You and I know that cars are not ‘just’ transport. They aren’t even ‘just’ art, or ‘just’ engineering. Actually, the thing that we car enthusiasts know to be the most resoundingly crucial and brilliant aspect of cars is the way they affect us humans. Inanimate masses of metal and wires they may be, but a particular model of car can bring people together and even come to represent a whole era and social ecosystem. On top of that, we have an undeniably emotional connection with them.

I was dwelling on this while prodding about in the Hyundai i20 N’s slightly daunting command bridge of customisable settings, having just stepped out of a Ford Fiesta ST Edition. Deciding which of these two is better for the forthcoming twin test in the issue on sale on 14 July was never going to be easy.

After all, I know how brilliant the i30 N is, and I never doubted that the i20 N could distil a similar ‘my first rally car’ feel. Which is exactly what it’s done, with delicious insouciance. The tough part is that deciding if something can better the Fiesta ST requires me to put aside that inconstant, squishy, emotive, human part, because this is absolutely one of those cars that is a big part of our culture and lives. So much so that it felt peculiarly like I was cheating on someone (or something, I suppose) to even consider that the i20 N might be better than the Fiesta ST. The final decision won’t be revealed yet, but just the act of dissecting the Fiesta ST’s merits in order to make a judgement felt like taking the loyal family dog to the rehoming centre, just in case a cuter one was available.

This connection to the Ford is inevitable, really. After all – like most people – I grew up with it. I learned to drive in one, a friend’s ‘angry eye’ Zetec S was the first car I drove with intent after I passed my test, and I’ve seriously considered buying various Fiestas over the years.

While I will apologise now for opening the ‘spoiled motoring journalist file’, a 2005 Fiesta ST was also one of the first press cars I was entrusted with on work experience for this very title. Memorably, I also drove a Fiesta XR2 around some picturesque bits of North Wales for a hot Ford feature way back in 2012 and, to top it all, I drove Jari-Matti Latvala’s actual WRC Fiesta to a mundane Midlands supermarket car park.

Sure, the XR2 is barely an afterthought in the wake of the Peugeot 205 GTi, and the original 2005 Ford Fiesta ST was a bit heavy and, well, just not as good as a Renaultsport Clio (sorry, Ford).

But blimey, was the Mk2 Fiesta ST a game changer. The first Fiesta to beat the Renaultsport Clio at its game, and “as competent, flexible and as capable as they come,” according to the Autocar road test. Since that model, and with the introduction of the more grown-up yet equally playful and accessible Mk3 Fiesta ST that we enjoy today, it has been Autocar’s (and my own) favourite junior hot hatch. It has set an astonishingly high benchmark, not just for how much fun and finesse can be wrung out of an affordable supermini but, with the current generation in particular, just how broad a spread of talents it can deliver. From everyday, efficient supermini to weekend track-day thrills, it has a seemingly limitless comfort zone.

So that was where I found myself: twiddling the i20 N’s digital options, and admiring the sheer brazenness of the thing, while making the effort to box up my knotty, emotional attachment to a vehicle that I’ve never even owned.