Hyundai i20 N Line First drive review: Sportier than the regular i20?
Hyundai has brought their go-faster ‘N’ brand to India and their story starts with i20 N Line, a sportier looking sibling of the hatchback that is the reigning Indian Car of the Year. With the N Line, the i20 now gets a more aggressive appearance, interiors that decidedly target an enthusiast, and subtle tweaks to the mechanicals which make a noticeable difference to the i20’s driving characteristics.
What is Hyundai N?
Namyang is the place where the cars are designed and the Nurburgring is where they are tested, refined, polished and made more fun to drive — that’s where the name for Hyundai’s go-faster N brand comes from. It’s the same formula as AMG and BMW M; take your standard road car and massage the engine, tighten up the handling, make it visually more aggressive thus getting more enthu-cutlets into the fold. Similar to AMG and BMW's M division, the N brand also has its roots in motorsport, most visibly the World Rally Championship where they clinched their first driver’s and manufacturer’s titles in 2019 but also the World Touring Car championship where they are the leading brand with 12 titles. Based in Alzenau in Germany, Hyundai Motorsport also has a very strong customer rally and race program, the most visible sign of which — for us Indians — is the red-liveried MRF Tyres-backed i20 R5 that debuted in the 2020 European Rally Championship.
And they have the right people behind it with former BMW M engineering boss Albert Biermann moving to Hyundai in 2015 to kick-start the project and is now the head of R&D at the entire Hyundai Motor Group. All of which makes Hyundai N authentic, but the story has to start somewhere and in India it kicks off with the i20 N Line.
The N Line is different from the full-on N cars; in that sense this is a more visual exercise. Again this is similar to what AMG and M do with their AMG Line and M Sport kits which only amp up the visual quotient but don't go anywhere, because the i20 N Line does have a few small but crucial mechanical updates. The major updates to the styling are up front, with a sporty nose, highlighted by the dual-tone bumper with a new front splitter. The grille has been redesigned and now has this chequered flag-inspired design, clearly showing the N line’s intent. There’s a nicely placed N Line logo too while the red accents at the bottom of the bumper further accentuate the distinctively sporty look.
Over at the side, the i20 N Line gets a new set of alloy wheels but they remain the same size, 16-inches, as the regular i20’s. 17s would have looked so much better but maybe that might have necessitated fresh homologation while also impacting the ride quality (not to mention making the i20 more expensive). The i20 N Line also gets red inserts on the side skirts, along with red front brake callipers. Over at the back, you get a sportier looking bumper with a nice diffuser diffuser-like effect and a great-looking set of twin-exhaust tips. Also new and exclusive to the i20 N Line is the shade of blue on the car that we tested.
The sporty theme continues inside as well. You get an all-black cabin livened up by nice red highlights along with red ambient lighting. Though the design and layout of the dash hasn’t changed, one thing that is new is the lovely-looking N-branded three-spoke steering wheel, now with paddle shifters for the 7-speed DCT. These look and feel great, so does the N-branded gear knob. You also get a chequered flag design with more N-branding on the leatherette seats. Hyundai have always been generous with features and this tradition continues on the N Line which sits at the top of the i20 range. You get the same, great-to-use, 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a Bose sound system, digital instrument cluster, wireless phone charging, cruise control, automatic climate control and sunroof as standard on the N8 variant. There is also a more affordable N6 variant which makes the entry point into the N Line family more accessible.
Behind its blacked out grille, the N line retains the same 1-litre turbocharged 3-cylinder unit from the standard i20, with no change to the power or torque figures. This engine can be had with two gearbox options – a six-speed iMT or the 7-speed DCT. We would have loved to get a conventional manual, no two ways about it! Now despite the powertrain being the same as the regular i20, from the moment you fire up this N Line model, it does sound like it means business.
The vibrations on a cold start and at idle quite nicely imitate those of a sportier car, helped in no small measure by the 3-cylinder thrum, over which there's a nice little growl. Of course, it settles down once the engine warms up, but it still sounds nice and sporty on the go and actually gives the sense of having a mild free flow exhaust, without ever being too loud or annoying. None of this is piped in through the speakers and thanks to that sweet exhaust note, you do enjoy pulling the engine hard. Although it’s a small unit, this engine does enjoy being revved, but doesn’t really get going as you would imagine. It develops 118bhp and 172Nm of torque, which sounds good on paper but feels a little too laid-back for the road. What this engine could have done more with is bottom and mid-range torque, especially when you demand instant acceleration for a quick overtake. More importantly when you’re scurrying around town, it feels a little hesitant. Another thing I noticed is that the engine hangs on to revs momentarily when you let off the throttle, which can make smooth shifts difficult. A slightly reworked engine would have done wonders for the i20 N line, especially since the suspension and steering have been reworked to give you a more dynamic driving experience.
Hyundai claim to have stiffened the suspension by 30 per cent and this has a very positive impact on the road, evident from the moment you set off. It feels more settled at lower speeds, despite the firmer suspension setup. It has lost the slightly floaty nature of the regular i20, to an extent of course. It only gets better as the speeds build up, with the car feeling more planted as you approach triple digits. It now rides with an almost European sophistication, giving you more confidence as a driver. The soft ride on Hyundai cars is something we’ve all often complained about in the past, but this is something that Hyundai's R&D team has clearly worked on, with the results speaking for themselves. The stiffened suspension also means better handling and this was evident from the first corner we chucked the i20 into. The reworked steering means you know what the front wheels are up to, which is always reassuring when you go round corners fast. There’s far less in the way of body roll and you can now hoon around with a lot more confidence. It still maintains its pliancy, making sure that the passenger comfort is still well maintained. Another addition to the i20 N Line are the disc brakes at the rear. The brakes now have much better bite when you initially get on the pedal and obviously the stopping power is much better. What this entire combination of a better suspension, steering and brakes does, is give you plenty of confidence in the twisties and that itself is worth the extra money that Hyundai is asking for the N Line. Upgrading these with aftermarket parts on your regular i20 would definitely cost much more, but I do wish that a set of bigger wheels and wider tyres were slapped on the N Line.
Should you buy one?
If you just look at the pricing, then definitely yes. With an introductory starting price of ₹9.84 lakh for the iMT and going up to ₹11.75 lakh (ex-showroom) for the DCT-equipped N8 variant, the N Line is just about 50K more than the fully loaded i20, making it an excellent value proposition. While it isn’t more powerful, the N Line crucially feels faster and more engaging thanks to those small tweaks. And it looks much better than regular i20, so even if you don’t have sporty intentions (unlikely since you're reading evo India!), you'll be tempted to get one of these just to stand out from the crowd. Now you will, without any reason, say that this is just a styling job but remember this is only the start. These prices mean more N Line cars will hit the road and will give Hyundai more confidence in the N story for India, which means proper, go-faster N cars in the future. And who knows, keeping things authentic will also become a priority, with Hyundai might dip their toes into Indian motorsport.
Most of all Hyundai must be commended for recognising the growing enthusiast community in India and putting in the (considerable) effort into an enthusiast-focused sub-brand — which will force other manufacturers to up their game as well. Affordable hot hatches cannot be that far off now!