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 almost a carbon copy of the Ford Fiesta ST. At the same time, it has a vastly different character. And that’s great news because it gives us 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 but, like most hot hatches these days, its natural sounds is added to through digital means. Still, the i20N’s note is more authentic than the Polo GTI’s, and sounds at least as joyous at full chat (with the engine mode at its most aggressive) as the ST’s.
What is a bit of a problem is the responsiveness of the i20N’s engine. There’s quite a lot of turbo lag compared with its rivals – that second or so delay between flooring the accelerator and the delivery of oomph. The engine also continues to surge momentarily when you’ve taken your foot off the accelerator. These two lazy responses aren’t ideal in a quick car.
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 Honda Civic Type R, which is a masterclass in mechanical engineering as an art form, but that’s a much pricier car.
The clutch bite point is defined, so you can launch the car off the line easily and, speaking of launches, the i20N comes with launch control as standard. Its brakes are very able, both in stopping distance and pedal feel, but the nose dive you get under heavy braking causes the back end to rise and squirrel about disconcertingly. The Fiesta ST is more stable.
When it comes to handling, the i20N is much calmer than the 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 set up the steering to be hyper-quick, so you can guide the car intuitively with fingertips rather than the clenched fists the ST can demand.
The i20N has mighty front-end grip, too, so you can carry way more speed through corner than in the rather uninspiring Polo GTI. There’s a bit more body lean and a less playful handling balance than the ST, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – you might prefer the i20N’s more neutral nature. We really don’t think there’s a lot of difference in point-to-point pace between the two, but the i20N is the easier car to drive on the limit. The ST’s playfulness gave us a slightly wider grin, though.