Hyundai I20 N: Tested and Teased

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

With Hyundai promising to give the N treatment to more models in its lineup, everyone expected the new i20 to be the next performance inductee. The subcompact debuted in its vanilla format earlier this year, equipped with a modest but serviceable 1.0-liter turbo engine making 118 horsepower. While that may be ideal for saving gas on grocery runs, Hyundai wants to deliver something a bit more raucous for enthusiasts.

The automaker teased the upcoming i20 N in a winter testing video that primarily focused on the World Rally Championship car fans of the sport would already recognize. The RM19 prototype was also seen kicking up snow in the clips, before a substantially camouflaged i20 received its time in the sun.

Testing was done on a frozen lake in Sweden with WRC driver Thierry Neuville at the helm. His assessment of the i20 N was that it’s sharp and enjoyable. However, as this is basically a commercial for the brand, his praise is to be expected. Hyundai framed the car as an everyday sports car offering normal driveability with stellar cornering abilities, and Neuville was inclined to agree.

“Very precise. Very easy handling,” he said. “The engine is revving nicely and the noise is very interesting as well. I’m looking forward to get this one to drive in WRC.”

Despite the prototype being obscured by dark padding, it’s clearly different than the standard i20. The N model has twin exhaust ports, bigger wheels, a much lower suspension and what look to be upscaled brakes. Technical specifications are likely to be announced soon, as Hyundai’s teasing should be indicative of the model nearing the end of development. We expect Hyundai to slot in its oft-used 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbo.

That unit makes just over 200 hp in the highly excellent Veloster, but may not be tuned for the same amount of oomph in the i20 N. The smaller hatchback is also riding on an entirely new platform, so part interchangeability with its former GB-platform siblings may be more difficult. Still, the 1.6-liter seems the likely candidate. Worse still is that Hyundai hasn’t expressed any interest about shipping this baby to North America.

While there’s a distinct lack of small, exciting vehicles in our market, the Kia Soul Turbo is already there for those needing to haul the occasional box and the Veloster can be made into a truly thrilling companion (even before splurging on the N variant) by equipping it with the right engine. You can also find affordable thrills via other automakers, like Honda and Volkswagen. Toyota is also rumored to be cooking up something special with the Corolla. But the i20 N may remain missing in action until it can be rejiggered into a next generation Kia Rio, or simply not show up at all.

Don’t fret. The whole point of the i20 N existing is to prove that Hyundai is willing to amp up its lineup, and that ideology won’t exclude our market. Both the Kona and Elantra are supposed to get N badges eventually. It’s also trying to prove itself in motorsport, which is why the i20 WRC and RM19 were included in the teasers — that, and padding them for time.

Of the rally i20, Neuville essentially said it was everything you’d want from a hardcore WRC car. He was a little more descriptive of thee RM19, noting that it was particularly fun to drive sideways. This is something we’ve heard in the past and probably has plenty to do with its engine configuration. Often referenced as mid-engined, the lightweight RM19 actually has its 390-hp motor sitting atop the rear axle.

As it’s a prototype, aimed at showing off what Hyundai is capable of while it considers what a production version vehicle with an engine mounted behind the driver might look like, nobody really expects much to come of it directly. Still, engineers are mulling over every scrap of data produced for use in future products. We can’t wait.

[Images: Hyundai]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Kendahl Kendahl on May 06, 2020

    When they entered the US market, Hyundai and Kia were cheap and you didn't get any more than you paid for. After twenty five years of effort, they now make interesting cars of good quality. Had GM done as much for Cadillac, and Ford for Lincoln, they would be competition for Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Lexus.

  • Lorenzo Lorenzo on May 06, 2020

    Are you sure the 1.0 3-cylinder gets 118 HP? That's a lot for a 61 cid 3-cylinder, unless you have to rev it up to 5,000 rpm.

    • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on May 06, 2020

      The 1.5 tripple in the Euro Spec Fiesta ST puts down 197 so seems plausible.

  • Alan Like all testing and analysis work you need a good set of requirements. If you don't you'll find or end up with gaps.
  • Alan In aviation there is more vigourous testing, well, until Boeing changed things.
  • Alan This outcome was certain.The US, Australia and Canada need to approach this differently. A policy towards plug in hybrids should of been a first step. As in CAFE gradually tighten FE from there.There's no reason why you can't have a 2 litre F-150 with electric motors putting out 400-500hp. A 2 litre turbo is good for 200hp more than enough to move a pickup.Also increase fuel tax/excise every year to fill the void in loss of revenue.
  • Doug brockman hardly. Their goals remain to punish us by mandating unsafe unreliable unaffordable battery powered cars
  • Lorenzo It looks like the curves are out and the boxy look is back. There's an upright windscreen, a decided lack of view obstructing swoop in the rear side panels, and you can even see out of the back window. Is Lexus borrowing from the G-Class Mercedes, or the Range Rover?