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First Drive: Hyundai i20

It is a strong contender but not quite class-leading.

Deon Van Der Walt
July 10, 2024
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First Drive: Hyundai i20

Hyundai’s refreshed i20 has made its local landfall, and it’s aiming to reestablish itself within the fiercely competitive, albeit dwindling, compact hatchback segment. At its local launch, I had the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the sportier-than-the-rest N Line derivative, and while it has some noteworthy features, it doesn’t quite hit all the notes when stacked up against local stalwarts such as the VW Polo, which also happens to have a fierce following. 


You won't have to look hard.

Let’s talk aesthetics, shall we? The i20 N Line has seen a notable refresh, all while keeping true to Hyundai’s push to futurise its model line-up. The N Line in particular, then, stands out with its discernibly sporty front grille and aesthetics-above-all-else air splitter, side skirtings, and rear-diffuser element with integrated dual pipes that help to write some performance cheques. The N Line badges further help to elevate its performance demeanour just a tad. 


As for its exterior dimensions, it’s still just under four metres in length at 3,995mm, making it marginally longer than the Suzuki Baleno/Toyota Starlet twins (3,990mm), while most of its contemporaries, which include the Volkswagen Polo, Mazda 2, Renault Clio V, and Peugeot 208, measure just over 4 metres in total length. In terms of width, it measures 1,775mm, beaten only by the Renault Clio at 1,798mm. This added width translates into a marginally roomier cabin as far as shoulder room is concerned. 


Interior: hit-and-miss.

On the interior front, the Hyundai i20 N Line offers a mixed bag. On the positive front, the red accents, while not exactly tastefully subtle, work to elevate the overall sporty character of the N Line. The red stitching on the inside of the steering wheel rim is a nice touch, while the same is true of the “N” badging on the bottom of the steering wheel and atop the drive selector. The artificial leather seats also received a red accent strip, as did the air vent and air conditioning adjustment toggles, as well as the grab handles on the doors.


However, the overwhelming use of hard-wearing plastics brings the otherwise pleasant look down a notch. Compared to the likes of the VW Polo and especially the style-forward approach from the French quarters in the form of the Renault Clio, the i20 feels severely lacking, with both of these competitors boasting a more premium feel with strategically soft-touch executions. I’d describe the i20 N Line’s execution as souped-up utilitarian in comparison. 


Hyundai has retained its considerably heavy digital aspect inside the cabin, with nearly all car functions bar air-conditioning found on its 8-inch infotainment cluster wrapped in a piano black frame with physical shortcut buttons for the most-used functions. While this screen proved responsive, our limited time on the relatively short launch route didn’t allow us to get fully familiar with all the built-in digital interfaces. This is paired with the fully digital 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, and while it’s still considered a valuable feature in this here-and-now digital age, the initial edge Hyundai had when launching the i20 in 2021 has somewhat diminished by now. 


The drive

As far as performance figures are concerned, the N Line derivative ships with Hyundai’s 1.0-litre T-GDI engine mated to a 7-speed DCT transmission, which produces 90kW and 172Nm of torque. It’s worth mentioning that Hyundai has dropped its previous Motion and Fluid derivative naming conventions within the i20 range for easier-to-distinguish Premium, Executive, and the range-topping N Line assignments. Both the Premium and Executive models come with a choice of either a 1.2 or 1.4-litre naturally aspirated engine, with the 1.2-litre solely available with a 5-speed manual and the 1.4-litre only mated to a 6-speed auto gearbox. The 1.2-litre engine produces 61kW and 115Nm of torque, while the 1.4-litre makes do with 73kW and 133Nm. The 1.0-litre turbo is also exclusively available with the N Line specification model. 


And speaking of which, since the N Line is the only derivative we’ve tested on the launch, I can say that on paper, its figures measure up well relative to the competition. On the road, though, the engine and gearbox combination feel like they could do with some more running in, with the drivetrain feeling stiff when commanding acceleration. It does the job, mind you, and the 7-speed DCT is decent, offering relatively quick shifts during spirited stints. 


Final thoughts

When directly comparing the i20, specifically the N Line, to competitors like the Volkswagen Polo 1.0TSI R-Line, there are some clear differences. The Polo has long been the benchmark in the compact hatchback segment, and for good reason. While pricier, it feels more cohesive as a package, with better refinement and a marginally more polished drive quality. 


Look, the i20 still has a lot going for it in terms of value, and the N Line comes standard with a well-equipped cabin, a sporty design, and a mildly intoxicating exhaust note courtesy of those dual pipes. It's only on the margins where it loses some ground to its German rival. That said, the i20 is a solid choice for those looking for a stylish, tech-rich hatchback that’s left-sided of the buying norm. There’s no denying that Hyundai has made significant leaps in terms of its i20 offering, especially when you consider where it all began. 



Hyundai i20 1.2 Premium (R309,900)

Hyundai i20 1.4 Premium (R329,900)

Hyundai i20 1.2 Executive (R329,900)

Hyundai i20 1.4 Executive (R349,900)

Hyundai i20 1.0T N Line (R467,500)


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