The i30 N compact hot hatchback may not be destined for South Africa, but what if Hyundai chose to produce an N version of the smaller, top-selling i20? Internet reports suggest the i20 is ripe for an N conversion, which would put it squarely in a match-up with the feisty Fiesta ST, punchy Clio RS and esteemed Volkswagen Polo GTI. Here's what it could look like.
Render credit: Duwyne Aspeling. Photo credit: S. Baldauf/SB-Medien
Update: The first Hyundai i20 N test mule has been spotted! While it doesn't look too out of the ordinary, we understand that this is a chassis/powertrain testing prototype, so the really interesting bits won't be visible to the naked eye. Our spy photographers confirmed that it was running high-performance Pirelli tyres and inside it featured a 6-speed manual gearbox as well as a strutbar in the boot to firm up the handling.
It's widely known Hyundai is looking to expand its portfolio of N models... Following its introduction in a number of major markets, the i30 N has received critical acclaim as a rival to hot hatches such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Ford Focus and Megane RenaultSport and, Hyundai's evidently keen to build on its success. As part of the N Division's broader marketing activities, the i30 N has participated in touring-car championships and, in 2017, the Korean marque entered the 24 Hours of Nurburgring with a pair of i30 N units that were essentially stripped-down road-legal cars.
But don't forget the i30 N's otherwise practical and sensible little brother also has a motorsport heritage... Hyundai has campaigned the i20 WRC in the World Rally Championship since 2014 and if Toyota can see it fit to produce the Yaris GRMN (a low-volume road car inspired by the Japanese firm’s WRC exploits and engineered on the fabled Nurburgring), who's to say that the N Division wouldn't target the i20 for further development?
What we're getting at is that the Korean manufacturer's performance division, under the stewardship of former BMW M boss Albert Biermann, has the expertise (and a well-stocked parts bin) to transform the i20 from a demure compact hatchback to a potent pocket rocket. Given the quality of the competition, it'll need to be involving to drive, provide heaps of entertainment (at a variety of speeds) and a comprehensive array of features.
After all, Hyundai has many of the elements required to make a rip-snorting pint-sized performance car in its arsenal... In terms of powertrain, there's the 1.6-litre direct injection turbopetrol motor that powers the Veloster Turbo, Elantra Sport and Tucson, which is mated with a quick-shifting dual-clutch transmission. We'd guess the Gamma T-GDI and its 'box could well form the heart of the i20 N. Granted, there would have to be revisions to package's mapping to ensure a performance-orientated power delivery and responsiveness – it'd need to push out around 150 kW and 300 Nm. Ideally, enthusiasts will be after a slick-shifting manual gearbox, but if Hyundai could make a dual-clutch transmission available, that would be a bonus.
Critically, the i20 N would need to offer variable driving modes, perhaps in conjunction with adaptive damping, to offer a balance between hardcore handling and daily-driver appeal. We've seen how customisable the i30 N setup is; the hot hatch offers a plethora of settings for the e-differential, engine map, exhaust, suspension, steering and ESC, and we'd expect some of them to make their way into an i20 N. As the likelihood of South Africa ever getting the i30 N seems increasingly remote, we'd certainly put our hands up and ask for the smaller and more affordable baby brother...
Hyundai will be pushing its N brand hard in future. Current forecasts suggest that an i20 N will see the light of day in 2020.
* The above image is an artist's impression of what an i20 N might look like.