What Car? says...
The Hyundai i20N is the South Korean brand's second hot hatchback and it shows how much times have changed. In the past, Hyundai didn't really do ‘fast’ and ‘exciting’, and that was fine – the world needed practical, dependable cars.
Not all of us want to be practical and dependable, though. Some of us are prone to flights of fancy, like popping out for a pint of milk and buying a brand new hot hatch instead. So, with one eye on hedonism and the other on untapped potential, Hyundai created its N subdivision to add some motorsport-style zing to its models.
First came the acclaimed Hyundai i30N, which took on the Ford Focus ST, Honda Civic Type R and other potent, family-sized rivals. Now, we have the i20N, which based on the Hyundai i20. It slipped in at the cheaper end of the hot hatchback market, so it finds itself in the crosshairs of the Ford Fiesta ST.
Over and above the standard i20, Hyundai has given the i20N some beefed-up brakes, sports-tuned suspension, a limited-slip differential, racier styling (inside and out) and, of course, a more powerful engine with 201bhp. For fans of simplicity and purity, it also has an old-school six-speed manual gearbox.
As ever with hot hatches, the driving joy they give you is every bit as important as how fast they are and how well they scoot through corners. So, in our Hyundai i20N review, as well as telling you all about performance, practicality, running costs and so on, we'll be measuring the size of the smile you get behind the wheel.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
In terms of the numbers it generates – acceleration, cornering speed and so on – the Hyundai i20N is a very close match for the Ford Fiesta ST. At the same time, it has a very different character. And that’s great news because it gives you a genuine choice between two very good little cars.
For a start, the i20N’s 201bhp 1.6-litre has four cylinders, like the VW Polo GTI engine, whereas the Fiesta ST uses a thrummier, three-cylinder motor. That gives the i20N a bit more of a guttural, old-school bark. As in many modern hot hatches the sound is 'enhanced' synthetically, but the note is far more authentic than the Polo GTI’s, and sounds just as joyous at full chat (with the engine mode at its most aggressive) as the Fiesta ST’s.
It's also quite traditional in the way it develops its power, thriving on revs, with the power building with inexorable intensity as the engine spins faster. That’s very different to the ST, which you’ll find is more flexible due to the extra grunt low down in its rev range. It means you often need to drop a gear to get the i20N to scamper off, but that’s fine – chucking in a few extra gear changes is part of the buzz of driving a hot hatch.
What are the actual numbers? Well, officially it will hit 0-62mph in 6.2sec and top out at 143mph, which is vastly quicker than the Suzuki Swift Sport. That car takes more than nine seconds to reach 62mph. When we tested the i20N going from 0-60mph, it got there in 6.4sec, which was 0.2sec quicker than the Fiesta ST we were testing the same day.
Despite being ever-so-slightly more powerful than the Fiesta ST, the i20N suffers from greater turbo lag – the second or so delay between flooring the accelerator and the delivery of oomph. It’s not so bad that it’s annoying, and it’s somewhat in keeping with the car's old-school character, so some will actually prefer it.
The gearbox isn’t the most tactile, but it’s defined enough to point your hand in the right direction for a ratio and slots into gear easily. It's not as slick as the manual box in the Ford Focus ST but then that’s a much pricier car.
The clutch biting point is clearly defined, so you can launch the car off the line easily and, speaking of launches, the i20N comes with launch control as standard to help you make the perfect getaway. When it's time to rein in the acceleration, the brakes are very able, both in terms of stopping power and pedal feel. That said, the Fiesta ST feels slightly more stable under heavy braking.
When it comes to handling, the i20N is much calmer than the Fiesta ST. The steering twitches a little as the power is transmitted with relative ferocity through the front wheels, but far less aggressively than in the ST. Hyundai hasn’t opted for hyper-quick steering, so you can guide the car intuitively with your fingertips rather than the clenched fists the ST can demand.
Front-end grip is mighty, too, so you can carry much more speed through a corner than in the rather uninspiring Polo GTI. Body lean is incredibly well controlled and everything feels well-balanced, giving you loads of confidence on a bendy B-road.
Ultimately, there’s isn't much difference in point-to-point pace between the i20N and the Fiesta ST, but thanks to the i20N’s more neutral balance and more intuitive steering, it’s an easier car to drive on (or close to) the limit.
Cars in this class are generally firm-riding, and the i20N’s suspension continues that trend. Overall, it’s easier to live with than the Fiesta ST because it's better at dealing with smaller bumps and feels more settled on a motorway. Avoid potholes and sharp ridges, though, because it gives you a pounding over those.
On the subject of motorway driving, the i20N’s engine spins away at not far off 3000rpm in sixth gear at 70mph, so you can certainly hear it buzzing away. Road and wind noise aren’t too bad, but it’s nothing like as relaxing to drive over a long distance as the Polo GTI. That’s more of a cruiser than a cornering virtuoso, though.
