2021 Hyundai i20N review: price, specs and release date
The Hyundai i20N is the Korean brand's second crack at a hot hatch – will it be as impressive as the first?...
Priced from £24,995 (est) | On sale May
The launch of a fast Hyundai i20N would not have caused much fervour a few years ago. After all, until the arrival of the latest i20, the Korean manufacturer's small car was notable only for being remarkably un-notable.
Its bigger sibling, the i30N, proved how serious Hyundai is about performance cars, though. It proceeded to steal sales from such hallowed names as the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Honda Civic Type R and Ford Focus ST with its entertaining, circuit-worthy handling, whipping up high expectations for the i20N – Hyundai’s second crack at the hot hatchback.
The i20N has big competition, though. With 201bhp from its 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, heavily uprated suspension and brakes, and even a mechanical limited-slip differential (LSD) fitted as standard to boost traction, it’s aimed squarely at our favourite affordable small hot hatches, the brilliant Ford Fiesta ST and the Volkswagen Polo GTI.
What's it like to drive?
The Hyundai i20N is a proper little firework, but it's not for those who simply want an easy to live with, fast yet comfortable small car.
The moment you drive it out of the Hyundai dealership car park, you’ll know it's for people who want a full-on hot hatch that’s theatrical at all times. The car sits lower than the standard i20 and the suspension has been totally recalibrated, with stiffer springs and 18in wheels to complete the transformation
The result is a fairly bumpy ride at low speed, although the well-judged damping stops it becoming crashy or jarring. At higher speeds, the i20N has a more fluid, loping stride that irons out the worst of the undulations on typical British back roads while keeping a tight grip on body movements.
Its suspension is just about the only element of the car that cannot be adjusted, and adaptive dampers that can be slackened or stiffened are not going to be offered as on option. Everything else – from the steering to the exhaust note and the rev-match (which blips the engine automatically for smooth downshifts) – has as many as three modes, which are independently configurable via the touchscreen.
All those choices could be a bit overwhelming, with the standard drive modes ranging from Eco to Sport, and two different, configurable ‘N modes’ that you access using the prominent blue buttons on the wheel. Thankfully, a little patience and some trial-and-error are all it takes to set the i20N’s systems up so you can switch swiftly from its most playful to its most relaxed settings without prodding the screen.
Not that it ever is relaxed. The i20N is only ever relaxed in the same way that an idling chainsaw is ever not scary – the threat is still there, just lurking in a menacing yet tempting fashion.
That’s not to say that it’s tricky to drive. The steering is light yet predictable, and weights up to deliver a pleasing bite in fast cornering (provided you’ve picked a sportier setting). Between that and the taut ride, the i20N has a joyfully incisive, playful cornering attitude. It tips into a bend keenly, with the LSD then allowing it to power out with minimal tyre scrabble and impressive precision.
The six-speed manual gearbox is much altered from the standard i20 too, and delivers a precise, encouraging shift, accompanied by an appropriately rebellious exhaust crackle.
Talking of encouraging, let’s not forget the engine. Acceleration isn’t delivered in the most linear fashion. There’s a slight surge as the turbo starts to build gusto, then it gets a second wind somewhere north of 5000rpm as the race-style shift lights on the digital dials blink you towards the 6750rpm redline. It perfectly matches the i20N’s raucous yet friendly character.
What’s it like inside?
The dash layout and driving position in the Hyundai i20N are as you’d want them. The pedals are aligned nicely with the deeply bolstered, manually adjustable sports seat, and the big touchscreen is set high on the dash, making it easy to prod through the menus.
The materials look and feel smart, too. N-specific tweaks – such as the fully digital dials with performance readout, and the trademark baby-blue N trim inserts and buttons – leave you in no doubt that this is no ordinary i20.
That touchscreen infotainment comes with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, sat-nav, Bluetooth and a digital radio. It is logical to use and easy to read thanks to smart graphics, making it a better, more useful system than the one in the Fiesta ST.
Rear passenger space and boot capacity is the same as the non-N model, and that’s no bad thing given that the five-door-only i20 is one of the roomiest small cars you can buy. Two six-footers will be fine in the back seats, and the 352-litre boot is up there with other practical small cars such as the Seat Ibiza.