What strikes you immediately about Hyundai’s RN22e ‘rolling lab’ concept is its sheer size more than anything else.
Stretching almost 5.0 metres long and nearly 2.0 metres wide, this ground-hugging, full-tilt EV is a high-performance, monster-size version of the brand’s upcoming Ioniq 6 all-electric sedan.
It’s not the first time we’ve seen this prototype in action, either. Earlier this year at Hyundai’s Namyang proving facility in South Korea we saw it testing, while only a couple months ago CarExpert’s Paul Maric also drove it in Germany (video below) after a relatively deep dive into the technology.
Nevertheless, this is the first Aussie drive, and what better circuit than The Bend in South Australia (West Circuit) to put the RN22e through its paces, but over just four laps.
The bonus was that N-guru and chief architect of N sub-brand, Albert Biermann, along with Till Wartenberg; Vice President N Brand and Motorsport, were also on hand at The Bend to provide more depth into this unique EV.
It’s a crucially important prototype for Hyundai, as the carmaker ramps up its transition away from building internal combustion-engined cars to battery-electric vehicles, including its performance-badged N models.
Interestingly, while Till Wartenberg is adamant its ‘N division will continue to build more affordable ICE versions of its i30 Sedan N (Elantra in other markets) into the next-generation given the legions of fans who already own such vehicles, the move to genuine high-performance electric N vehicles is already well under way with the highly-anticipated Ioniq 5 N – slated for a late-2023 launch.
And, while no one at Hyundai will neither confirm or deny an Ioniq 6 N is in the making, it’s pretty much a sure bet it will be the second such all-electric performance-grade car built on the E-GMP platform that will follow its Ioniq 5 N crossover sibling – right down to the dual-motor, 77.4kWh battery set-up.
Even with the move to full electrification, Hyundai N is still chasing its original brand claim of ‘Never just drive’, and the performance arm’s three pillars: corner rascal; racetrack capability straight out of the box; and everyday sports car.
That mantra and those pillars remain fundamental to the ongoing development of the RN22e and indeed the forthcoming Ioniq 5 N, which is still a few months away from getting final sign-off before going into series production.
Indeed, as a ‘rolling lab’ it’s a testbed for a bunch of new performance-enhancing technologies unique to its EVs; such as torque vectoring by twin clutches and 3D-printed parts that both lower weight while maintaining chassis rigidity in the interests of ‘corner carving’ alone.
When it comes to racetrack readiness, the RN22e focuses on advanced cooling solutions and performance braking for sustained laps on track. Additionally, the car is testing regen braking that controls yaw and cornering loads.
And while there are plenty of naysayers more than ready to portray EVs as the beginning of the end of performance cars, at least as far as the emotional driving experience goes, the RN22e is also a testbed for N Sound+ – a technology that looks to generate a choice of man-made sounds reflecting different characters or moods through both external and internal speakers.
One of the most interesting features in development on the RN22e is a virtual gearbox dubbed N e-shift, which simulates paddle-shifting on a current ICE-powered Hyundai N car equipped with a dual-clutch transmission, by combining vibrations and shift feel with N Sound+.
There’s still a lot of fine-tuning to do before Hyundai signs off on the Ioniq 5 N or yet-to-be-confirmed Ioniq 6 N.
Given we already know sister brand Kia’s EV6 GT rocket ship will wear a price tag around $100,000, buyers should expect to be paying even more for the track-ready Ioniq 5 N when it launches locally in late 2023.
It’s big bucks for the Korean brands, especially given the Tesla Model Y Performance – which Hyundai used as a performance benchmark for the Ioniq 5 N – is priced from $96,700 plus on-road costs here in Australia.
While the dual screens and even the instrument stalks look like they’ve been lifted straight out of an Ioniq 6, the RN22e is set-up for fast-paced track work exclusively.
The concept’s cabin incorporates features such as a safety cage, racing bucket seats with harnesses, and the same type of removable Alcantara steering wheel you’d find in race car complete with paddle-shifters.
Nevertheless, it won’t be too long before we start seeing interior pics emerge of the upcoming Hyundai Ioniq 5 N, which is sure to provide a window into what we can expect to see in an N version of the Ioniq 6.
Like any high-performance EV, the Hyundai RN22e employs two electric motors – one on the front axle and one at the rear.
The front motor generates 160kW while the rear makes 270kW. Combined, they generate 430kW of power and 740Nm of torque.
The battery pack offers 77.4kWh of capacity and 400V/800V charging architecture for high-speed DC charging, AC charging and V2L functionality.
It’s capable of hitting 260km/h – faster even than BMW’s flagship iX M60 (250km/h) – thanks to the car’s electric motors that have a higher maximum rpm. Hyundai increased the limit from 15,000rpm to over 20,000rpm.
