Hyundai will add more spice to its showrooms from next year, when the i20 N hot hatch arrives Down Under.
The i20 N will sit beneath the i30 N as a stand-alone model in the range.
It’s a similar approach to Ford, which offers the latest Fiesta exclusively in turbocharged “ST” trim.
Hyundai offered a handful of reporters a chance to spend a few minutes with a prototype of the baby hot hatch.
Powered by a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder relation of the Hyundai Veloster Turbo, the new i20 N makes 150kW of power and 275Nm of torque, which make it similarly punchy to the 147kW/290Nm Fiesta ST or 147kW/320Nm Polo GTI, but less potent than the more expensive 200kW/370Nm Toyota Yaris GR.
A six-speed manual transmission drives the front wheels through a mechanically locking differential similar to that of the Fiesta ST. There is no auto option.
The clever electrically-controlled diff of the i30 N isn’t available here, nor are the variable shock absorbers that make the bigger car comfortable on the road and firmer on track.
On the inside, you get a snazzy digital dashboard accompanied by a central infotainment screen. Generously-bolstered sports seats join a chunky steering wheel that resists the trend for squared-off shapes.
We don’t know how much the i20 N will cost but Hyundai would be bold to push it much further than the Fiesta ST or Polo GTI, which are both available for less than $36,000 drive-away — about $10,000 less than the larger i30 N.
Settling into the driver’s seat, I tried to start the engine with an enormous red button on the steering wheel, only to find the motor cranks using a conventional twist of the key — a dated touch in 2020.
The wheel’s red button is used to activate a rev-matching function that helps drivers of all skill levels extract performance when driving hard.
Rolling on 18-inch wheels with Pirelli tyres, the i20 N feels significantly lighter than its big brother. There’s much less inertia while turning or braking, and the little hatch’s weight advantage helps negate its 50kW deficit. It feels strong on Wakefield Park’s short straights, surging ahead with vigour.
The steering is sensibly weighted, feeling predictable and less hyperactive than Ford’s Fiesta.
Tuned to be more planted than playful, the i20 N offers confidence-inspiring grip from both ends.
It’s easy to drive at pace, but doesn’t encourage a tail-happy approach to corner entry.
A firm brake pedal offered strong bite during repeated stops at speed, but occasional “rev hang” during gear changes was bothersome.
The i20 N’s single exhaust outlet has a bi-modal muffler, though customers expecting it to match the crackling volleys of the characterful i30 N may be disappointed by its more conservative tune.
The i20 N is on track to deliver affordable performance when it goes on sale in the first half of 2021.
The i20 N is likely to be joined by a Kona N high-performance SUV in the medium term, as well as a faster version of the new Hyundai i30 sedan, a car sold overseas as the Elantra.
2021 Hyundai i20N
On sale: 2021
Price: TBC (est. $35,000 drive-away)
Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cyl turbo, 150kW/275Nm
Warranty: 5-year, unlimited kilometre