Hyundai’s bloated N lineup is one of the most interesting corners of the affordable car universe. Every vehicle under this banner offers all sorts of user tunability, from damping stiffness to exhaust pipe volume. These settings allow owners to settle into a pace that better suits their personal tastes, and it helps differentiate N from less configurable competitors. The Ioniq 5 N will be the first performance EV in this parade, and after spending time gliding across a frozen lake or two, we’re happy to report that the future of N is about as bright as it gets.
At its winter proving grounds in Arjeplog, Sweden, Hyundai admitted it wasn’t quite ready to release full specs. All we know for now is that the Ioniq 5 N’s two electric motors combine for a net 600 horsepower. It’s no mere facsimile of the 576-hp Kia EV6 GT, although the pair do share the E-GMP platform. There are fewer underlying components in common than you might think – many of its underpinnings have been changed just for Division N.
Cosmetically, the Ioniq 5 N retains the dedication to theater we see on the Kona and Elantra N models. and bigger tires and a more aggressive front bumper. Inside, the 5 N’s steering wheel picks up four additional buttons to cycle through its driving modes and activate various features. The biggest change, however, is the inclusion of a fixed center console; while the standard version may seek to increase interior volume, the N variant would instead give you a place to brace your body when the side g’s ramp up.
On top of a slippery, mostly frozen lake, in unusually mild weather for the season, with studless Pirelli Sottozero winter tires, side-slipping is virtually guaranteed. Hyundai had us trying to hold a drift in the sharpest N driving mode without any electronic interference, and like any other vehicle, the Ioniq 5 N prototype required intense amounts of throttle and steering to avoid a pirouette. Switching to its dedicated drift mode adjusts the distribution of torque to each wheel to better hold a drift after initiating it with a hard pedal stroke or a hard lift under full brake regeneration. The steering also reduces its damping to allow for more granular control without a full arm workout. It’s still up to the driver to avoid spinning, but the machinations going on in the drivetrain inspire enough confidence to hang tail longer and longer.
But maybe you don’t to want to use drift mode. There are still ways to customize the behavior of the Ioniq 5 N to suit your specific riding style. Four different modes (Eco, Normal, Sport and N) adjust steering weight, damping and throttle sensitivity, but tons of automakers let you do this. The 5N goes above and beyond by allowing the driver to change the torque split across a spectrum between nearly full forward or reverse bias. Throw it all toward the bow, and the 5N acts like a front-wheel-drive car would on ice—terminal understeer with bouts of take-off oversteer. Throw it all back and you can do your best impression of a Mustang leaving Cars and Coffee.
These heroics come from two distinct types of differentials. The rear of the Ioniq 5 N uses an electronic limited-slip differential to mix torque left and right, while the front’s open differential pairs with brake-based torque vectoring. The latter was chosen to reduce both the weight and the cost of the front end, but it is quite capable. Even when the setup is working hard, there’s little to no ABS-style brake noise from the inside wheel. The result is smooth operation and impressive body control on surfaces that would send ordinary commuters rushing for a day of working from home.
The ability to shift the power of the Ioniq 5 N in any direction also brings great benefits to more traditional winter driving scenarios. Mixed-traction surfaces can be tricky for starting and stopping, but the differentials did a commendable job of keeping 5N tracking straight during launches and under hard ABS engagement. We even scaled a 20-percent grade with the passenger-side wheels on pure ice, and the Ioniq just pushed its way without drama.
However, not all software is dedicated to making you Keiichi Tsuchiya. Some parts return directly to the theater. Press the button on the bottom right of the steering wheel and the Ioniq 5 N will add simulated gear changes, interrupting torque transmission by pulling one of the gearshift paddles to better mimic an internal combustion car. The reasoning here is that it can help drivers familiar with conventional cars learn about how electric vehicles work by giving them cues that engender a sense of familiarity. Activating this feature also places a tachometer on the gauge display, although it is not correlated to the speed of the electric motor; it’s just a neat little flourish with a fake redline near the real Elantra N. Performance isn’t the point here, as functionality doesn’t squat in that department. Instead, it gives riders another way to tailor the 5 N to their specific tastes.
Even the sound synthesizer helps smooth the transition. We found this to be a good complement to the Ioniq’s drift mode, as the rising and falling sound provides a good audible indication of what the tires are doing. Three different sounds will be offered, but only one was available on our excursion, and it brought a bit of boosted four-cylinder vibe to the 5 N. Like it? Great, so use it. You don’t like it? Also great, you never have to turn it on. But having a choice is good.
The Ioniq 5 N is a watershed moment for Hyundai’s fledgling N performance division. We’ve seen some supremely sublime N-cars before, and the division’s internal combustion efforts won’t stop until the world forces Hyundai’s hand. But the 5 N represents the start of the sub-brand’s upward push, towards higher performance envelopes while maintaining a value proposition that matches the Korean automaker’s longstanding philosophy. Anyone can accelerate an electric car quickly, it’s not difficult. But Hyundai hopes the Ioniq 5 N’s software – and the power of choice it brings – will help this N stand out from the crowd.
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