Well, this is unexpected. A quick straw poll ahead of COTY testing had many judges tipping the Hyundai i20 N as a shoo-in to progress from the proving ground. Some even had it earmarked as a potential for the podium, so convincing did its promise seem of delivering the same magic as its bigger brother, the i30 N, at a more affordable price point.
So what happened to 2022’s most-hyped hot hatch? And did the rigours of COTY testing see Hyundai’s fledgling N brand suffer an uncharacteristic stumble?
Things started positively. The ‘walk-around’ component of COTY can be especially harsh on performance cars – compromises around comfort, features and safety systems are often exposed – but the i20 N’s packaging, interior execution and high standard equipment levels were all noted as clear strengths.
The cabin is surprisingly roomy for a light hatch. Front passengers are ensconced in supportive and heavily bolstered sports seats, the driving position is low, if a little upright, and there’s excellent adjustment for the leather-trimmed steering wheel.
The interior feels high-tech, too, and richly equipped for a $32,490 hatchback with a strong suite of standard safety gear. A digital instrument cluster and large centre screen dominate, and the graphics are clear and the structure of the many sub-menus is easy to follow if a little daunting.
Hyundai’s smallest car doesn’t forgo the practical stuff, either. The 310L boot is decent and houses a space-saver spare, the back seat folds 60:40 and there’s ample room for two adults on the rear bench. The only real weaknesses are a lack of rear air vents and some scratchy plastics below the belt-line, which are expected given the i20 econobox it’s based on.
So even without turning a wheel the i20 N scored well for value, function and safety (AEB, blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert and parking sensors all feature). Time to play its trump card: how it drives.
“Intensely involving to drive fast” – Daniel Gardner
Like the i30 N, there’s a clear focus on individuality and configurability with its many drive modes altering the powertrain, ESC and exhaust.
Yet for all its complexity, the way the i20 N steers is wonderfully analogue. In fact, you could even call its recipe of (firm) passive dampers, mechanical LSD, manual gearbox and turbocharged four-pot decidedly old-school.
Punchy performance, tenacious traction and excellent balance are dynamic hallmarks, with nearly every judge using descriptors like “chuckable” and “focused” in their notes.
Intriguingly, it’s that capability that is both the i20 N’s biggest strength and also its weakness when viewed through a COTY lens. For all its focus and grip, every judge felt an extra dose of chassis adjustability would increase the ‘fun factor’. It’s certainly not as playful as its fiercest rival, the Ford Fiesta ST, which also offers a more charismatic engine. “The Hyundai’s four cylinder rises to the occasion,” said Jez. “It just sounds dull and artificial.”
The hard-edged nature of the i20 N’s ride was also a compromise that ultimately curtailed its shot at progressing onto our challenging, and exceptionally bumpy, road loop. “It’s pretty fierce on rough roads,” noted Curt, “especially across the rear axle.”
So it’s a brilliant hot hatch for those seeking hard-edged thrills but it’s also one that stumbles slightly against the COTY criteria – and its Fiesta ST rival –in more sedate driving. And in a field as competitive as this, that was enough to halt the little Hyundai’s tilt at our crown.
|Engine||1598cc 4cyl turbo petrol|
|Power||150kW @ 5500-6000rpm|
|Torque||275Nm @ 1750-4500rpm (304Nm overboost)|
|Transmission||6-speed manual, FWD|
|Weight (heavier than claimed)||5kg|
|Noise at 100km/h||74.6db|