Hyundai i20 VS Volkswagen Polo
- 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 super polished
- Tiny engines don’t feel underpowered
- Sharp-looking multimedia
- Engines can feel raspy when pushed
- Ride might be too firm for some
- Very sparse back seat
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 new Volkswagen Polo has been so supersized you half expect to find Morgan Spurlock hiding in its (now much bigger) boot.
For one, this sixth-generation car is longer than the model it replaces. And it’s wider. And there’s more room for passengers and cargo than ever before.
But are they enough to push the bigger-than-ever Polo around?
|Engine Type||1.2L 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..
By far the biggest and most lasting impression from my initial time with the Polo is that it feels like a whole lot of car for the money, even in its base-model guise. There is a feeling of quality in (most of) the cabin and in the drive experience, and its improved ability to people or cargo will surely put it on more customer’s radars than ever before.
For ours, the entry-level Trendline with the DSG gearbox makes the most sense, getting the best of the standard features without breaking the bank.
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.
Well, a lot like a Golf that has been shrunk in the wash. But in a world of super-busy design, the Polo’s exterior treatment is refreshingly simple and unfussy.
A single accent line that runs the length of the body, joined by a kink at the base of the door, gives the Polo a clean, polished look, and it’s difficult to catch it at a bad angle.
There’s no angry body kit, rear spoiler, side skirts, rear diffuser or front spoiler either, but in this case, that’s a good thing. You could perhaps level the accusation that it looks a little boring, but for mine, that just means it’s unlikely to age poorly.
The pick of the regular fleet, design-wise, has to be the Comfortline model - the hubcaps of the Trendline do it absolutely no favours.
Inside, the interior treatment is clean and straightforward, with a two-tone dash with a soft top that’s joined by the very premium-looking 8.0-inch touchscreen in a gloss-black surround. Honestly, look at the interior images and tell us it looks like it belongs in an entry-level model.
The flat-bottomed wheel and silver-edging on the centre console are nice touches, too - as is the functionality of the driver’s binnacle that houses the trip computer (MFD) - but some of the plastics are utterly unforgiving to the touch.
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.
Thanks largely to the merits of VWs MQB modular platform (the same chassis that underpins everything from the Golf to the Tiguan), the new Polo now stretches 4053mm in length (78mm longer than its predecessor) and sits on a wheelbase that is 81mm longer.
But of all the dimensions, it’s the 69mm in extra width (now 1751mm) that really counts here. It doesn’t sound like much, sure, but every centimetre counts in a city car, and it means you can fit full-size adults into the backseat without breaking any ribs.
I still wouldn’t rush to go three adults across the back, but the improved interior dimensions ensure two can ride in plenty of comfort, with good head and rear legroom on offer for all but the tallest of passengers.
There’s little else to enjoy back there, though, with no air vents, USB connections or power sources. Hell, there aren’t even any cup holders. You do get two ISOFIX attachment points for your baby car seat, though, one in each window seat in the back.
Up front, it’s only the cheaper plastics at key touchpoints (the area your knees and elbows constantly contact, for example) that diminish an otherwise comfort-packed space. The touch screen set-up is clean, clear and simple to use, and there are two USB connection points and a power source for all your gadget needs. There are two cup holders for up-front riders, room in each of the doors for bottles, and a central cubby that adds a little extra storage space.
Another benefit of the Polo’s growth spurt is the new boot space dimensions, now 71 litres bigger than before. It means you’ll now find 351 litres on offer - 1125 litres with the rear seats folded flat - a number VW proudly points out outshines even the bigger Mazda3’s luggage capacity.
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.
The new Polo arrives in a fairly limited range, with just the entry-level 70TSI Trendline and top-sec 85TSI Comfortline on offer initially - though they’re joined by a limited-run 'Launch Edition' which adds some extra styling kit.
Crystal-ball gazers will see a GTI sport edition following a little later this year, along with what will surely be the first of many special editions, the Polo Beats edition, with the associated RRPs for those models climbing accordingly.
For now, the price list kicks off with the Trendline, which will cost you $17,990 (five-speed manual), or $20,490 should you opt for a seven-speed 'DSG' dual-clutch auto. Those are drive-away prices, too, which makes them seem very sharp indeed. In short, it’s a new car at near second-hand price.
That money buys you cloth seats, a lovely (and vaguely flat-bottomed) leather steering wheel, keyless entry, central locking (with automatic unlocking and door locks that activate once you’re in motion), air conditioning, cruise control and electric mirrors. You also get halogen - not projector, bi-xenon or LED headlights - lights with daytime running lights.
There are some reminders of how much you’ve paid on the Trendline, though, like the 15-inch steel wheels with hubcaps - still, they’re better than 14 inch. Silver linings and all that.
Stepping up to the Comfortline trim level will set you back $19,490 for the six-speed manual ($20,490 drive-away), and $21,990 for the DSG automatic ($22,990 drive-away). You get more power, of course, but you’ll also upgrade to 15-inch alloy wheels (vs the hubcaps on the Trendline), rain-sensing wipers, some chrome highlights and a better quality cloth seat in the cabin. There are no leather seats, a panoramic sunroof or climate control on any of the trim levels.
Tech gadgets across the Polo range include a fantastic 8.0-inch touchscreen that’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto-equipped, and which pairs with a sound system with six speakers - but no sub-woofer, of course.
The screen controls your radio (though there’s no DAB) and there’s a CD player (but not a CD changer or a DVD player). Or the Bluetooth connectivity function will stream your MP3s. It’s an undeniably strong tech pack for a city car, and those features are unlikely to hurt resale value.
