Hyundai’s i20 N is here with one job to do: topple the Ford Fiesta ST from its throne. It’s about time, too, because Ford’s 200hp hot hatch has been top of the pile since the previous version came out in 2013. Now, with Hyundai’s i30 N follow-up here offering a standard equipment list to tempt buyers away from more expensive machinery, we have a car capable of shaking up a hot hatch storm – and raising a few eyebrows in Ford’s engineering department. The gloves are off.
The standard i20 is a cute-looking thing, but the i20 N is absolutely not. It’s all aggression front and rear, with a nose that snarls with angular headlights, a big grille and flashes of red underneath. At the rear, there’s a boot-mounted wing, above a tailgate bearing two-tone paintwork and a bumper with more red flashes and a wide-bore exhaust. If that’s not got the message across, those 18-inch wheels and red brake calipers will. This is one mean machine.
While some might find the i20 N a little too bold for their taste, we suspect most will love the honesty of this racy machine. Because underneath all that visual aggression is a package very much capable of walking the walk. You only need to start the engine to know that...
While some might find the i20 N a little too bold for their taste, we suspect most will love the honesty of this racy machine.
What’s it like to drive?
A riot. Like its bigger brother, the i30 N, Hyundai’s i20 N starts with a growl and, when you click it out of its calmer normal modes into N mode (via a dominating button on the steering wheel – how purposeful), the car feels like it’s standing on its tippy toes with its valves pumping out adrenaline. The 204hp 1.6-litre turbocharged engine is snappy and powerful when you work it, with great grip provided by the car’s limited-slip differential (a piece of hardware that improves traction to the driven wheels), the gearbox is tight and the steering is quick to react, although not as quick as the ST. It feels well-judged.
Where the i20 N feels strongest is in its handling. It’s a confidence-inspiring car, with lots of grip and an unflappable nature when you embrace its talents on a winding road. To enable that, the car does ride relatively firmly, but it’s never uncomfortable. Plus, if you want to calm things down, you only need to click the mode button and set the car to its Eco or Normal set ups. Then it’s, well, like a normal i20. Albeit with that big wing and those racy alloys, and a fiery personality just a few degrees of accelerator pedal away.
The i20 N is a confidence-inspiring car, with lots of grip and an unflappable nature when you embrace its talents on a winding road.
Like its archrival, the Fiesta ST, the Hyundai i20 N starts from a very strong base. The standard i20 interior is a well-equipped place, with a wide infotainment screen and digital instrument cluster in place of conventional dials. With the advantage of its slightly younger age, the i20 N leaves the Fiesta ST interior behind in a technical sense (the i20 N’s instrument cluster is digital, for starters), but when it comes to driving and comfort features – like cruise control and heated seats – both are very closely aligned. The same goes for seating position and a general mixture of functionality and sportiness.
The i20 N is a proper five-seater with good rear space and a generously-sized boot, one that easily holds space for three cabin-sized suitcases. Unlike the Fiesta, the i20 N and its siblings only come as a five-door, meaning those wanting the cleaner design of the three-door body aren’t served. However, the addition of those back doors does mean the i20 N is remarkably practical and easy to get into and out of, no matter where you sit.
Thanks to those five doors and the i20’s generous back seats, this small car is surprisingly spacious. Ok, five adults might find longer journeys cramped (so too would they find the Fiesta ST’s cabin), but four adults can be seated in comfort. The i20’s boot is also very competitive for the class, with enough room for two medium-sized suitcases plus a few small bags around them. And there’s loads of kit aboard, so you absolutely don’t feel short changed.
With a digital instrument cluster in place of clocks and dials, and a responsive infotainment system, you’re also given a level of cabin wow factor not yet matched by the Fiesta or other direct rivals. The digital features include customisable drive modes that allow you to go beyond the level of technical interaction offered by the simpler Fiesta ST. For tech fans, that’ll be a big win for the i20 N. For those who like a simpler plug-and-play offering, the ST might remain advantageous.
Reliability and running costs
The Hyundai i20 N is a new car so it’s impossible to test long-term reliability yet, but it does hold one key asset that suggests it’ll offer headache-free running. Not only does its warranty cover the car for five years and an unlimited mileage, it also covers you if you do track days. Aside from the i20 N’s bigger brother, no other car comes with such an offering, giving it an enormous USP if you’re the sort to take to the track. It also suggests Hyundai has enormous confidence in the car’s engineering.
As for running costs, despite being such a feisty 204hp hot hatch, the i20 N can average over 40 miles per gallon on a run (we saw an indicated 41 during our motorway stint) and its service schedules are average for the class. This means it’ll cost little more than a mid-spec model to maintain mechanically. Ok, so the i20 N gets special HN-labelled (for Hyundai N division) Pirelli tyres that cost over a hundred pounds per corner, but the pay-off is sports car-aping performance. We’d argue that it’s a fair deal.
What we love
What’s not to love? We respect the seriousness and outright desire to go Fiesta ST-hunting of the i20 N, plus, having such a plethora of performance-related information and customisability in the car’s infotainment displays adds something the Fiesta can’t. We’d be lying if we said the i20 N was more fun than the Fiesta; the ST is slightly lairier, but the i20 N adds a level of technical impressiveness that will have some prospective customers super tempted. Especially if they’re serious about their driving – and fancy a track day now and then.
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It’s the Fiesta ST rival we’ve been waiting for, with performance to match its competitor, but more seriousness and a technical edge. It doesn’t exactly shove the Ford off its pedestal, but rather rubs shoulders with it, offering something slightly different while no doubt also appealing to the very same crowd. A fantastic new entrant that affirms Hyundai’s talents in creating top-level hot hatches.
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