The interior layout, fit and finish
The Hyundai i20N's steering wheel has plenty of height and reach adjustment. Lumbar adjustment isn’t included for the driver's seat, but thankfully lower back support is good enough without this. The only thing our testers complained about was the angle seat squab – it can dig into your hamstrings.
There's a clear view out of the front, but rear vision is a little compromised by the chunky rear pillars. Still, you can count on the standard rear parking sensors and a reversing camera to avoid any potential prangs.
Bright full LED headlights are fitted as standard, giving you superb visibility at night. You can’t have matrix LED headlights, which adjust the pattern of the main beam to avoid dazzling on-coming traffic, and come as standard on the more expensive Ford Fiesta ST and the VW Polo GTI.
Fully digital instruments behind the steering wheel are included, though, which is unusual at this end of the market. The set-up will make gamers feel at home because the display can be configured in a multitude of ways to show everything from cornering G-force to how much brake pressure you’re using. You can even see your lap times on a track day.
The rest of the car is a doddle to use because the main dashboard controls, including those for the air-conditioning, are proper physical knobs and buttons. As a result, they’re far more intuitive to use while driving than the touch-sensitive equivalents in the Polo GTI.
Unfortunately, that theme isn’t continued when it comes to the infotainment system: you’ll find touch-sensitive shortcut buttons below the 10.3in touchscreen instead of physical ones. While we rate the screen’s graphics and resolution, the software is unusually slow for a Hyundai system. The time it takes to boot up after switching on the ignition and the wait for it to respond after making selections can be quite frustrating.
On the plus side, it’s well equipped. As standard, it comes with a DAB radio, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring, built-in sat-nav, wireless phone-charging and a six-speaker sound system.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
It's one of the smaller hot hatches out there, but the Hyundai i20N still has more than enough leg and head room for six-footers in the front. Storage-wise, you get trays, a couple of cupholders, a reasonable glovebox and space in the door bins for a large bottle of water (not much else will fit, though).
The i20N is offered in five-door form only, and your passengers should find it easy enough to get into the back seats, where there's a surprising amount of leg room. Even tall adults will have a gap between their knees and the back of the seat in front. That’s an improvement over the Ford Fiesta ST, in which taller passengers will probably need to position their legs on either side of the front seat to fit. There’s not a vast amount of head room in the back of the i20N, but enough for six-footers.
Looking at the specs, you’d think it had a bigger boot than its chief rival, the Fiesta ST, but that’s not actually the case. It's not terrible for a car of its size, but the angle of the rear seatbacks meant we really struggled to fit four carry-on suitcases below the parcel shelf. We managed to squeeze five cases in the Fiesta ST.
At least the i20N's boot doesn't have a big load lip and you get a variable-height boot floor as standard. We also like the neat trick of being able to slot the parcel shelf out of the way behind the rear seats when it’s not in needed. There’s more space available when you drop the 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, and with the variable floor slotted into its highest position, there’s no step in the floor of the extended load area.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Value is the trump card of the Hyundai i20N, because it's one of the cheapest hot hatches around. True, there are some that cost even less – namely the Abarth 595 and the Suzuki Swift Sport – but none that's in the same league for performance. The closest rival, the Ford Fiesta ST, costs more.
Better still, the i20N is predicted to have competitive resale values that are roughly in line with the Fiesta ST, it’s cheaper to service than the ST and, when we tested them together, it was just as economical (both cars averaged 40mpg in real-world conditions). The i20N does sit one insurance group higher, but that’s unlikely to make much of a difference to your premium.
If you’re buying on a PCP finance deal, the comparative rate of depreciation means that both the i20N and ST should be similar when it comes to monthly payments – although check our New Car Deals service for the most up-to-date deals.
There’s only one version of the i20N, and it's quite well kitted out. It comes with a heated steering wheel, heated front seats, 18in alloy wheels, automatic climate control, power-folding door mirrors, privacy glass and keyless entry. Safety equipment includes automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane assistance, traffic-sign recognition and e-Call emergency response.
When it comes to reliability, Hyundai as a brand performed very well in the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey, coming joint fifth (with Suzuki) out of the 32 manufacturers included. That’s well above Volkswagen and Ford, which were down in 22nd and 27th respectively.
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Yes. In fact, thanks to the turbo and some fettling, the i20N’s 1.6-litre engine produces 201bhp instead of the 120bhp you get in the regular Hyundai i20. It’s quite old school in how it deploys that power, with a fair amount of turbo lag, but that adds to the character.
Every i20N comes with launch control as standard, making it easy to take full advantage of the power off the line. As a result, it’ll officially sprint from 0-62mph in just 6.2sec.
Stationed on the i20N’s steering wheel, the dedicated N Mode button is reserved for when you want maximum performance. Hitting that button puts the car in Sport mode and switches the steering, engine, exhaust and rev-matching to their most aggressive settings.
|RRP price range||£26,530 - £26,530|
|Number of trims (see all)||1|
|Number of engines (see all)||1|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||40.4 - 40.4|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||5 years / No mileage cap|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£1,808 / £1,808|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£3,616 / £3,616|