FROM THE outside, my favourite Chinese tuckshop is – how can I put this – a sketchy proposition at best. Its facade hasn’t seen a lick of paint since the Dulux sheepdog was a weaning pup, and the tatty menus speak of times when coconut oil was still considered a viable alternative to sunscreen.
But to sample its kung-po pork or its chicken and chive dumplings, served with a smile, piping hot and overflowing with an innate richness, speaks of more than just foodstuffs thrown together for profit. That’s why we return again and again. The fact that it remains incredibly affordable is an undeniable part of its latent charms.
Now, rolling back into the pitlane of Wakefield Park after just a tantalising taste of Hyundai’s newest N, I’m feeling an undeniably similar affection for the little i20 N. It’s nicely spiced, just hot enough, keeny priced, and hits the spot in exactly the right way.
I didn’t even know I’d be driving it, either, which made this brief but sweet treat even more delicious. Officially, I’m here to try the i30 N DCT, but luck and happenstance have made 2020 just a little bit less sucky today.
The i20 N sitting in the pit lane is a (very) recent arrival, having rolled out of the belly of a cargo jet just days before our drive, and sourced from Hyundai’s quality engineering team based at the company’s enormous testing facility in Namyang, about two hours from Seoul.
Hyundai calls it a ‘P stage’ prototype car, which is very close to the finished product – though local engineers will continue to beat it senseless and emails will continue to fly back and forth right up until the moment the lever for full production is pulled in early 2021.
“It was sent to Australia for what is called ‘total vehicle evaluation’,” we’re told. “It’s a series of road and track sessions to check areas like NVH, on-road characteristics, engine response, ergonomics, driveability, and track performance with a professional driver.” Sounds like a pretty cool gig…
To understand the i20 N is to know its older, bigger brother. When it dropped in 2017, the i30 N made waves. Instantly. Here was a hot hatch that took the civility of a Golf GTI, shook it around like a Rottweiler with a chew toy and threw it bodily over a precipice. The i30 N was – and still is – a bloody hilarious thing, with a genuine edge and depth of talent I hadn’t experienced in a hot hatch since the front-drive Ford Focus RS of the early 2000s.
Its deliberately obnoxious exhaust, its sheer pace and its mischievous disdain for convention have brought Hyundai a legion of fans for its fledgling performance brand, let by the gruff but twinkling Albert Biermann, famed for his helmsmanship of the most famous single-letter performance brand of them all, BMW’s M.
“Every time I see an i30 N, I see someone who’s chosen a manual,” remarked my 18-year-old son recently, right before he forgot to empty the damn dishwasher again. “I see an enthusiast.” And he’s right. Hyundai is selling about 1000 i30 Ns a year, and without an auto on offer. There are already N clubs and N days, and Hyundai’s working on numerous N accessories and N upgrades.
At $41,000 and change, the i30 N isn’t exactly dear… but it isn’t cheap, either, and the incoming dual-clutchequipped car will only push it further up the tree.
3 things you should know
BRAKES AND TYRES
Not for the i20 N are fancy one-piece Brembos; instead, it uses sliding calipers from a larger Hyundai (we’re guessing Tucson) and rotors a full 42mm bigger in diameter than those on Fiesta ST. The P-Zeros, too, are coded by Pirelli so they can be easily sourced once they wear out.
This is no shopping trolley chassis any more, says head engineer Koster. “We changed the front axle kinematics with a new [hub] knuckle to match the high performance requirements. We did a new rear CTBA [couple torsion beam axle], too, and that was no small investment...”
“There will be no dual-clutch version,” confirms Koster. “In the B-segment, the manual is just the way to go. For those customers who think they need a dual clutch, we have the right product in the C-segment.” That would be i30 N which just scored an eight-speed wet DCT.
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