A racetrack ready fun machine

If the phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is ever valid, it absolutely applies to Hyundai’s 2022 petite sized pocket hatch, the i20N.

If you think it’s no more than a stereotypical showroom tinsel dressed toy, with sporty decals and body trimmings to give the illusion of genuine performance; then you’re sadly mistaken.

The i20N has its DNA firmly immersed in high pedigree motorsport lineage. Taking its inspiration from the breathtaking and dominating WRC i20 Coupe; the i20N is a full featured legal street machine which is racetrack ready straight off the showroom floor. Think I’m kidding? Well, here’s an interesting little tuning spec to get your attention.

This road registered beastie is not only quick, it’s also light enough to meet the minimum weight requirements for FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) standards at only 1,190kgs!

This mini member of the N family generates impressive engine performance, is both rewarding and engaging to drive and includes a plethora of technology and cool customisable features to satisfy any performance car enthusiast. Honed on the Namyang and Nurburgring circuits, the i20N can not only deliver eye-widening race pace on Sunday at the track, with cornering prowess to thrill… it will leisurely cruise around town Monday to Friday without fuss or complaint to complete any mundane daily duties quietly and competently.

Thomas Schemera, Executive Vice President and Head of Product Division at Hyundai Motor Company commented “With the all-new i20 N, we are expanding our high-performance N line-up to appeal to even more customers who want to experience the thrill of the racetrack in their everyday lives.”

With the key in your pocket, the wing mirrors unfold, showing the i20N is awake. Sitting 10mm lower and finished in an eye-catching special N signature performance blue, the predatory shaped LED headlamps watch your approach. 

An aggressive front bumper dominates the front end and covers the reworked chassis structure that allows for bigger air intakes for the intercooler and radiator, ensuring ample cool air to feed the potent turbo. An idiosyncratic pattern across the big wide radiator grill mimics the design of a chequered flag, whilst the N logo shouts this vehicle is something special.

At the lower edge of the front spoiler are sassy red accents extending down the length of unique fashioned N embossed side sill panels accentuating and extending the coherence of this little demon’s belligerent stance.

Culminating in stepped segments from each rear corner joined by one continuous red strip across the tail end defining the i20’s boundaries and flaunting its width. Finishing the rear end touches is a WRC inspired roof wing to augment down force at higher speeds and a lower diffuser housing the distinctive integrated triangular N fog lamp. Plus, the large chrome tipped oval shaped variable exhaust.

Arresting 18‑inch alloy wheels finished in matte grey are wrapped in serious 215/40R18 Pirelli P-Zero tyres developed in collaboration between Hyundai N and Pirelli to complement the i20N’s chassis geometry and suspension tune.

Providing sticky on road grip, I can vouch for their wet weather performance and reasonably comfortable ride. Sporting large brawny N-branded brake callipers; from the get-go this vehicle screams attention.

From every external view point, the i20N exudes a collected muscular confidence whether it be parked in the driveway or sitting on the grid at the local race meeting.

Crack open the driver’s door and the ostentatious exterior exuberance for bold sports performance aesthetics carries over into the i20N’s inviting interior. 

The dedicated sports seats with N logos on the race styled integrated headrests beckon you to enter and immerse yourself into these low-slung derriere hugging saddles.

You’ll immediately sense these aren’t just standard factory pews with a little fancy embroidery, as the distinctive firm padding to further bolster lateral support and hug your thighs have been purpose built to keep you firmly in place when exploring the i20N’s tenacious cornering talents. A good range of seat adjustment and sliding console armrest means all drivers can find that desirable driving position offering good head room and keep all controls within easy reach.

And let’s not forget functionality, rear passengers aren’t squeezed for room and remain comfortable even on those slightly longer trips. The 60:40 split rear seating provides a range of flexible storage configurations with a decent 352L of space. What I thought was clever, and outside the box thinking was a dual-height boot floor, allowing you the ability to carry either longer items or flip up the rear cover for more depth to accommodate taller items, very neat.

For driver interaction and tactile gratification, you’ll enjoy the nicely sized shape and feel of the leather covered steering wheel with the N insignia at the bottom, it incorporates not one but two customisable N buttons, which let you configure your preferred driving options for quick easy access.

What sports car interior isn’t complete without a great looking leather clad gear shifter? And look at this, a real hand brake lever for creative turns!

No doubt influenced by the guys and girls back at N central, bless em… who correctly believe that all performance orientated Electronic Stability Control (ESC) systems should be programmable in three stages: Full On street commuter, Cheeky Sport, and Racetrack Ready Off for left foot braking.

Dedicated to the driver is a large 10.25-inch crisp highly user-definable digital virtual instrument cluster, with matching 10.25-inch infotainment screen adorning the center of the dash for satellite navigation, multi-Bluetooth capability and the obligatory Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity with two detailed display options for vehicle configuration and driver feedback.

