Hyundai i20 N Line first drive review: Hot hatch gamble is high roller on wheels
It is a brave new world where fortune often favours the brave. But often doesn't always mean always and in the realms of hot hatchbacks and their respective faring, many have come and many have perished. In a battlefield littered with some formidable warriors, an all-new challenger has appeared on the horizon. The Hyundai i20 N Line has a smart air around it and you'd be forgiven for mistaking it as arrogance. But that sporty arrogance may well be what decides the fate of the first of many promised N Line models from Hyundai India in the country.
I landed in the picturesque city of Udaipur for the second time in a month - first was for the Volkswagen Taigun test drive - and second, to check out why Hyundai India decided to bring in N Line here, nearly a decade after it was first launched in select global markets. And why the i20 N Line in particular, considering there are as many as 11 N Line models in 40 countries across the world. And of course, why should I drive home the i20 N Line when the regular i20 remains a relatively new product with the latest generation launching just last year.
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(Also see: More pictures of Hyundai i20 N Line hot hatch)
Questions aplenty but here is the first full drive review of Hyundai i20 N Line after an entire day with it.
Hyundai i20 N Line: It's all in the looks
Before we race into all that i20 N Line brings to the proverbial table, it is important to take note of what N Line truly is and why and how it is different from not just conventional Hyundai models but also Hyundai's N series. Check out detailed explainer here.
Back? Great! So as explained, N Line models offer cosmetic updates and some minor tuning changes to offer a more spirited visual and drive appeal. The Hyundai i20 N Line doesn't disappoint on the visual appeal but that could also be because how stylish the conventional i20 is in its latest form factor.
Yes, looks can be subjective but most would agree that as far as hatchbacks go, the i20 has quite a sporty exterior styling element. The i20 N Line builds on these elements and sports a new front bumper that has been inspired by the chequered flag in motorsports. It sports the N Line badge - first of many all around this car - and is flanked by LED DRLs and LED projector head light units.
A red highlight on the front skid plate, however, is what would instantly deem this as an N Line when viewed from ahead or in the rear-view mirror of a car in front.
The same red highlight also makes way across the side sill garnish where there is another N Line badge and the N logo on the 16-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels with brake calipers done in, you guessed it, red. Now these red themes are a constant unless you opt for the Fiery Red body shade because in this exterior hue, these colours assume a menacing grey tone.
|Body colour options on Hyundai i20 N Line:|
|Thunder Blue + Phantom Black roof|
|Fiery Red + Phantom Black roof|
Another interesting update is that all four wheels on the car have disc brakes for more stopping power but more on that lower down in this review.
For now, hop over to the rear and notice the i20 N Line continues to have Z-shaped LED tail lights but the twin-tip muffler is the biggest addition here and has a re-tuned exhaust note for an audible difference. It won't quite wake your neighbours in the middle of the night and yet has a satiating note to it. Then there is a sportier tailgate spoiler with side wings and yet another N Line badge here. If you're keeping a count, hold on, there are more.
Hyundai i20 N Line: Cabin core with red to the fore
The emphasis on the racy red shade continues inside the cabin of the Hyundai i20 N Line as well. While most of the layout and feature list is identical to the i20, the N Line version is differentiated by bits like red accent on the AC vents, red ambient lights, metal pedals, an all-new gear knob done in perforated leather with red accents, and red stitching on the seats and steering wheel.
The leather seats also have a chequered flag design and get the N logo which is also present at the bottom of the three-spoke steering wheel. But while the wheel looks quite sporty thanks to the mounted controls on either side, I would have preferred for it to have been flat at the bottom in keeping with the sportier character of the N Line trim.
There are no feature additions as such in the i20 N Line over the top-of-the-line i20 and frankly, what else could have been added? There's wireless phone charging functionality, plethora of charging points and sockets, cooled glove box, seven-speaker Bose sound system, puddle lamps under the ORVMs and a 10.25-inch main infotainment screen which remains as responsive to touch as ever.
Of note though is that the sunroof can now be operated through voice command and frankly, I had quite a fun time talking to the car via Hyundai's BlueLink technology. Navigating to the nearest petrol pump? Done. Opening the driver-side window amid a dramatic bout of laziness? Done. Checking weather? Done. Heck, this car even tells you the latest cricket score even if the English team doesn't quite want you to know.
But there are certain elements I also missed - there's no air purifier inside the i20 N Line - perhaps not needed in Udaipur but the infamous Delhi winter months beckon, and the front seats aren't ventilated either. If my phone can get charged on a cooling pad, my bum surely deserves some care on a hot day too.
Hot day or not, how hot is the N Line to drive? That was the real question that was mostly omnipresent through our outing with the i20 N Line.
Hyundai i20 N Line: Dodgems done right
Remember how as kids, we used to love sitting in bumper cars and yank at the wheels from side to side without much care who we hit? Well, i20 N Line isn't obviously a bumper car. And yet, its comparatively compact proportions and lower seating position - yes, I have driven too many SUVs off late, makes one want to buckle in and go fast. Real fast.
The i20 N Line borrows the 1.0-litre Turbo GDI motor from the i20 and so, has 120 Ps to offer and 172 Nm of torque as well. But the re-tuned exhaust note sure is noticeable - just don't blast the Bose sound system and you can relish what an EV can never-ever offer.
And while the exhaust note is instantly realized at the start of the push button, the changes to the steering set up are also instantly felt. Hyundai's claim hardly falls flat and this is perhaps the best steering I have experienced in any of the company's car - nicely weighted, decent levels of feedback at high speeds and precise on the curves and turns. Well done Hyundai, truly well done.
The DCT unit also holds true to its acclaim and knocked off numbers with characteristic poise - in city traffic as well as on open highway road towards Mount Abu. It is only on the steepest of incline that I felt the transmission unit became ever so slightly perplexed and the rather instantly impatient me had to intervene - paddle shifters, hallelujah.
And while i20 N Line does have an impressive build up towards triple-digit speeds, the disc brakes on all four wheels help calm things down with an air of authority.
Hyundai further told us that the suspension set up has been re-tuned for a more sporty drive trait but I'll be absolutely honest here - I couldn't quite notice what the so-called update is. Not that I have had complaints with the i20 suspension set up but to me at least, the update wasn't really evident.
The i20 N Line on the move, in conclusion, is a bit more peppy to drive and it is the steering set-up which helps it have its unique identity when on the move.
Hyundai i20 N Line: Verdict
Maruti Suzuki launched Baleno RS. Fiat drove in Punto Abarth. Both cars had their own unique strengths and offerings but failed to excite the Indian audience. Where these two hot hatchbacks failed, can i20 N Line from Hyundai succeed? The answer to that question also lies in the fact that the Koreans are not looking at selling the N Line by the truck loads. Or so they say.
Instead, the i20 N Line is like the topping on the cake and Hyundai is likely aiming for 15 to 20% of all i20 sales to be N Line. Possible? Sure. The pricing strategy has been played smartly - the difference in prices of i20 Asta O and the i20 N Line N8 with DCT is just ₹50,000.
There isn't much competition either. The Hyundai i20 N Line rivals Volkswagen Polo GTI, another solid performer on the road. But that's really it.
As such, there is space for the taking and the i20 N Line clearly is a result of Hyundai gauging the Indian car market well and offering a product that stamps its credentials of having cars for the young and those young at heart.