First drive: 2021 Hyundai i20 N prototype

You sit a little high for a sporting car (like a Fiesta ST), but the seats are supportive and it’s easy to find a good driving position. There are – as with the i30 N – quite a lot of drive modes and maybe too many options, which can adjust engine response, rev-matching quickness, stability control or steering weight. But the dampers are passive so the suspension, at least, always remains the same.

There are MacPherson struts at the front, with reinforced domes and different knuckles to normal i20s, while at the rear there’s an uprated torsion beam with increased torsional stiffness. Behind the rear seats is a low brace that runs across the car between the rear wheel arches. An i30 N gets one of those too, and it can be removed if you really need the floor room.

The 1.6-litre engine from Hyundai’s ‘gamma 2’ engine family will be new to Europe when it arrives in this car. There’s only a little turbo lag at low revs and a soft limiter at 6500rpm. That peak torque and power are more or less the same (imperial power and torque figures are always equal at 5252rpm) gives you an idea of how broadly powerful and linear it is. They call it a ‘flat power’ engine, and it has a very steady torque plateau that isn’t peaky at all. The six-speed gearbox is crisp, too.

It’s as if they’ve looked around, seen how you could create something wacky or wild, and decided dead against it. Other basics are sound too. The ride is, I’d say, a little more supple than a Ford Fiesta ST’s, so there’s more body lean but control is still good. There’s a ‘tiptoe’ feel to it, as if it’s alert, so agility is great and, out on some hillside roads near Nürburg, it feels like it’ll lift a rear wheel as you corner hard and lean on the front.

The steering is good, with a smooth take-up from straight ahead. It’s a bit less frenetic than the Fiesta, but with a medium weight that builds confidently and, as cornering forces increase, gives you something to lean onto. What’s particularly rewarding is that, if you do lean on it, the i20 resists understeer well and, as the i30 does – and as the best Renault Sport models and hot Fords do – the rear gets involved, too. It’s at its most notable on a circuit, although that’s hardly surprising.

Cornering isn’t just a case of managing the front end. Braking response is good and it’s easy to trail those towards an apex, which helps to rotate the car. The front discs are 320mm diameter and you can feel the i20’s steering wanting to edge back to straight ahead. I have no idea if overall grip, on 215/40 R18 Pirelli P Zeros, is better or worse than a Renault Sport Clio or a Fiesta ST, and I’m not particularly interested, either. I just like the cornering balance.


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