Cooling is a big issue for electric motors that spin at such high speeds, and it’s an area Hyundai has worked on tirelessly with RN22e. It’s not just the extensive cooling ducts and intakes visible on the car, some of which have made it onto the Ioniq 5 N, but overall heat management has been improved considerably.
Tested at the 20.8km Nürburgring Nordschleife, the RN22e could barely manage a single lap in the early stages of development, whereas Albert Biermann says it’s now capable of completing close to three laps at race speeds. It’s impressive stuff.
Even just sitting in pit lane at The Bend Motorsport Park in South Australia, it’s an intimidating car, the RN22. It’s huge in every way, with intakes all-over and a big rear wing to boot.
There’s a deep, demonic hum as the car sits idle inside and out, but you can’t tell where its coming from – it just seems to radiate all over with a faint burble that gets louder as you pull away and onto the track proper.
We’re on the West Circuit – a 3.41km length track that includes the entire straightaway along with 12 corners. It’s a relatively easy-to-learn course and nowhere near as technical as the longer and more demanding East Circuit.
Mind, I’ve just driven more than 40 laps in a variety of Hyundai’s N cars; including the lightweight and manual only i20 N, along with a couple of i30 Ns including the latest limited-edition Drive-N – my new all-time favourite hatch – so I’m confident of being able to push the prototype around here at a respectable pace without worrying about the fact there’s only two in the world.
We’ve got four laps in total, so two flying and one cooldown, the first two in standard EV mode, and the final two using the simulated N e-shift mode via the paddles.
Here’s the thing; with Hyundai’s wildly successful N-Fest in full swing at the same track, we’ve got some traffic, but while we can overtake other drivers they’re not supposed to pass the EV. That’s a rule that wasn’t always followed and this is one of only two R22e prototypes in existence.
It feels good behind the wheel and it’s easy to find a comfortable driving position. It’s also fast when you put the boot in, but nothing like the Porsche Taycan Turbo S we tested here a couple of years ago.
I just thought it would be faster when you put the hammer down proper, but then again, the Taycan makes upwards of 560kW of power and 1050Nm of torque and can smash the 0-100km/h sprint in 2.468 seconds. But it’s also likely to be three times the price of Ioniq 5 N or Ioniq 6 N, and we know N cars aren’t about speed alone. Corner carving and driver feel is what the N brand is all about.
Nevertheless, the RN22e is an easy car to steer at pace and push through the corners, while nowhere near as intimidating as it looks. You can pass an i30N being driven well at will, but it’s still not an overly involving experience to me.
The brakes, though, are beyond good. I’m hitting the 400mm hybrid stoppers at the 180m braking mark, and that’s way too early for this thing – there’s lots of regen at work here when you come off the throttle that helps wipe off buckets of speed.
Next time around I move the braking point to just 150 metres while nudging more than 200km/h and even that feels a tad too early, but it’s a big, heavy machine that tips the scales at around 2.2 tonnes. You can feel the weight shift on turn-in too, so it’s easy to run wide and miss the apex if you mess up the braking.
The steering, though, is beautifully precise and accurate with good weighting. I probably could be pushing a bit harder, but the engineer riding shotgun seems pleased not be a passenger in another tank-slapping incident that I witnessed earlier with another driver. After all, this is one of only two examples in the world, so you wouldn’t want to bin it.
Third lap in and he gives me the signal to pull both paddles simultaneously to engage the N e-shift system. This is what I find most fascinating and unique to Hyundai so far as I’m aware.
It feels and sounds like you’re properly banging through the gears for real, right up to the redline; but instead of running out of revs and banging on the rev limiter, it just runs out of steam. That’s going to be fixed, according to Biermann.
“We’re still working on that, but yes, every simulated gear shift will include the noise and feel of reaching the rev-limiter, just as you get in one of our ICE N cars with DCT,” he said.
Aside from that function, it’s as real as if you were rowing through the gears on an ICE car and therefore more fun to drive than in the standard EV mode without the paddle-shifters. But, there’s still not enough audible character to excite – at least when you’re on the move – like BMW has developed for its i4 M50 and iX M60 models, which manages to be emotionally engaging to the driver.
No doubt that will come soon enough, and one of the Ioniq 5 N’s cool features in the months of development time remaining with the RN22e. In fact, Biermann has already said drivers will not only be able to not only select between several sound characters sets, but also create and author their own set of sounds or even download new sounds ‘over the air’.
Four laps isn’t nearly enough time behind the wheel to get to know the RN22e properly, unfortunately.
But, it’s more than enough to suggest Hyundai knows how to create a high-performance EV capable of delivering the same type of emotional appeal as its current line-up of affordable, track-ready combustion-engined N cars do.
Clearly there’s still plenty of work to be done to bring it all together in the EV space, but given just how close they are with the RN22e, we can’t wait to get behind the wheel of the upcoming Ioniq 5 N and Ioniq 6 N.
If the concept is anything to go by, they’re likely going to be a cracking first go at electric N cars.
Click the images for the full gallery