Hyundai i20N First Drive - Fiesta ST Killer?
It's about time the Ford Fiesta ST faced some stiff competition
I'm a big fan of the Ford Fiesta ST. In fact, I came close to buying a Mk7, but didn't, and there is a part of me that still regrets it. The Mk8 is the current golden child, but to say it's lacking rivals would be an understatement. It's the automotive version of Ant and Dec (if you're reading this outside of the UK that may mean nothing to you) - it has awards thrown at it at will. It's a cracking car in its own right, but it's helped by the fact that a lot of its competition simply don't exist anymore.
However, Hyundai has arrived with its new i20N, looking to gatecrash the Fiesta ST's party and beat it at its own game. Ford has decades' worth of experience making small, fun hot hatches, whereas Hyundai has...well, none. Don't write the South Koreans off so quickly, though, as don't forget, this is the same brand that brought us the Golf GTI-baiting i30N. That caused quite the stir in the automotive world, and now Hyundai is gunning for the small hot hatch class.
Headturner: The rear of the i20N may turn heads, but probably for the wrong reasons...
Let's play top trumps
Ok, so the i20N has one more cylinder than the Fiesta ST - four, compared to three - and it also has more power - 204hp compared to the ST's 200. The Fiesta does win out on torque, though, as that has 290Nm whereas the i20N has 275. The i20N will reach 62mph in 6.2 seconds (I was given the wrong information by Hyundai for the video) which is .3 seconds faster than the ST. Both cars are about the same when it comes to top speed, although the i20N is around 70kg lighter, which is impressive when you bear in mind it's a five door.
Enough numbers, how does it drive?
As much as I was lucky enough to get my hands on the car, my time with it was limited to about 20 minutes, meaning all I could really do was to scratch the surface. However, I'd say it was quite a deep scratch, so I'm able to give you a decent first impression of the car. I've seen/heard other criticise the 1.6 engine for lacking a bit of spark and that it's got some inertia to it. I can concur with those thoughts, although it's far from a bad unit.
It offers more than enough pace to be getting on with, but it lacks the fizz and character of the ST. The gear change also isn't as good as the ST either, although it's still a change worthy of a hot hatch, but it feels a little longer than the ST and certainly not as crisp. Already, you may think there is a theme running here, but don't draw any conclusions just yet.
The i20N may fall short of the ST in some areas, but it still offers sharp steering and fantastic grip in the corners. It doesn't feel as playful as the Fiesta, though; my attempts to engage a little bit of lift oversteer were met with the chassis keeping true to the cornering line. I could feel the back starting to want to go, but then the car nipped it in the bud.
That's by no means a bad thing, as it means the cornering is more balanced and neutral, but if you like a bit of hooliganism you'll want to take the car with the blue oval on the front. The brakes are strong on the i20N and every prod of the pedal is met with a firm, reassuring feedback. The ride isn't too bad, either - yes it's firm, but this is a hot hatch after all. Compared to the Fiesta? Oh, I think I'd need to drive both cars back-to-back to give you an answer on that one, sorry. A limited diff come as standard on the i20N, whereas you have to pay more for that on ST
Please, come take a seat.
The i20N makes a better noise than I was expecting as I had seen some footage of the prototype and it sounded a little weedy to me, and it didn't seem to have the rallyesque burbles as presented by the i30N. Much to my surprise, the i20N did make a fair few burbles on my short drive, although I'd say the overall tone is a bit more raspy than the ST, whereas the ST sounds a bit deeper and more menacing - both cars sound great, though.
How are they matched on price?
Well, the Fiesta ST-2 is cheaper, but there is a caveat here. Because the i20N is so generously equipped, it's more comparable to the ST-3, which it's a similar price to. The i20N starts from £24,995 and comes with the following features: 18” alloys, drive modes, LSD, launch control, heated front seats, LED headlights, climate control, digital instrument cluster, 10.25” touchscreen with DAB radio Bluetooth, smartphone connectivity and navigation, keyless entry, rear parking sensors, reversing camera, plus more. There’s also a 5 year warranty that covers track usage as well.
So, this or the Fiesta ST?
The Hyundai i20N is a very good car, and proof that the i30N wasn't a fluke or a stroke of beginner's luck for Hyundai. It's a well polished package that offers a strong, legitimate rival for the Ford Fiesta ST. However...the Ford has more character, is more playful to drive, therefore more fun, and that's what small hot hatches should be all about, right?