Compact hatchbacks, hot or otherwise, are becoming increasingly rarer to spot on New Zealand's roads - and don't get me started about manual gearboxes.
So when a car company releases a new high-performance hatch that has a clutch and gear stick too, it had better be good. Thankfully the new Hyundai i20N is really good, and then some.
The Hyundai i20N is the third model to join the brand's N performance range and what an addition it is. It's a small, four-door hatch that promises a fun and involving drive and delivers both in spades.
Born from their re-introduction to WRC in 2012, Hyundai's 'N division' is essentially their performance arm. It's where their good cars go bad (but in a good way). So far, the Kona and i30 have both been 'N'd', meaning their styling, drivetrain and suspension have been made more track-focused; and now, it's the turn of the mild-mannered townie, the i20.
Several months back, I had the pleasure of taking the new i20N around Hampton Downs racetrack; the self-confessed 'corner rascal' set my pulse racing and had me grinning enough to make a Cheshire tabby frown. But since screaming around a world-class racetrack is not exactly an everyday occurrence, I was keen to see what this red hot hatch was like to live with.
Let's jump right to the heart of this micro hatch, the powertrain; and in particular, the six-speed manual gearbox. As you are probably aware, manuals are becoming a scarcity in modern vehicles. After all, who wants to do something as labour intensive as going up and down six gear levels when it can be done just as well (and often better) automatically? Well, me for one.
Autos, DCTs, DSGs and CVTs all have their place, but if you're looking to underline your performance car statement, it should be manual. A manual transmission gets your whole body involved in the driving experience. From dipping the clutch and finding the biting point with your left foot, to navigating the gate and selecting the right gear with your left hand, all while your right side operates the throttle and brake. Sure, it's not as laid back as just needing to steer, but nor should it be. Whether around the block or on the track, a manual box is driving and the i20N's six-speed, with its rev-matching downshifts and tight gate, is all that and more.
This in turn is married to a 1.6 litre turbocharged engine (150kW/Overboost: 304 Nm) with Continuously Variable Valve Duration (CVVD) and for the first time, VTC (Virtual Turbospeed Control) Tech that maximises the engine output by optimally controlling the turbo. What this all adds up to is a small hatch that will race from 0-100km/h in just 6.2 seconds and should you find a place that allows it (if you do please tell me), a top speed of 230km/h. It even has launch control, in a manual!
My review model came in 'fiery' red with a black roof which looked great. However I would have personally preferred the performance blue option with red highlights. Either way, with its chequered-flag grille, larger air intakes, 18-inch forged alloy wheels and WRC-derived rear roof spoiler, it's not exactly hard to spot in the car park.
Step inside and you find a cabin that's both sporty and distinctive with a smattering of performance blue accents, sports seats, a 'N' steering wheel (with two blue N and one red rev match shortcut buttons), a handbrake lever and the aforementioned gear stick - and of course, a third foot pedal.
Take away the overtly placed performance highlights and trim and you still get a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system with a host of Hyundai driver and safety aids, Bose premium audio and a 10.25-inch colour TFT instrument cluster. On top of this, you also get a performance data menu that measures everything from G-force and telemetry to having inbuilt track maps to measure your times around five local tracks.
Admittedly the new i20N is a firm ride, even in Normal, and the thin strips of Pilot rubber offer very little removal from NZ's open pore tarmac. Plus, if I'm really honest, a manual box is not ideal for bumper to bumper traffic. But, despite its lowness to the ground, it doesn't drag its bottom lip on speed bumps and its compactness makes it easy to use in and out of town - with the latter being much more fun.
It's practical enough for most people too, with 310L of luggage space and a multitude of cubby holes and pockets for your shopping and nicnacs. For my dad duties and visits to the office and mall, the i20N offered more than adequate comfort for my small family of three.
The new Hyundai i20N also proved itself on the racetrack, with ample speed and cornering prowess; however, it's more than just good at doing everyday things too. It's nimble in close quarters with steering weight that doesn't require months at the gym. But the best fun to be had in this mighty mini is alone, in Sport+ and away from prying eyes, dapping up and down the gears while enjoying the gruff exhaust note as the rev needle heads north.
Why you should: What is normally a placid shopping cart now makes your pulse race and red mist appear. It's a compact four-door that has you eager to bully most other performance badges on the road. Plus it's a manual.
Why you shouldn't: If you spend most of your day in heavy traffic the manual box will become tiresome - also the suspension may spill your latte.
What else to consider: In terms of size, four-door and manual gearbox, there's only really the (cheaper) Ford Fiesta ST. But of a similar nature, take a look at the Toyota GR Yaris, Renault Megane RS, Cupra Leon, Honda Civic Type-R or Golf GTI/R.