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Hyundai i20 engines, driving and performance

How does the Hyundai i20 drive?

While unassuming at first glance, the Hyundai i20 actually drives quite well. We like the eager way it responds to your steering inputs, making it feel agile and light. And there’s not much body roll. It doesn’t feel immediately sporty, but the way it handles quick direction changes shows that it’s fun down a twisty back road.

The steering is likely to be heavier than you’d initially expect, which makes the i20 feel planted and assured. There’s not much feel in the steering, though, and the steering itself could be a tiny bit quicker to make the i20 even more appealing.

The i20 N immediately feels more alive and more of a rascal than the sedate i20. As you’d hope. It certainly lives up to its sporty red accents – the 1.6-litre engine makes its presence known as soon as you turn it on. The i20 N gets a host of performance extras over the standard car, including a limited-slip differential to improve grip – and sure enough, it’s very grippy in the wet – and rev-matching to improve downshifts. And you’ll want to keep using the gearbox again and again, because the shift is short and precise.

The hot i20 also gains a unique N driving mode, which loosens up the traction control a little and puts everything into go-faster mode. Additionally, there’s an ‘S-bend’ mode that flashes up on a country road, which tempts you to drive fast. But the i20 N’s 204hp is manageable – you can use the power when it takes you, rather than having to plan ahead in some of the faster hot hatches. While it is undoubtedly fast, the onus is on precision rather than outright pace. We just wonder why the N mode still gives you the gearshift indicator, which tells you when to shift up for the best fuel economy.

Is the Hyundai i20 comfortable?

There’s a firm edge to the i20’s ride, but it’s controlled, composed and, yes, mostly comfortable. You’ll know what the road surface beneath you is like, and where the potholes are, but the sharp edges are taken off and most of the jolting impact is softened.

Meanwhile, the i20 N has a few driving modes but ‘comfort’ isn’t one of them – it’s firm even in the ‘eco’ mode, although not to the point where you’d avoid motorway journeys altogether.

What’s the best engine to get?

Easy. If you’re getting the standard i20, you’re getting a turbocharged 1.0-litre petrol engine. There are two power outputs – 100hp and 120hp – but the real-world difference is minimal, and even the 100hp engine feels like more than enough for a car of this size and weight.

You’ll find examples of this engine with and without mild-hybrid technology, depending on the age of the car. The mild-hybrid system brings practicality compromises but does improve fuel economy – Hyundai quotes 55mpg for 48V versions and 53mpg for non-hybrid versions.

Unusually for a mild-hybrid, you notice the system working – it’ll noticeably slow you down as soon as you step off the accelerator, just like a full hybrid or fully electric car does. When you’re slowing down, perhaps to a junction or to queueing traffic, the mild-hybrid system allows the engine to cut off from about 15mph. You’ll barely notice the engine kicking in again.

That’s a hint of how smooth the 1.0-litre engine is. A lot of small, three-cylinder petrol engines produce a lot of vibration which can usually be felt in the cabin but, if the i20 does have a buzzy engine, it’s not evident from behind the wheel.

Manual and automatic gearboxes are available. We’d go for the manual, because the automatic feels a bit lazy and is slow to kick down a gear – and a manual version is likely to be a little cheaper than an equivalent car with an automatic gearbox.

Hyundai i20 performance

The automatic gearbox doesn’t just feel slower, it is slower. Cars that shift gears for you take 11.4 seconds to get from 0-62mph, compared to 10.4 seconds for manual cars. In fairness, both the manual and automatic gearbox provide respectable acceleration for this class of car – there are many rivals that take longer to get up to speed, such as the Renault Clio and Citroen C3.

Obviously, the i20 N is the fastest in the line-up, taking just 6.2 seconds to hit the national speed limit.

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