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Road or track: Hyundai’s i20 N is built for speed

Hyundai’s release of the much anticipated i20 N seemed to take forever, but by the time the car arrived, there had been more than enough hype around the car to get people really excited. 

And rightly so. On the whole, the car is everything you would want out of a hot hatch. Light, powerful, nimble, affordable and fun. 

Having spent quite a bit of time at the wheel of a Ford Fiesta ST meant that driving the i20 N had its difficulties.

For one, every part of the i20 was in comparison to the Fiesta, but on the same note, it was great to see how the car stacks up against its main competitor. 

From a slight glance at the i20, you can see it isn’t your run of the mill hatch, and the further you look into it, the more you notice that it has been purpose built to be a tiny rocket ship for the road.

The sharp edges merge in well on all guards, converging at the front bumper, where you are greeted with a large grill. 

A negative that’s a positive

From directly in front, you can see noticeable negative camber on the front wheels, which is an exciting prospect for driving the car. 

Getting inside, you can again see more of what Hyundai have gotten right. A neat, but classy, interior centres on a display screen where you can easily look at maps, change music, and most importantly, change driver settings. 

While arguably a given in a modern car, the Hyundai has a wireless charging hold, as well as multiple USB points for use by all. 

Sitting down, you feel very low and are presented with a comfortable sports steering wheel that feels comfortable in the hands, and has everything within easy reach.

Engine

1.6 litres (1,598 cc), 4-cylinder, 16 Valve, Double Overhead Cam (DOHC), Continuously Variable Valve Duration (CVVD)

Power Output

150 kW @ 5500 – 6000rpm, 275 Nm @1750 – 4500rpm

Transmission

6-speed manual with limited slip differential

Brakes

Dual-diagonal, split circuit, power assisted with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist System (BAS), front disc dimensions 320 mm x 28 mm, solid discs, 262 mm x 10 mm

The nitty gritty details.

Turn every drive into a thrill fest. The first ever i20 N is as fun as it is powerful. This small but mighty hot hatch will keep you coming back for more.

Powered by a new generation 1.6-litre turbo SmartStream engine with 150kW and 275Nm (304Nm on overboost) of torque, paired with a 6-speed manual transmission the all-new i20 N turns drive time into play time.

Switching in to N mode

With the touch of a button, you change into N mode, where the difference is immediately obvious.

The exhaust note changes. It moves from somewhat of a buzz to a burble, which is music to the ears of any car enthusiast.

The displays change. The dash turns from a basic tacho and speedo to a crisp, red and carbon fibre looking display, where important data can be prioritised and shown to the driver.

Endless grip from the Pirelli tyres

In terms of driving, the change is also clear. The throttle becomes much more responsive, and the extra N mode power can be felt under the foot of the driver. 

The 150kw and 310Nm of torque is more than enough to put a smile on the driver’s face, as well as the passenger’s. The power can be felt throughout the rev range, and all the way up through the car’s six-speed gearbox. 

The handling is potentially Hyundai’s strongest point. The grip the car has feels almost endless, and I had no issues braking deep into corners with confidence. There was no hint of understeer, just what felt like more and more grip from the 18-inch Pirelli P-Zero tyres. 

Taking it to the limit

One of the stand-out features of the i20 N is the N Performance mode, and the customisation options within this. Not only can you drive in Eco mode, Normal Mode, and Sport mode, you can preset two custom set-ups to your own liking, favouring what is important to you.

We also had the opportunity to drive the i20 N at Hyundai’s N Festival at Winton in December, and the car exceeded all expectations, as it should. Hyundai actually wants you to take your N onto the track, offering a track day warranty and insurance from the factory.

If the car was built for a specific purpose, the track is probably it. The nimbleness of the hot hatch is impressive, paired with the power and torque of the engine, it feels like the perfect car to drive. 

It strikes the perfect balance between speed and stability. 

The car is more than fast enough to give you the proper thrill of a track day. It allows you to put your car to the test, while not being too fast that it scares you out of your jocks and leaves you not wanting to go back.

Making compromises

In being so good on the track, this means the Korean manufacturer has had to sacrifice on some things that affect the driveability on the open road.

The interior is comfortable, but I felt the seat was quite broad and I was sliding around through corners, struggling to brace myself. For someone larger than me it would be perfect, but I found myself hanging on to keep myself in the seat properly.

In N mode, at 110km/h, there’s a slight droning noise from the exhaust, which is to be expected, but it is still a bit of a nuisance if you’re wanting to be in N mode on the highway at 100km/h.

Further, for regular, everyday driving, I found the suspension set-up to be a little rough. On a windy road when you are putting the car through its paces, it is more than adequate, but for normal use it feels overly rough and jolty. 

Pump up the volume

The backseat is comfortable and surprisingly roomy for such a small car, and could easily fit two adults. 

Passengers, as well as the driver, can make the most of the factory fitted Bose sound system, which ticks every box in the noise department.

The bass and speakers mesh together nicely to provide a crisp, clear sound, whether you’re at 20% volume or 100%. And trust me, at 100%, it’s an exciting experience.

To buy, or not to buy

I guess the burning question with all reviews is; would I buy one? The answer is an absolute yes. 

The i20 arguably sits on top of its competition. After driving the car’s main competitor, the Fiesta ST, the Fiesta feels like it has a few more herbs, but the i20’s brakes are far superior, giving you more confidence in bringing the car to a halt. 

They do say that brakes make you faster, and in this sense, it is probably true. The i20 has better statistics when compared to the Fiesta on the track as well.

The N’s listed price is $32,490. By the time you add on-road costs, you’re looking at about $36,000, which is a bargain for what you get. 150kW out of a 1.6L engine, stylish looks, all the goodies, rally bred foundations. What more could you want? 

The Hyundai i20 N is affordable, fast, and elegant. It appeals to the wider range of petrol heads, and is sure to be turning heads, no matter where you drive it. 

Matt Whitten and Peter Whitten at the Hyundai N Performance Day at Winton Raceway.

Our photographer: Isaac Wishart

Isaac Wishart is the quieter half of ‘Wishart Media’, the older brother of Aaron.

While he still regularly contributes to the business he started with his brother, Isaac now lives in Albury and runs his own rapidly developing photography business. 

His dream is to photograph cars and motorsport full time, but he’s currently specialising in automotive, commercial and real estate photography. 

“Whilst I love photographing cars, I have found I also enjoy working with local businesses and photographing a range of different things has also helped to improve my photography skills. It’s been a hard slog, but I am starting to see the rewards and photography is now my only source of income.”

Isaac produced the fantastic static shots of the i20 N you see here (the track shots were taken his brother, Arron), so if you’re looking for a professional to work on your next project, give him a shout out HERE.

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Matthew Whitten