Hyundai i20 N (2021) review
Hyundai, once the bastion of value and practicality, is now very much in the performance game and with models like the i20 N, its rivals should be worried.
Mark Smyth
Mark Smyth

Published on August 18, 2021

We really don't have to go back that many years to the point when Hyundai made cheap, practical, reliable cars that had a few extras to make them more appealing. The original i20 for example had an iPod port, not a wireless iPhone charging cradle thing, but an iPod port with an aux-in socket. That was then; today Hyundai is as much about style and design as it is value. It's also about performance, as previewed by the fantastic i30 N.

The new i20 N hopes to hang onto the coattails of that car's image with such wizardry as an N Corner Carving Differential, an N Custom Mode, N Grin Control System, N Performance Braking System and N Rev Matching. That's so many Ns they should fill it with sweets and call it N&Ns. That would be silly.

In the metal

Unsurprisingly, the i20 N does not look like a regular Hyundai i20, not unless your regular drive is a Hyundai World Rally Championship (WRC) car. On the i20 N, the aero kit is accentuated by a signature red stripe that runs along the front apron and down the sills, too. The design of the grille is inspired by a chequered flag, and it all has a look of purpose and intent.

At the rear, the main feature is the WRC-style roof spoiler and the triangular F1-style fog light. There's a sporty diffuser housing the oval exhaust and more red lines so no-one can mistake this i20 for a rental company special. There's more drama to its looks than on rivals such as the Ford Fiesta ST and Volkswagen Polo GTI.

Inside is the same, with leather and fabric sports seats, big headrests featuring the N logo and plenty of contrasting coloured stitching and chequered flag motifs. What there isn't is soft-touch plastics. Hyundai has spent all the money on performance, which means you get hard plastics on most surfaces that remind you that this is still an i20.

However, there are things to distract you from the feel of some of the materials. The three-spoke sports steering wheel has two big blue buttons on it for switching driving modes, for example. Try as we might, we could not figure out which button was for which order and invariably always ended up in the mode we didn't want. Then there's the big red Revs button glaring at you as though it is really important. We'll get back to that one.

The touchscreen infotainment system is easy enough to use and features an N screen. This shows you essential info like g-forces and acceleration percentage, but it also allows you to adjust settings for the exhaust, steering and more. Fortunately, you can create a custom setting and save it so it's always yours. The i20 N also has a digital instrument cluster with the option to scroll through a number of menus to access settings, data and the like. Oh and before you think it's all touchy touchy, there are still some physical buttons to press and dial.

For those who aren't in the driving seat, the passengers all get decent space, and the boot is good too with a respectable 352 litres of space and the ability to fold down the back seats for a larger load. Like the best hot hatches, the i20 N is as practical as it is potent.

Driving it

As I pulled away from Caffeine and Machine near Stratford in England (gently of course because there's a big sign that says "Don't be a D**k" posted opposite the exit), the i20 N seemed calm enough. As the road opened up it was time to explore the performance some more but there seemed to be nothing to get all that excited about. I looked around and found a mode button that switched on the DAB audio. That was clearly the wrong mode button, so I looked around again and this time found a Drive Mode Select button.

Much better. I'd pulled away in Eco mode, which explained the lack of acceleration and the lack of fun. Switched to Normal, things got better with a little bit of torque steer - there's the fun. Dialled it up to Sport and the fun factor increased dramatically, but then this message flashed up in the instrument cluster - S-bend ahead, switch to N mode. That's what those big blue buttons are for. Hit one and suddenly it all becomes very interesting.

Everything tightened up immediately and the car flew through the S-bend. Fortunately, it was a good surface because the suspension is really firm, much like that of the Renault Clio RS. It's not as compliant as a Volkswagen Polo GTi for example, nor is it as playful as the Fiesta ST, but what it is is grippy, astonishingly grippy. That's partly because that N Corner Carving Differential mentioned earlier is just a fancy name for a mechanical limited slip differential.

The manual gearstick is in the perfect position, almost as though Hyundai N boss, Albert Biermann spent lots of time in a Porsche. The car pivots around the gearstick, it's fabulous to experience and really makes the driver feel as though they are not only in control of the car but central to everything it does.

The i20 growls well enough although it seems to burble better outside the car than in it, which is disappointing. Next time we'll play with the settings more to see if it makes a difference. There's a bit of lag here and there but generally response is good even at lower revs thanks to Hyundai's clever flat power technology. It delivers in most settings, especially N mode where you get an overboost to 304Nm and a massive grin on your face for 20 seconds.

What I don't get so much is the N Rev matching. Switch it on and it holds the revs slightly on down changes, to smoothen it out, but I couldn't really feel much difference between using it and just down changing properly. It seems like a gimmick, but we'll try it again another day and see.

The i20 N is a fine piece of machinery. It lacks power occasionally compared to some rivals, but you can forget about that when you slice through corners with a feeling of total control.

What you get for your money

What you get is a proper pocket rocket that is as grippy as a toddler holding on to their favourite toy. If we're talking toddlers, there's loads of safety kit for small families too from airbags to autonomous emergency braking, forward collision assist, intelligent speed warnings and a whole lot more. The i20 N also comes with a five-year unlimited mileage warranty. There are a few options such as paint choices, audio systems, etc. but you'll find the i20 N is well equipped as standard, something that is part of Hyundai's traditional repertoire.


Hyundai hasn't held back with the i20N. It could have created an all-rounder to rival the GTI, but it has tipped the scales slightly more towards the true enthusiast, just as N boss, Albert Biermann promised it would. The numerous settings are a bit much and it could be accused of being a PlayStation car like the Nissan GT-R, but get used to them and you'll soon know exactly what settings you want for different roads and different moods. Then you'll really be able to have some fun.


Tech Specs

Model testedHyundai i20N
Irish pricing€34,495
Engine1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmissionsix-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive
Body stylefive-door, five-seat hatchback
CO2 emissions155g/km
Irish motor tax€280 per year
Combined economy40.4mpg (7.0 litres/100km)
Top speed228km/h
0-100km/h 6.2 seconds
Power204hp at 5,500-6,000rpm
Torque275Nm at 1750-4,500rpm, overboost to 304Nm
Boot space352-1,165 litres
Rivals to the i20 N (2021)