TRACK TEST: 2021 Hyundai i20 N review
Monday 14th February, 2022 - 6:45am
What: Hyundai i20 N
Where: Wakefield Park, NSW
Conditions: Dry, sunny, cool
What is it?
Hyundai’s rally-inspired hot hatch. The i20 is the basis for the brand’s WRC entry so it makes sense that it would offer a high-performance N version for the road.
It arrived in Australia in late 2021, and you can read our Road Test here, but we’ve also had a chance to sample it on the racetrack to see how it performs at the limit.
Why does it deserve a track test?
While it only shares its name and basic body shape with the Rally1 version of the i20, as a modern hot hatch the i20 N needs to hold its own on the track because that’s where a lot of owners will take it on weekends.
What’s it like inside?
It has the sporty look you expect from a hot hatch – a thick-rimmed steering wheel, supportive seats and some N ‘performance blue’ trim highlights.
But the most interesting element for anyone looking to do regular track days in their i20 N is the N Mode system in the central touchscreen. While the screen controls all the infotainment, like the stereo and navigation, moving to the N Mode allows for live telemetry, track maps and a lap timer.
The system is able to learn new tracks using the GPS system, which means the lap timer can work automatically if it knows the circuit start-finish point. Hyundai Australia is busy adding more local circuits to the system that already includes Sydney Motorsport Park and will offer a download of more tracks – likely to include at least one in each state – by the end of the year.
Hyundai isn’t saying which tracks just yet, but it’s likely to include Wakefield Park, Winton, Phillip Island, The Bend and possibly even Symmons Plains and Hidden Valley.
How’s it go down the straights?
Unlike the rest of the Hyundai N range which is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine, the smaller i20 N gets a smaller engine – a 1.6-litre four-pot petrol turbo. It still makes a class-competitive 150kW of power and 275Nm of torque.
The engine is paired to a six-speed manual transmission (the eight-speed N-DCT auto isn’t available) and it sends the power to the front wheels via a mechanical limited-slip differential.
The cool ambient conditions we encountered at Wakefield Park for our run in the i20 N were ideal for the turbocharged engine. We ran the i20 N alongside its 2.0-litre-powered Kona N big brother and it held its own around the track.
It had good punch out of the corners but by the end of the Wakefield Park straight it did feel like it was running out of puff compared to the more potent Kona N.
The decision to offer the i20 N with only a manual transmission is a plus for purists, but even if you’re not an expert at heel-and-toe you don’t need to worry. That’s because Hyundai offers it with Rev Matching, which can automatically blip the throttle on the down changes to better match the engine speed – so from the outside you’ll sound like a pro.
What’s it like in the bends?
In a word – playful. The i20 N is a fun car to drive on the track because it has a very capable but predictable chassis tune. That means you can really push it to its limits and even beyond them, letting it slide in or out or corners with the confidence that a competent driver can catch any small slide with ease.
It helps that the steering is very direct and responsive, with excellent feedback to the driver. Also helping the corner, particularly the exit, is the LSD. It works a treat on the track, allowing you to feel in control as you power out of the bends and avoid too much torque-steer.
If there’s a criticism based on our multiple track sessions, it’s the brakes. While they offer strong bite initially even after four hard laps you do start to notice some fade. However, with care they recovered quickly and are capable of withstanding a solid day of track work if you don’t abuse them.
Is it a front-runner or backmarker?
The Hyundai i20 Rally1 car may have got off to a poor start in Rally Monte Carlo, but in the hot hatch race the i20 N is definitely a front-runner.
Cheaper than a similar-sized Toyota GR Yaris, and arguably more fun to drive, the i20 N is more than capable of holding its own both on the road and the track. Against its direct rivals, the Ford Fiesta ST and Volkswagen Polo GTI, the i20 may not be any faster but is more fun for the driver.