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Is Hyundai's i20N the Hot Hatch you’ve been waiting for?

S Muralidhar | Updated on September 16, 2021

Hyundai attempts going beyond just cosmetic treatment; makes the new i20 N Line sportier under the skin too

The term Hot Hatch conjures up images of cars like the VW Golf GTI, the Honda Civic Type-R, and the Ford Focus ST - all part of a niche segment that is extremely popular in most countries in Europe. Sign of a mature market for sub-compacts, these are genuinely souped up high-performance small cars. But if you are an enthusiast looking for one of these pocket rockets in India, you’d have been disappointed. Frankly, you’d still be. Car makers here, over-focused on frugality and affordability, have settled for less than half measures. Maybe the market wasn’t ready yet; and maybe the prospect of small volumes didn’t quite make for a good pitch with top management. But, some of the examples from the past have been simply badging and stickering jobs that barely scratched the surface at creating a true Hot Hatch. Remember the Fiat Punto Abarth and the Maruti Suzuki Baleno RS?

So, what’s different with the new Hyundai i20 N Line? Let’s find out.

The tailgate roof spoiler and side wings add to the hot hatch style quotient   -  S Muralidhar

 

Design

I’ve experienced firsthand the excitement around Hyundai’s World Rally Championship team and their cars. A few years ago, I also had the opportunity to experience a couple of their N division cars. These are genuine high performance cars; for example the i20 N (yes, it exists) is powered by Hyundai’s 1.6 T-GDI engine with an output of 204 PS. But, what Hyundai India has launched last month is the i20 N Line; a trim variant with the same one-litre, T-GDI petrol engine that we’ve already experienced in the Venue. So, is it another half-hearted attempt at creating a Hot Hatch? Not really.

The first trait of a Hot Hatch is its design; it must look fast even standing still. And no colour signifies speed like red does. In its overall design, this is still the current, relatively new, conventional i20. But, the bright red accents on the front fender, the side sills and the red brake calipers in my test mule give it an instant dose of sportiness. At the rear, the tailgate roof spoiler and side wings on either side of the rear glass add to the hot hatch style quotient. The seriously sporty addition at the rear is of course the twin tailpipes, which not only make it look like a performance hatch, but the exhaust note from the duo is also a few octaves above the ordinary.

The i20 N Line’s interior also gets a fairly significant, sporty upgrade   -  S Muralidhar

 

Cabin

The N Division signature colour is a light sky blue, and that is reserved only for the ‘N’ cars. This one is an N Line car, and so this i20 gets a different palette and its signature colour is the thunder blue you see in these pictures. The other significant change on the exterior for the i20 N Line is the checkered flag design for the bonnet grille; it has been very classily executed. There are N badges around the car, in addition to the grille. The N badged, specially designed alloy wheels is another unique feature.

The i20 N Line’s interior also gets a fairly significant, sporty upgrade. The black faux leather seats with the red checkered flag design, sporting red piping and contrast stitching give it a big helping of attitude. They also offer a slightly firmer cushioning and the squabs seem to offer a little more support. There are other features too that make it look like a performance machine - the metal pedals, the 3-spoke, stitched leather steering wheel with the N badge at the bottom, and the red accents on the aircon vent controls etc., make this i20 cabin stand out. The gear knobs for both the DCT and the IMT versions are excellent, with the latter one being particularly sporty and aesthetic in its construction. There is also red ambient lighting and some more ‘N’ badging in the cabin. The space in the cabin, knee and shoulder room for occupants and luggage room at the boot are all identical to the regular i20. There will be two trim levels (N6 and N8) on offer for the IMT gearbox version and one fully-loaded N8 for the DCT. Even the base N6 trim gets a big bump up in features compared to the regular i20. This includes five additional connected car features (58 in total now) and voice command functions too.

Performance

The i20 N Line is offered with only one engine option - the one-litre T-GDI petrol engine; and in the same state of tune as the Venue. However, it gets two transmission options - the dual clutch (DCT) automatic and the clutchless IMT (intelligent manual transmission). Starting out on my test drive, with the elevated exhaust note in my ears, the first thought was wish this had a manual gearbox. I was starting out with the DCT, and it was a relief to see that it had steering-mounted paddles for manual gear selection.

The engine generates the same 120PS of peak power and 172Nm of torque as in the Venue. Minor modifications to the ratios have been made and there is a sport mode to choose if you’d want a peppier setting for the powertrain. The turbocharged, direct injection petrol engine manages to erase much of the shortfall that it inherits from being a 3-cylinder mill. It can’t give you the bursting start that you might expect from a seriously endowed hot hatch (for that we have to wait for one of the ‘N’ cars), but it has a strong mid range and considerable go all the way till 5,000rpm. The engine has a gruff edge with mild vibration at the door during idling, but it punches above its weight in the world of 3-pot engines. Testing the 6-speed IMT variant gives me a slightly different experience and I found that intuitively choosing gears manually helped better explore the engine’s potential, though the absence of a clutch seemed a bit odd for a car that is trying to position itself as a hot hatch.

But, in the handling and dynamics department, the i20 N Line does a better job of justifying its positioning. The stock dampers from the i20 have been made about 30 per cent stiffer to offer a more sporty ride and it shows in the way the N Line version goes over bad patches and also in the way it corners with confidence. Really bad roads feel a little jarring compared to the regular i20; but throwing the N Line into turns really highlights the stiffer setup’s ability to keep it wound and steady. There is another mechanical upgrade in the N Line compared to the stock i20, and that is the steering wheel which gets a hefty jump in weight and on-centre feel. Again taking it into corners at speed is when one feels the improved accuracy of the steering. Hyundai has been making steady progress in handling and dynamics for its cars, and this is another big step for the brand. Braking performance is also better in the i20 N Line, with disc brakes for all four wheels being standard fitment.

Bottom line

The sporty hatchback segment is currently a niche, but has the potential to grow with the rise in the number of younger buyers. For this demographic exterior design, efficiency and performance are key metrics, even though affordability will continue to influence the purchase decision.

The i20 N Line is not a full-blown hot hatch, but it gets you close, and stays relatively affordable. What’s more it gets a lot more kit; even in the base trim. Prices for the new i20 N Line range from about ₹10-12 lakh. While we wait for the N cars to arrive, this is a good alternative to choose now.

Published on September 16, 2021

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