The new Hyundai i20 N Line might just be the most fun-to-drive hot-hatch in India
India is the land where mileage is king. That’s especially true in the hatchback segment, where buyers want to squeeze out the maximum number of kilometres from every drop of fuel that goes into the tank. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that performance enthusiasts have, for the most part, been left out in the cold. A few carmakers have made token efforts — few and far between — to liven things up a bit in the hatchback segment, but most of these half-hearted attempts have fallen by the wayside. Manufacturers haven’t had the conviction to go all in — providing only minor, incremental upgrades in power and performance — and car enthusiasts simply weren’t convinced. That might, however, change with the introduction of the new Hyundai i20 N Line.
Why can’t Hyundai do an N Line if European carmakers can do their performance-oriented AMG, RS, SVR, and M cars? Sure, they can, and they did — the first N Line car, the i30 N, was launched in Europe in 2017. The N Line has grown to include other models since then, and more are under development. The ‘N’ comes from Hyundai’s high-tech R&D centre in Namyang, South Korea, where the company’s cars undergo extensive development, and from the legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife in Germany, home to the company’s European technical centre. With their N Line cars, Hyundai aims to offer high levels of performance at a reasonably accessible price.
Hyundai believes the time is now right to do a hot hatch for India since the Indian car market is now a bit more mature than it used to be. Hopefully, there are a significant number of car enthusiasts who want a car that has some fire in its belly. Enter the i20 N Line, powered by a 1.0-litre 3-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, which produces 118 horsepower and 172Nm of torque. This engine is also available with the Verna, the regular (non-N Line) i20 and the Venue, as well as the Aura and Grand i10, albeit in a lower state of tune.
We have to admit, it’s a bit disappointing that Hyundai’s first N Line car for India doesn’t get an engine that is in a higher state of tune than its rather more garden-variety cousins. Even if it was only an extra 10-15bhp it would’ve made the i20 N Line a bit more special. Well, next year, perhaps. But for now, the good thing is that Hyundai has made more of an effort in other areas, and the car does look and feel different from the regular i20. Notable differences on the N Line car include a different, more aggressive front end, 16-inch alloy wheels, twin exhaust exits, N Line-badging on the rear hatch and, with blue, white, and grey versions, prominent red accents on the front bumper and the side skirts. Red cars don’t get the external red accents but do feature red accents, inside the cabin, which cars of all other colours also get.
Modifications on the i20 N Line aren’t limited to cosmetic tweaks; the N Line car also gets firmer, a retuned suspension for improved handling and better high-speed cornering, disc brakes on all four wheels for improved stopping power (the regular i20 has drum brakes at the back), red brake callipers at the front and a sportier, louder exhaust system. We still wish Hyundai had tuned that 1.0-litre turbocharged engine for a bit more power — these other tweaks, while they’re all nice to have, aren’t really a substitute for more power — but at least they made an effort and, heck, we’ll take what we can get.
Pushing the start button on the i20 N Line and the engine wakes up with a subdued growl, providing a slight hint of what’s to come. Get to an empty stretch of road and floor the throttle, and the N Line responds with alacrity. The response isn’t instantaneous — there’s a slight lag as the turbo spins up and the small, three-cylinder engine gets ready to stand and deliver. But once it’s ready, the package works just fine, providing sustained bursts of strong acceleration. The car’s 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission works in perfect harmony with the engine, shifting swiftly and decisively to keep the momentum going. The DCT gearbox is actually best left to its own devices. Still, for those who do wish to shift manually, you can do that via paddles mounted behind the steering wheel or by moving the gear-selector knob to the ‘S’ position and then using it as a rocker switch for upshifts and downshifts. Hyundai claims a zero to 100kph time of 9.9 seconds, which we believe should be achievable, and top speed is likely to be around 190kph. Most buyers will probably be happy with that.
On the move, the i20 N Line feels tight and responsive. Taut, as a sporty hatchback should. Steering feedback is better than average; you can tip the car into fast corners with confidence and feel the tyres squirm for grip as they fight to prevent understeer. The suspension — McPherson struts at the front and torsion beam axle at the back — has been retuned, and made firmer for the N Line. It does work quite well, providing competent high-speed handling without compromising ride quality. Yes, it works on both fronts, handling bumps and ruts with aplomb and providing the lean, taut handling responses that a hot hatch must have. Of course, the N Line is also equipped with a host of electronics, which quietly work behind the scenes to keep you out of trouble; there are anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and electronic stability control (ESC), which is all good to have.
The i20 N Line’s cabin is nice and sporty, with red stitching and piping on the black upholstery and sporty-looking red accents on the gear-selector knob, AC controls, and door pockets. The instrument cluster is fully digital, easily readable even in harsh sunlight, and works very well. There are physical controls for the AC. There’s a 7-speaker Bose sound system for infotainment and a large, centrally-mounted 10.25-inch colour touchscreen, with a simple set of menus non-fussy, simple, and easy to operate, which is how these systems must be. There’s also the inevitable Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for those who must hook up their phone to their car.
Taller people might find that headroom is a bit limited. Still, the N Line’s cabin is otherwise a pleasant place to be in — the manually-adjustable seats at the front are quite spacious and comfortable. At the same time, the rear bench is ideally suited for two adults, though three can be squeezed in for shorter journeys. Boot space is adequate for a couple of mid-size suitcases and maybe a couple of soft bags. High levels of refinement, high-quality materials, good fit-and-finish — we definitely won’t mind making long journeys in the N Line.
Hyundai has a strong motorsports connection (the company won the constructors’ titles in WRC in 2019 and 2020, which is no mean feat). It’s quite fitting that it’s now launched the i20 N Line in India. Admittedly, the car isn’t exactly the last word in high performance. The i20 N that Hyundai offers in some markets gets a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine that makes 200bhp, pushing the car to a top speed of 230kph. But what really matters here is that Hyundai recognises the need for high-performance cars in India — reasonably-priced, relatively accessible cars that enthusiasts can actually buy, rather than just dream about. And in that context, the i20 N Line is a good start. Prices start at Rs 9.84 lakh for the entry-level model, going up to Rs 11.90 lakh for the top-end variant. And that’s a good deal for those who want the kind of adrenaline rush that only a well-sorted hot-hatch can provide.