Hyundai’s transition from internal combustion engine cars to battery-electric vehicles is already well underway, led by the flagship Ioniq 5 and Ioniq 6.
The brand’s ‘N’ performance division is now set on injecting some fun factor into battery-powered vehicles.
Its high-powered, dual-motor Ioniq 5 N debut EV is therefore being designed find plenty of favour from the current crop of traditional petrolheads out there.
“We want to get the petrolheads who still today say they will never drive an EV because this is no fun,” said Hyundai Executive Technical Advisor and all-round N brand guru Albert Biermann.
“So we want to have some of those guys sitting in an Ioniq 5 N and going on track days with the Ioniq 5 N and giving that traditional-thinking petrolhead a good lesson as to what is a fast lap around a race track.
“[It] could be fun to show these guys what an EV is capable of today.
“I mean we’ve already had some really traditional petrolheads in the RN22e. With a certain person it takes maybe 30 seconds, others might need two minutes to completely make a reset of their thinking about an EV as to how much fun and involvement it can be to drive one.”
Mr Biermann has already been through this exercise a few times, and the reaction has been one of surprise even when pushing hard on track with “crazy-fast driving”.
“Drivers then start to think this isn’t so bad after all, or better still, it’s good fun,” he added.
The Ioniq 5 N is a halo car for the N sub-brand, instantly becoming the spearhead in the car-maker’s transition.
Unlike Kia’s upcoming EV6 GT high-performance EV developed on the same E-GMP architecture as Ioniq 5, the Hyundai has been developed with a track focus in mind, incorporating various changes especially in the cooling department.
A virtual dual-clutch gearbox (DCT) dubbed ‘N e-shift’ is among the most interesting of a suite of technologies being developed for Hyundai’s first high-performance electric vehicle.
There’s also intended to be an accompanying sound that mirrors the engine revs right up to the bap, bap, bap of the rev limiter, via speakers. At least, that’s the part the engineers are working on now in readiness for sign-off in around April or May 2023.
It’s unconfirmed what will power the Ioniq 5 N, but it could offer more performance than the EV6 GT‘s dual-motor all-wheel drive powertrain with 430kW of power and 740Nm of torque. Kia claims the EV6 GT can do the 0-100km/h sprint in just 3.5 seconds.
Till Wartenberg, Hyundai’s Vice President of the N Brand and Motorsport, is the man charged with putting the ‘fun-to-drive’ factor into the forthcoming performance EVs, which he says is no small task.
“We have to show that worry about the fun-to-drive being over with electric cars isn’t true, so our fundamental challenge is how do we keep our brand relevant and who do we cater to?” he said.
“For sure our EV N cars will have a higher price tag and a different type of fun-to-drive factor, but as close to possible as our combustion engine cars.
“So, this is our challenge and what the RN22e is all about. We know many, many people are already impressed with it and believe that fun-to-drive character is still there.”
Yet the transition from combustion-engine N cars to EVs isn’t something Wartenberg believes will happen overnight, at least not in Australia. In fact, Hyundai will continue selling traditional petrol-powered N cars here for as long as emissions regulations allow.
Albert Biermann confirmed this was the case.
“At least for Australia there can be combustion engine N cars for quite some time – at least one model would be a safe bet,” he said.
“For Australia we can clearly see something like a next-generation i30 N sedan, which can survive technically, but on the other hand, we could also have more affordable electric N cars, too.
“By 2030 there should be affordable solutions for B and C-segment N cars, for sure”, Mr Biermann said.
Wartenberg also believes the future of N has a safe base here, and that it will always be able to offer affordable fun-to-drive-on-a-racetrack EVs because the people at Hyundai are courageous enough to go this way.
“I believe future N cars will be more affordable thanks to economies of scale, will have advanced technologies as we have today, and we’ll see more ‘rolling labs’ and more motorsports,” he said.
Ioniq 5 N is rumoured to launch in 2023, while the still-unconfirmed Ioniq 6 N is said to launch in 2024.
Biermann and Wartenberg were present at the fourth annual Australian N Fest at The Bend Motorsports Park in South Australia last weekend, where more than 200 N cars and their owners converged.