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Car of the Year Awards 2023: Hot Hatch of the Year

Hot hatches should make even the most mundane of drives feel magical. However, this ability to entertain shouldn't come at the expense of everyday usability...

WINNER: Hot Hatch of the Year

Hyundai i20 N

Car of the Year 2023 main logo

There was a time when hot hatches existed as a cheap alternative to sports and performance cars. For the most part, those days are gone, because while cars like the Mercedes-AMG A45 S and Volkswagen Golf R are monstrously capable, you certainly pay for that privilege.

The Hyundai i20 N is an exception, though, harking back to those old hot hatches by keeping costs low and enjoyment high. But don’t go thinking that we love it just because it’s one of the most affordable hot hatches on sale. Far from it; the i20 N has many more merits.

Hot Hatch of the Year 2023 - Hyundai i20 N rear

To start, there’s the way that the 1.6-litre turbocharged engine sends its 201bhp to the front wheels. It also feels a bit old school because, when you floor the accelerator, there’s some turbo lag – that slight delay between you putting your foot down and the delivery of oomph. But this is followed by a progressive surge of power that’s enough to carry you from 0-62mph in 6.2sec.

Okay, that isn’t the blistering performance of an A45 S, but the i20 N’s slower relative pace allows you to enjoy revving out the engine without worrying about your driving licence. It’s a good job, too, because the i20 N thrives at high revs, giving you maximum power above 5500rpm and creating a characterful noise along the way. Meanwhile, the precise and encouraging shift action of the manual gearbox will have you looking forward to every change.

Hot Hatch of the Year 2023 - Hyundai i20 N dashboard

The i20 N is also easier to drive close to its limits than rivals such as the Ford Fiesta ST. This means that, on a winding road, you can take full advantage of the brilliant body control and grip afforded by the lowered and stiffened suspension (compared with the standard Hyundai i20). On the way out of corners, decorum is maintained by a limited-slip differential that allows you to deploy maximum power with minimal tyre scrabble. And the steering is precise and well weighted, giving you plenty of feedback and allowing you to place the car exactly where you want it.

True, the i20N's compact size and focused nature mean it isn’t quite as easy to live with as the much pricier Golf R. It’s more civilised than the Fiesta ST, though, so you could easily use it for commuting. Then when the mood strikes you, it’s guaranteed to paint a huge smile on your face.

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