India has been yearning for its share of hot hatches for years and yet, every time a brand has tried to offer even something remotely lukewarm, the dreaded Indian dichotomy of “why does a hatchback need to be this expensive” raises its ugly head. So, while in theory every bantai wants a hot hatch, when it comes to actually shelling out for a proper pocket rocket, they settle for a 7-seater for the same price.
The Hyundai N-Line is a smart compromise to bridge this gap of wanting and actually buying. While the full-blown N cars sold in international markets get a more powerful engine, they also have a much bigger price differential to their regular versions. The N-line, in contrast, aims to offer meaningful mechanical upgrades, dollops of bespoke styling cues, and the promise to offer a more involving driving experience for not a lot more money than the “normal” versions. The i20 N-Line thus signifies an important chapter in Hyundai’s Indian journey.
Now, with added spice
Going through the rigmarole of customer and enthusiast surveys, Hyundai has landed upon a list of 27 upgrades for the i20 N-line over the regular version of the car and from the exterior, you can see a lot of them. A total of three variants are on offer with two trim levels, N6 and N8 and you can take your pick between the iMT or DCT transmissions.
Changes include an all-new front bumper with a skid plate splashed in red (silver on a red car), a chequered-flag pattern on the grille, rear winglets and roof spoiler, twin-tip exhaust pipes, larger 16in wheels with disc brakes all around now and lashings of N-line badging, and red accents announce that this isn’t your average i20. If the visuals don’t catch your eye, Hyundai has also tweaked the sound from the exhaust for a raspier burble at idle which gets a sporty snarl in gear.
Although under the hood, it’s the same 3-pot turbo petrol engine as the normal i20, Hyundai has stiffened the damper settings, improved steering weight and feel and added paddle shifters to the DCT variant, all of which make the N-line feel and drive differently. The interiors get their share of N-lining too, with custom N-line leather seats, gear knob, three-spoke steering wheel and red stitching all around, now with matching red ambient lighting too.
Tech on wheels
One of the most loaded cars even during launch, the i20 has always offered the most in the segment when it comes to tech. The N-line retains the same 10.25in touchscreen (8in for the N6 variant) that works smoothly powering the suite of 58 different Blue Link features and can now be paired with any smartwatch of your choice, be it on the Tizen, Android Wear or Apple’s WatchOS platform.
Some of the new tricks include voice commands for opening the sunroof or the driver’s side window, asking for soccer scores and getting updates on your current location if you were driving with a blindfold. A total of 16 OTA updates are also being promised for the built-in navigation system over a period of eight years, so you should be as current as Google Maps even without your phone connected to the system.
Two USB sockets up front, one at the back and wireless charging still round up the connectivity options but it's strange that Hyundai didn’t take this opportunity to update the 10.25in infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay capability, which the smaller 8in infotainment system always had. You do get cooled wireless charging in the centre console though and the great sounding 7-speaker Bose audio system is unchanged too. In my time with the car, the voice commands worked well and while it may still be faster to just hit the sunroof and power window buttons manually, if you ever find yourself wanting some fresh air mid-corner, without taking your hands off the very premium feeling steering wheel, yes, it can help.
The electrochromic mirror is also now plucked from more expensive Hyundai models and gets the 3-button array for SOS, RSA or Blue Link call centre. But it’s the steering and the seats that really complete the feeling of being in a more special version of the i20. The buttons on the steering have a superb click feel and is just the right thickness for a firm grip without robbing it of feel. The seats have good underthigh support and along with the rake adjustment, you can find a sporty driving position easily.
Though the exhaust note isn’t extra loud, firing the N-line does hint at its intent. Slotting the DCT in sport mode is supposed to make it louder but from inside the cabin, it’s hard to tell. The N-line sounds a lot sportier from the outside, that’s for sure and will get you noticed, if you’re wondering. From behind the wheel, the entertainment value is high nonetheless.
Increasing damping force by 30% has worked wonders for the suspension, and now it’s neither too soft nor too hard, making it go around corners in a confident manner that allows you to carry more speed. The paddle shifters on the DCT help to quickly drop a gear to keep the engine on the boil, and this 3-cylinder comes to life only above 2,000rpm so it’s best driven enthusiastically, in lower gears and higher revs, if you truly are buying the N-line to enjoy driving.
From a standing start, the response is weak until the turbo spools up and then the surge pushes you back into your seat but once in motion, the steering has a superb feel and directness, allowing you to chuck it around and induce an instant smile. Keep the engine between 2,000-4,000rpm and it really rewards with quick acceleration, superb high-speed stability and a mildly sporty exhaust note that makes you want to go faster. The ride isn’t compromised by being too stiff for everyday use either and Hyundai has taken a measured approach here, blending everyday drivability with a lot more dynamism now.
The iMT allows you to hold on to the gear, but also might not always be as quick (depending on your shifting action) or convenient as the DCT with paddle shifters, especially in tight corners when you might feel the need to have both your hands on the steering wheel. It will boil down to personal preference, but the DCT seems to be the more sportier choice if you like being more “hands on”.
Overall, it’s just the right size for fun in the city or to hit triple digit speeds on the highway, all without any change in the efficiency over the regular version of the i20. All the go-faster looking bits work well to differentiate it from the crowd of normal i20s and from behind the wheel, Hyundai has made the N-line involving enough to justify the cosmetic changes.
If only the engine had a bit more power and torque, the N-line would be even closer to the affordable hot-hatch we’ve always dreamt of. But given the marginal increase in price over the regular version of the i20, the N-line is a no-brainer for anyone who enjoys driving and doesn’t want to break the bank or convince every member of the house.
It still remains the most feature-packed in terms of connected car technology, convenience features, premium branded sound system and the twin screen set-up that ups the futuristic factor beyond any other car in the segment.