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Best of 2023

What’s the most Hyundai car in the back catalogue?

A tiny, brilliant little hot hatch is the biggest signal of Hyundai's confidence and ability

Published: 26 Dec 2023

The i20 supermini is on its third iteration since the first model was introduced back in 2008 as part of Hyundai’s then new strategy of ditching strange names for a more technological sounding i + number. It’s never quite been consistent, especially at the SUV end of the range (the ix-badged cars were curiously unsuccessful), but the i20 has only got better as time has gone on.

The current model came on the market in 2020, the beneficiary of Hyundai’s recent glow-up, all sharp lines and fancy lights, and mere months later saw the arrival of the N-badged performance version. What a bold statement for Hyundai to make – here it was, launching deep into hot hatch territory ruled by the ghosts of Renaults, Peugeots and Volkswagens past. And taking on the then-current benchmark Fiesta ST too, the Porsche 911 of the hot hatch world.

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As car prices nudge ever higher you get massively impressive value for money from the i20N in the UK, where it starts from £26,530. That gets you a 1.6-litre turbocharged 4cyl engine with six-speed manual that manages the 0–62mph run in 6.2secs and goes on to a 143mph top speed. Power is sent to the front wheels through a standard fit, limited-slip differential. The 1,190kg kerbweight remains petite in a world where electrification means relentlessly increasing podge.

Over the standard car you get a swanky bodykit, a 10mm suspension drop and fancy 18in alloy wheels as well as uprated brakes and suspension. It’s not all about looking the part, though – cars in the hot hatch segment are under huge pressure to deliver, and the boffins in white coats at Hyundai have drawn from deep wells of engineering talent and produced an incredible all-round package. One that’s blessed with sharp handling, a sporty ride and the flexibility that makes the i20N fun to live with on every journey.

Alright, so it’s not perfect – we’d like a bit more zing and character from the engine, which can feel like it’s getting bogged down sometimes, and the car’s handling lacks some of the more playful character that’s made the Fiesta ST such a formidable opponent over the years. Likewise it doesn’t feel as rally ready as the Toyota GR Yaris, but then it was never really intended for that sort of hustle; this car is much more at home on flowing tarmac.

There’s only one way to communicate exactly how much Top Gear likes the i20N, and that’s to offer a brief reminder that it won both Performance Car of the Year and Car of the Year in our 2021 awards. It all represents incredible progress from the company in a matter of decades.

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