Lap time: 2m 17.65s
Power and Weight: 118bhp at 6,000rpm/172Nm at 1,500rpm, NA
Tyres – Front 195/55 R16, Rear 195/55 R16 Ceat Secura Drive
Gone are the days when we had proper hot hatches with cool names and suffixes like GTI, S, Abarth, RS, and JTP, to name a few. You could blame the rising fuel cost or the waning demands, for the lack of souped-up hatches in the country. But we enthusiasts haven’t diminished and Hyundai has taken notice of this. So, in comes the new-gen i20 offering an all-new direct-injection turbo-petrol motor paired to a slick dual-clutch transmission. We have sampled it on the road and now it’s time to put it through its paces at a racetrack. Will the i20 make an impression and fill in the void left in today’s enthusiast’s hot hatch demand? Or is it just another family hatch painted in red? Let’s find out.
Intro for the track
Those familiar with the Madras Motor Race Track (MMRT) in Chennai knows that it is a great place to push the handling characteristics of cars – road-going or otherwise. This bumpy 3.7-kilometre flowing circuit is not a track that favours horsepower; instead, a car with great chassis balance is what shines around here. Right after the short start-finish straight is the fast and bumpy C1. One must then scrub off a lot of speed for the right-hander C2. The C7, as we found out, is the most difficult corner to master as it’s a long right-hander that is ever-tightening and has a double apex. Getting a great exit out of C7 is important because it leads onto the second of the two really quick sections of the MMRT.
|Lap Time||C5 Apex Speed||C7 Apex Speed||C10 Apex Speed||Top Speed|
In the modern era of turbocharged petrol engines, the i20’s 998cc three-banger featuring direct injection is a revelation. Its power output is rated at 118bhp and 172Nm, channelled through a dual-clutch transmission – which is a good combination to be had for a city runabout and also for a day when you have a race track at your disposal. As mentioned above, to have fun at the MMRT, you need not have powerful cars. Small, nimble, cars with decent driving dynamics would be a hoot to throw around and the i20 is exactly that.
With a strong punch in the mid-range, the i20 Turbo pulls hard when exiting a corner and that makes it so much fun. Its DCT is also quick to shift so there are little to no jerks or delays when wrung hard around tighter sections of the track. At the back straight, the i20 Turbo managed to hit triple-digit speed briskly and when slammed on the brakes hard and chucked into the tight right-hander C8, its well-balanced and light chassis came through with good composure. The low-slung stance also inspired the confidence of carrying more speed through corners after repeated laps. Despite the turbo spinning in full tilt, the motor felt tractable, no matter what section of the track the i20 was speeding past. The meaty mid-range was a special advantage for the i20 Turbo.
In a typical Hyundai fashion, the steering of the i20 is light, which is quite handy in city driving conditions. But out here on a race track, it felt vague off the centre and at times there was no feel and feedback. It’s not that the steering is not progressive, but the electronic assist throbs it out of feel on a race track. On the upside, the i20 doesn’t roll too much when cornering hard. Just work around it, and the light controls of the i20 could simply work in its favour instead. With a predictable steering and engine response, experimenting with different speeds on each corner also adds to the fun factor. With no disc brakes at the rear, the braking performance of the i20 was just about average. It could do with more initial feel and since it’s a pint-sized bomb that arrives at a corner with more speed than expected, it could also do with a stronger bite.
We also think slightly stickier tyres would have worked wonders in the i20’s favour. Setting a laptime of 2m 17.65s seconds, the i20 Turbo was almost four seconds slower than the Polo around the track (which too has a turbo-petrol engine now). As we said earlier, the light steering robbed of feel became apparent when attacking the sharp C5 after a quick acceleration. It set the slowest speed of 76.98kmph (0.798g) through the C5 but it surely looked dramatic while at it. We wonder what would a good set of tyres do to help the i20’s cause here. Next was the double-apex C7 and here the turbo-petrol motor shone its brightest. The motor's strong pull helped the i20 corner with a respectable speed of 90.05kmph (just 4kmph slower than the much more powerful and advanced M340i). Then came the C10 – one of the trickiest sections of MMRT – and the i20’s light controls with mediocre tyre grips registered a not-so-bad 57.04kmph (0.794g).
What prevented the i20 from posting an even better time around the track (apart from the paltry tyres) was the combination of two – intrusive ESP and subsequently the gearbox. To give you a picture, throw the i20 into the corner with some zeal and the ESP starts to cut too much power, preventing you from carrying more speeds deep into the corner. While at it, the gearbox finds itself in a soup, struggling to maintain the correct gear for that particular power sent to the wheels. So, it tends to upshift earlier than you would have wanted, just as it's nearing the corner exit. Meanwhile, at this point when you are about to exit the corner, the ESP registers that the steering lock wasn’t as severe as it first calculated before cutting the power. So, it opens the floodgates and lets the access to full power from the engine. This in turn prompts the gearbox to downshift to keep the motor churning in the powerband. Perhaps the provision of manual shifting (or the new iMT even) would allow the i20 Turbo to set faster lap time than this DCT. That’s something to look forward to the next time we are at MMRT.
Now, we also had another hot hatch at our disposal at the track – the one which the owners (and the Indian automotive fraternity to an extent) swear by – the Volkswagen Polo. Where the Polo is more old-school with heavy hydraulic-assisted steering, the i20 comes across as a much lighter and usable hot hatch that anyone can have fun with. It’s especially fun when there are quick direction changes involved. For instance, you brake hard and run wide when exiting out of C2, then prepare for a left lander that is the C3, and clipping the apex you exit while preparing for a quick chicane before gassing it for a straight. Or after the fast direction change at the C8, attacking the C9 before the quick acceleration to the C10 is too much fun in the i20 Turbo.
At the end of the day, the Hyundai i20 Turbo DCT turned out to be a fun, quick car that is capable of keeping an average Joe like me smiling like a Cheshire cat. Full disclosure – it’s not a full-fledge hot hatch. There’s an N version for it with upgraded mechanicals and whatnot. We do get a dressed-up i20 N Line for now. But this standard i20 is equally practical as it is fun – a combination we haven’t seen in a long time.
The easy controls combined with a three-pot, turbocharged, direct-injection contraption under the hood of this i20 is surreally entertaining when pushed hard. The only limitation for the i20 on the track where the tyres which could have been slightly grippier along with the steering feel which was overly detached for race track use. And the ESP-gearbox dreadful duo baulked the i20 Turbo from setting an even faster laptime. Otherwise, the strong engine performance with a well-judged chassis made the i20 one of our favourite ‘everyday heroes’ this year at the 2021 CarWale Track Day.
Although the void where hardcore enthusiasts want a hatchback on steroids will be left wanting for more (they’d have to wait for the full-blown N then). But the i20 DCT Turbo will keep an average driver smiling while commuting to work in the same manner and magnitude as it managed to put a grin on our faces at the MMRT.
Pictures by Kapil Angane and Kaustubh Gandhi
Click here to read our introduction story for CarWale Track Day 2021