You can stream all your favorite Spotify race tracks (boom-boom – clever play on words there…) or have the DAB digital radio pumping through the Bose eight-speaker audio system. 

In sunny weather, I preferred to drop the windows and enjoy that N series top ten chart buster hit ‘Road Rumblings’ by my favourite street duo Exhaust-N-Induction.

I was impressed to see this pint-sized curve carver also touting a wireless 15W (Qi standard) smartphone charging pad, the convenience of a smart key with push button start, a USB charging port and a traditional 12V outlet. 

Even luxuries like climate control air-conditioning no less. Nothing like the interior of the last race car I sat in.

But without doubt my favourite James Bond inclusion is the cool looking wow factor… a large red rev button! 

What does it do? Basically, it lets the on-board electronic wizardry to synchronise engine rpm (read flywheel) perfectly to the required transmission input shaft rotational speed. Phew, try saying that three times quickly. It all happens seamlessly, depending on which gear is selected and at what road speed you’re traveling. 

The result is buttery smooth down shifts, just like a real race car driver.

Trust me, your passengers, and onlookers will be suitably impressed with your driving prowess as the engine blips at each dipping gear change as you enter the corner, nail the apex, then sling shot the exit under power with a bark and crackle from the exhaust on each upshift in an impressive burst of acceleration. 

Or, if you prefer, you can just turn it off and toe and heel the brake pedal and accelerator for more genuine driver interaction, which is easy, with the nicely spaced pedals.

If driving is your passion, then you’ll love the Hyundai’s N Grin Control System (NGCS).

Putting a high level of customisation back where it belongs with you the driver. There are five distinct drive modes: Normal, Eco, Sport, N and N Custom. I think they should have called the last one Smirk Mode. As you select the different drive modes, each one has a corresponding instrument cluster theme that changes color depicting the i20N’s current personality.

My personal favourite is sport mode finished in devil red. Other than custom, these modes are set and forget. The NGCS automatically makes pre-set adjustments to enhance or alter engine response, stability control, steering wheel feel and the acoustic rumblings and crackling from the large chrome trumpet out back.

However, if you prefer your martinis shaken not stirred – then N Custom opens a new level of fun and excitement. The N Custom options are accessed via the 10.25-inch display through a clear and easy-to-use interface with an effective integrated search function to quickly find the setting you want. You can individually select your own preferences for stability control, steering feel, the exhaust ballad, alter the level of rev matching and aggression required from the engine response. Fancy stealthy and quick, or maybe a hint of “look at me” acoustic exhaust sound with pacified throttle response for sedate daily driving.

Under the hood of the i20N is a new generation 1.6L Turbo Gasoline Direct Injection (T-GDI) power plant. It runs an intercooler to keep boost temperatures in check and a water cooling jacket to protect turbo bearings, combined with 350-bar of fuel pressure at the rail for perfect atomization to achieve crisp throttle response.

Added to Hyundai’s effective and proven Continuously Variable Valve Duration technology (CVVD), there are noteworthy gains in performance with increased volumetric efficiency, and reducing pumping loss between induction and exhaust, resulting in an engine with strong low to mid-range response and frugal drinking habits of 6.9L/100km. This can be seen in the figures and felt on the road in the way the i20N’s engine reacts to a range of driving demands.

Hyundai coined the term ‘Flat Power’, which best describes the i20N’s rich broad torque curve. With an intoxicating 275Nm coming into play from 1,750 to 4,500rpm plus the ability for the turbo to temporarily over boost pushing figures to 304Nm, the i20N delivers impressive low rpm willingness with confident mid-range urge, making it a joy to drive in almost any suburban challenge.

Open the tap with vengeance, follow the gear shift warning light and the i20N will respond unleashing the full force of 150kW as the tacho swings over the 5,500rpm mark achieving a brisk sprint from 0-100kph in just 6.7s and a top speed of 230km/h. Don’t just take my word for it, engage launch control, and try it for yourself – now look at your face in the revision mirror. I’m sure my earlier reference to smirk mode has just been proven.

To handle the demands of track days, i20N’s chassis has been reinforced at 12 points for less body flex. Camber has been altered to improve the tyre contact patch for greater grip under hard cornering, stronger sway bars have been fitted to control vehicle lean, with up-rated springs and larger shock absorbers combined with the LSD front and Hyundai’s Coupled Torsion Beam Axle (CTBA) with all-new dual-beam construction. 

This results in increased agility and stability under duress on the racetrack and achieves pin sharp handling and directional control, thanks to the specifically tuned column-mounted motor driven power steering system (C-MDPS) which allows you to enjoy accurately dissecting sweeping bends over varying road surfaces.

To handle the demands of track days, i20N’s chassis has been reinforced at 12 points for less body flex. Camber has been altered to improve the tyre contact patch for greater grip under hard cornering, stronger sway bars have been fitted to control vehicle lean, with up-rated springs and larger shock absorbers combined with the LSD front and Hyundai’s Coupled Torsion Beam Axle (CTBA) with all-new dual-beam construction. 

