn’t really step into that ring. Its 150kW and 275Nm puts it at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of pure outputs.
But damn if it ain’t fun. The numbers on the page only really tell half the hot hatch story. The rest of it is how it feels, or how big a smile it paints on your face, and I can tell you this car painted a plenty big grin on mine.
One of the things I like about the i20 N is that it feels a little Mazda MX-5-like, in that you don’t need to be traveling at warp speed to feel like you’re having a good time behind the wheel. It means you can unleash it on any twisting road you come across, and have a whale of a time, without risking your entire driver's licence.
There are some cars where you really need to be travelling at pace to feel like you’re having a good time in them, but this isn’t one of them. It feels fun all the time.
It feels really connected to the track, too, like you’re in control of the vehicle, And I think the mark of a hot hatch is one that makes you feel like a better driver, and this does that. It forgives you mistakes, it urges you to push a little bit faster, a little bit further, and all of which results in a pretty good time behind the wheel.
Now a caveat, of course. This is a pre-prod car, and this test also took place on a race rack, so how this thing drives on the streets near your place, and what it's like to live with, is anyone’s guess, but as a taste test, it certainly seems to continue the N legacy of building cars that are simply a ton of fun.
On the right stretch of road, the Fabia Monte Carlo has handling as good - if not superior - to some pint-sized hot hatches. It holds the road beautifully, turns with grace and ease, and feels balanced and controlled in the twisty bits.
The engine revs freely, the transmission shifts smartly - only let down by a lack of paddle-shifters. The whole experience feels nice, and if you only deal with higher-speed driving that happens to involve a mountain climb on the way to work, then: a) you’re luckier than you know; and b) you’ll be happy with a Fabia Monte Carlo.
But the big issue here is that this is a city car, and that’s where it stumbles and fumbles most.
The transmission is the real problem - it is hesitant, reluctant, downright dumb at times. Combined with some turbo-lag from the three-pot turbo engine, traffic lights can actually be nerve-wracking, as there’s not really a ‘regular’ feel to the way the car will take off. Sometimes it’ll jump away from the lights, other times it will lag and lurch.
The ride is reasonable in town, but sharp edges can upset things. And while the steering is a lot of fun in its weighty, direct attitude, that heft can be a tad annoying when you’re trying to park it.
All in all, the drivetrain feels a bit like old-Skoda-by-way-of-VW, and it simply isn’t as well considered as the equivalent VW if you just drive around town.
What a damn shame there isn’t a manual Monte Carlo, because it would easily negate all these concerns.
More mysteries here, I'm afraid. Hyundai is yet to confirm full safety specification for the i20 N, but we would expect it to get most of the brand's advanced safety kit.
No Fabia model comes with adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert or blind-spot monitoring as standard, but those are optionally available (see the pricing section above).
There’s no lane keeping assist or lane departure warning system on the Fabia - standard or optionally.
Where is the Skoda Fabia built? The answer is Skoda’s home country - Czech Republic.
Skoda offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty on its models putting it on par with rivals, though it was one of the earlier adopters of the long warranty program.
Skoda offers the choice of either following a capped price servicing plan (out to six years/90,000km) or buyers the option to pre-purchase three years/45,000km or five years/75,000km of servicing in a service pack.
The latter allows you to roll the maintenance costs into your finance, which is nice, and the costs area $760 for three years, or $1600 for five - which works out to a discount of $317 and $885 if you pre-purchase rather than follow the standard capped-price plan.
Follow the capped price path and you will find costs of maintenance are on the high side for such little car, at: $291, $351, $435, $622, $435 and $351 respectively.