There’s no sat nav, but happily, your phone’s GPS system subs in as a navigation system, displaying directions from Google or Apple Maps up on the touchscreen.
Finally, a Launch Edition car ($20,490 manual, $22,990 automatic) completes the models comparison. arriving with 16-inch rims, tinted windows, fog lights and LED taillights, as well as a wireless charging station for your compatible phone - sorry iPhone users, you’ll need a special case. And those prices translate to $21,490 and $23,990 drive-away.
There has been no word on comfort or convenience packs as yet, but the night is still young for the sixth-generation Polo.
You can have your Polo in 'Pure White', which is free, or opt for 'Energetic Gold' (a kind of burnt orange), 'Limestone Grey', 'Reflex Silve'r, or a 'Deep Black Pearl', all of which will set you back $500. Not exactly a rainbow of colours, then, and there’s no blue, red, yellow or green, etc.
Roof rails or a roof rack to carry sports equipment, and premium floor mats appear in a fat official accessories guide.
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.
Just the one engine on offer here; a tiny and turbocharged 1.0-litre, three-cylinder unit - a motor borrowed from the brand’s Up! - which is available in two states of tune. Both are petrol-powered, and there are no diesel, LPG, EV or plug-in hybrid options.
It’s a tiny engine size, but neither option feels underpowered. The cheaper 70TSI Trendline cars make use of the lower-spec version, good for 70kW at 5000rpm and 175Nm at 2000rpm. That’s enough to produce a fairly leisurely 0-to-100km/h sprint of 10.8 seconds.
The 85TSI Comfortline shares the same capacity, but ups the horsepower to 85kW at 5000rpm and 200Nm at 2000rpm. That set-up will up the speed, too, with the acceleration to 100km/h now at 9.5 seconds.
They might not be the most pulse-quickening performance figures, but they do suit the personality of the little Polo, as does the turning radius of 10.6m.
You can then choose between a five-speed manual (Trendline) or six-speed manual (Comfortline) gearbox, or you can spring for a seven-speed DSG gearbox in both. Either way, the transmission will shuffle power to the front wheels, with both the Trendline and Comfortline Polos exclusively front-wheel drive; there are no 4x4, all-wheel drive, or rear-wheel drive cars here.
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.
The Trendline will sip 4.8 litres per hundred kilometres in manual guise (5.0 with the DSG) on the claimed/combined cycle, with emissions pegged at between 110-113g/km of C02.
The Comfortline ups the consumption to a claimed 5.1L/100km for the manual cars (5.0 with the DSG), with emissions of between 115-116g/km of CO2.
Either way, that’s near-diesel fuel economy/consumption, and they’re impressive mileage figures. The Polo’s fuel tank capacity size is 40 litres, and will accept 95RON fuel.
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.
If the Polo doesn’t look like a cut-price city car, then the good news is that it doesn’t drive like one either. Our several-hour test route took us from city streets to broken B-roads, freeways to fast-flowing county runs, and the pint-sized Polo handled it all with little bother.
The single-tune suspension is definitely set up to favour firmer sportiness over comfort, and while you can catch the outside edges of the ride on seriously rough tarmac, it’s never overly teeth-rattling, and the little Polo will happily chug along no matter where you point it.
The steering, too, is perfectly suited to the character of the car, feeling connected without being darty, and plenty light enough for easy city use. The cabin is commendably quiet, locking out intrusive noise on all but the loudest road surfaces, too.
The biggest question, of course, is whether the little three-cylinder engine options pack enough grunt to push the Polo along faster than a slow-moving snail. But even the smallest output version never feels underpowered, and is more than peppy enough even with two adult passengers on-board.
The clever turbocharging has even largely done away with the lag sometimes associated with VW’s bigger cars, with the power arriving nice and early when you plant your foot from a rolling start, the 1.1-tonne (tare weight) Polo pulling away pretty cleanly.
What’s that? You want me to nitpick? Well, it can feel a little uncertain at times - especially when pulling away from hills - rolling back more than you’d like before engaging and pulling away. It’s far from a deal-breaker, but you’d need to get used to it.
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.
It’s a strong safety story, even from the base model, with every Polo arriving with an airbag count of six, a reverse camera, parking sensors and AEB with pedestrian detection. You get a fatigue-warning system and a tyre-pressure monitor, too, along with hill start assist, and the usual suite or braking and traction features like ESP.
An optional 'Driver Assistance Package' ($1400) adds VW’s manoeuvre braking system to the Polo, which combines with the rear parking sensors to act as AEB in reverse when you’re parking, along with adaptive cruise, blind-spot monitoring, rear-traffic alert and 'Park Assist', but no lane assist.
The Polo was awarded the maximum five-star safety rating when tested by Euro NCAP last year - a score that has since been adopted by Australia’s ANCAP.
The Polo is covered by a three-year/unlimited km warranty, and will require servicing every 12 months or 15,000km - the annual schedule helping to lower maintenance costs. Dealerships will likely offer an extended warranty, but always read the fine print.
There’s no need to crack the tool kit out either, with VW’s capped-price servicing - the 'Assured Price Program' - limiting the service cost for five years, and there’s roadside assistance for the duration of the warranty period, too. There’s a full-size steel spare tyre, and the owner’s manual will tell you all you need to know about the required oil type and capacity.
As with all cars reviewed here, if any owner issues, reliability issues or common faults are ever reported, including automatic gearbox problems, oil pump, clutch, injector, engine, battery or suspension issues, turbo complaints, defects, or issues with the timing belt or chain, you’ll find them on our owner’s page.
Where is the Volkswagen Polo built? Well, many places around the world. But ours will arrive from South Africa.