This results in increased agility and stability under duress on the racetrack and achieves pin sharp handling and directional control, thanks to the specifically tuned column-mounted motor driven power steering system (C-MDPS) which allows you to enjoy accurately dissecting sweeping bends over varying road surfaces.

It’s not only logical but a must, with such impressive levels of performance to propel a vehicle, the braking system must be up to quickly arresting forward progress.

However, under arduous track conditions, the necessity for repetitive heavy braking sees many road-focused performance vehicles fading as the brakes were never designed for demanding track conditions. Which will see the pedal turn to mush as the coefficient of friction between the pads and rotors is obliterated by building excessive temperature which can’t be dissipated quickly enough or simply the materials and components used aren’t up to the task. Sunday race drivers are left white knuckled, short of breath, with heart palpitations as the velocity generated in that last straight can no longer be reined in sufficiently to eliminate coming in too hot and over cooking the entry to a tricky corner. It’s something no driver ever wants to experience.

In addition to the spicy red, pleasing appearance of the i20N’s calipers, its high-performance brake package has been significantly upgraded over standard fare.

Larger 320mm rotors are fed air from the lower control arm cooling air guides with additional air coming from the front knuckles to promote rapid cooling and keep brake temperatures in check. Backed with high friction pads to retard wheel speed and a larger brake master cylinder generating greater braking force, the i20N brakes continue to stay strong even during bursts of aggressive breaking. 

And that’s why every Hyundai N has strategically been fitted with a manual hand brake lever, as it has more benefits than just parking duties.

I loved the six-speed manual. 

The shift has a wonderful tactile movement of mechanical precision. Turn rev matching on and the engine blips gratifyingly with surgical precision as you gear down 4th to 3rd and 3rd to 2nd before pulling through a tight turn. Punch the pedal on the exit and, with a little squiggle from the steering, the LSD catches up on a slightly wet road and the exhaust howl builds seductively as the tacho and speedo play a game of cat and mouse.

I have a particular road circuit that provides me with a great mix of road conditions, and this is the first car ever that at the end of my drive, I turned around and did it again.

Hyundai has built a hard-earned reputation for quality products and customer satisfaction. And their commitment to their loyal customer base is clearly reflected in their confidence in this mini weapon of mass enjoyment.

The i20N is backed with Australia’s first 5-year unlimited km warranty, and Hyundai roadside support plan, available 24 hours a day, every day of the year, and right across Australia for the first 12 months of ownership extendable to 24 months when serviced at your local Hyundai service center. You can opt for Hyundai’s lifetime service plan with a servicing cost of just $1,545 over the first 5 years. That’s an attractive proposition, especially considering the i20N’s design brief and capability.

When it comes to a comprehensive list of safety tech, the i20N is very well equipped with the latest advances, thanks to Hyundai SmartSense™ Advanced Drivers Assistance System. You can check out the extensive list on the Hyundai website.

A competent, robust, race-ready competitive track car, fully backed by a comprehensive manufacturer’s warranty, roadside support, and fixed price servicing in a vehicle that can easily double as a fun, practical, everyday economical commuter – seriously what’s not to love?

This is the quintessential Jekyll and Hyde must-have garage addition that bypasses all the negative connotations, issues, costs, and frustrations of owning an expensive, high strung performance machine. It can deliver an awesome wow factor in a non-intimidating package that allows you to truly explore its potential whilst improving your own driving skills.

In essence, the i20N has a wide breadth of capability delivered in a wonderfully rounded package that not only punches way beyond what its outward dimensions would suggest, it’s both fun and rewarding to drive around a track, or across town.

Model: Hyundai i20N

  • Price: $38,840
  • Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo direct injection petrol.
  • Output: 150kW/275Nm
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual
  • Fuel: 6.9L/100km
  • Safety rating (i20) ANCAP 5 Stars

Drive Editor - Ray Cully

Drive Editor – Ray Cully

About our Motoring Editor: Ray has been passionate about all things automotive since he first started collecting Matchbox and Hot Wheels models when he was five. Since leaving his executive role at General Motors (GM), he’s been sharing his driving experiences with Australian audiences for nearly 20 years, commencing his automotive journalist career with a popular WA-based magazine and was writing his own column in The West Australian for 8 years.

Ray’s strong love of automotive engineering and clever design has seen his articles and photography featured in prominent national magazines in Australia and the UK. He loves sharing his passion with other drivers, including via a long running stint as Senior Instructor for Land Rover Experience, providing training and education for new vehicle owners.

Recently Ray has been presenting on TV shows including Ready for Adventure and the very popular Caravan and Camping WA, to showcase some of the great products, vehicles and companies that make getting out and exploring Western Australia that much more enjoyable.