Our competition to determine the best affordable driver’s car (that is, a new one for sale and costing less than – gulp – £40,000) was a lean but varied affair.
A Volkswagen Golf R with more power than ever and the ability to overload the rear axle with torque was probably the favorite for the competition, but who would write off the lively and entertaining Ford Puma ST? The nimble agility of the Ford Fiesta ST with some extra road-friendly suspension travel in it could have been ideal for our test route in Aberdeenshire.
Billed as a front-drive hot hatch for purists, the BMW 128ti was also expected to provide competition for any potential winner. The same was true of the Cupra Leon 300 – something of a Golf R understudy on paper, so could it cause a jolt? Unfortunately, no.
Our affordable driver’s car honor ultimately went to a blue, winged car from a brand that was unfamiliar with the concept of a ‘hot hatch’ less than 10 years ago. And it secured the award by some margin. With five judges awarding each car a score of 25, the Hyundai i20 N achieved 102 points, well ahead of the second-placed Golf R, whose 87 points were just enough to beat the Ford. The Cupra finished fourth and the BMW a disappointing fifth and last.
But back to the Hyundai, whose intention and clear dynamic brilliance convinced our judges in a short time. This 201 hp supermini is a triumph for its maker.
“It can tear apart a twisting mountain pass more vividly than cars costing five figures more,” the test concluded. It is essentially a car with consistency in its character. The no-nonsense body control accomplished by fine damping is simpatico with the speed and weight of the steering and even the weights of the other driving controls.
A cohesive, tenacious and serious proposition for avid motorists, this car, and one that takes the N sub-brand up significantly, even from the impressive level of the larger i30 N.
Plus, the wide level of configurability in the drivetrain works in this case, allowing the experience to be meaningfully tailored to the road and your mood. All in all, it’s a pleasantly raw but usable device.
Victory also ensured that the i20 N was invited to the senior competition for Britain’s best driver, against the Porsche 911 GT3, Ferrari SF90, Lamborghini Huracán and BMW M3, among others. The result? Fifth place. A performance car, the Hyundai.
Read more about all Autocar Awards winners here