Hyundai’s i20N a lesson in temptation

Peter Atkinson |

Hyundai’s rally-bred i20N has injected new appeal into the maker’s smallest hatchback.
Hyundai’s rally-bred i20N has injected new appeal into the maker’s smallest hatchback.

“Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.”

It was a mantra that kept Aussie car manufacturers investing millions of dollars into motorsport, decade after decade, as a means of attracting race fans to ring the tills at dealerships.

And for half a century it was a sure-fire recipe for success, with weekend wins (particularly the Bathurst 1000) translating into busy showrooms for Holden and Ford devotees.

Oddly enough, the motorsport has actually outlasted the marques themselves,  with V8 Supercars still going strong, minus any Aussie models.

But that doesn’t mean winning no longer matters.

Just ask Hyundai and its very own “sell on Sunday” machine – the fast and furious little i20N hatchback. No match for the aural beauty of a V8 Supercar in full cry, but this might be the next best thing.

As well as being Hyundai’s smallest and cheapest model, the i20 is also the machine upon which the Korean maker has pinned its hopes on another of motorsport’s biggest stages – the World Rally Championship.

Built on the same platform as Hyundai’s entry-level budget hatchback, the i20N is the latest, and smallest, of the maker’s high-performance sub-brand.

It’s not quite AMG, but the N has already added a handful of tuned-up models that have brought added sparkle. The N badge was first seen on the i30, where it took a few chunks out of machines like VW’s class-leading Golf GTI.

The i20N is smaller, less powerful and, to be honest, not as impressive as the i30N, but its characteristics have made it perfectly suited to the WRX ranks.

For a start it weighs a puny 1190kg, which shows the benefit that can be delivered purely by use of weight-saving technology. The i20’s 1.6-litre, turbocharged four cylinder engine pumps out a healthy 150kW and 275Nm driving the front wheels.

Perhaps surprisingly, Hyundai quotes a rather pedestrian-sounding 0-100km/h sprint of 6.7 seconds. It feels quicker than that, much quicker in fact, thanks to its stiff suspension (it will lift a rear wheel several centimetres when turning into a driveaway) as well as the raspy, always-present exhaust note.

The i20N’s World Rally Championship credentials are built into the road-going version in much the same way as Toyota recently released a street-legal version of its phenomenal Yaris GR, with its staggering,1.5-litre, three-cylinder engine and evil exhaust note.

And while the i20N hasn’t quite mastered the Japanese weapon on the track, it’s got things all over its Toyota rival in one area – price.

This spunky little Hyundai costs $32,490. The Yaris costs 50 per cent more, barely scraping in below $50k. Yes, we’d choose the Yaris in a heartbeat, but the Hyundai is hard to ignore at this price.

Away from the dirt track the i20N is more likely to compete head to head with the likes of Ford’s Fiesta ST, Volkswagen Polo GTI and Suzuki Swift Sport.

The styling is verging on extreme although it stops short of rivals like the Honda Type R. There’s the wing mounted at the top of the rear hatch, for instance, a la Mercedes A45, and some aggressive body styling and aerodynamic aids as well as a beautiful set of alloy wheels.

Inside, it looks clean and classy with a nice dash of technology including two 10.25-inch display screens (one which can display everything from track maps to lap timing, the other a digital instrument panel).

There’s a lovely, chunky little steering wheel, alloy pedals and excellent wrap-around sports seats.

Also of note is the special N button on the steering wheel that helps the car make that rapid transformation from mild-mannered to fire-breathing. The button brings tightened suspension, a noticeably more throaty burble from the big, single exhaust and also alters the engine mapping.

For the moment, at least, it’s offered in six-speed manual configuration only. No problems there, particularly for the boy racers who are most likely to buy this machine.

The stick-shifter is tight and precise and invites the engine to rev towards its sonorous best.

The gearbox ratios are particularly tall. Second gear gets most of the way to the speed limit and third is more than enough to idle along at city speeds.

That tall gearing, in return, means the car takes a bit of getting away from the lights without stalling. It’s an acquired art and means there’s potential to stumble at the most inconvenient of times.

There’s also a cool rev-matching system, blipping the throttle on every downshift so anyone who didn’t see the i20N approaching will at least hear it.

In a sense the i20N is much like the Mazda MX-5 or Toyota 86 in that it looks the part and feels much quicker than it actually is. It will be left choking in the dust of any Yaris GR, but that’s not entirely the point.

Outright speed is just one measure of a car’s enjoyment level and the i20N is proof of that.

It’s engaging, brilliant through corners and makes sufficient noise to make drivers feel like they should start acting their age.

And it’s almost $20-grand cheaper than the freakish Yaris which will give most people pause for thought.


* HOW BIG? It’s a small hatch – the smallest in the Hyundai family – but it’s still surprisingly roomy and practical.

* HOW FAST? Quicker than the numbers would suggest. It will reach the speed limit in 6.7 seconds which is not dazzling. It feels much quicker.

* HOW THIRSTY: Official consumption is 6.9L/100km which is not great for a small car with a small engine.

* HOW MUCH? Not cheap at $32,490, but it represents strong value against class rivals.