Seoul, South Korea—The two electric motors rev at 21,000 rpm and the Hyundai IONIQ 5 N blasts down the main straightaway at the Korea International Circuit. Just like in an ICE-powered sports car, I’m shifting gears using the paddles on the steering wheel, all the while listening to what sounds like a ferocious gas engine about to hit 8,000 rpm. As I approach the first corner and make a hard shift from eighth to second gear, I can distinctly hear the throttle blip that causes the revs to spike.
How can this be? There’s no transmission in this electric vehicle. Everything I feel is completely fake—and yet I’m fine with that. Call me a fool, but with the magic of electronics, eight speakers and an adaptive instrument cluster, the battery-powered IONIQ 5 N does a masterful imitation of a gas-burning sports car equipped with a dual-clutch tranny.
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Hyundai’s N performance sub-brand has just come up with what is arguably the first EV on the planet that can seriously appeal to performance enthusiasts. The IONIQ 5 N may not be the quickest-accelerating or the fastest around the Nürburgring, but it’s definitely the one that provides the most thrills behind the wheel by emulating the characteristics of an ICE car. For this initial test drive of the ultimate IONIQ 5 model, the automaker invited us to the same Korea International Circuit that hosted Formula One races from 2010-2013.
Let’s make one thing clear: electric cars are capable of delivering explosive straight-line acceleration and passing manoeuvres with generous torque being instantly transferred from the motors to the road. Beyond that, however, they don’t tend to get your heart racing.
Conventionally powered sports cars are lighter and thus much more exciting to drive, especially if you love a good soundtrack and the visceral downshifts of a rev-matching dual-clutch transmission. For pure driving fun and thrills, there’s simply no substitute.
The Most Playful EV
The engineers at N have successfully developed an EV that proves just as playful and rewarding as an ICE-powered sports car. And that’s quite a feat.
“We started working on artificial sounds for electric vehicles about six years ago, but that wasn’t enough,” said Albert Biermann, the former BMW M chief who helped Hyundai launch the N sub-brand. “So I told my team we also needed to simulate gear shifts in order to positively recreate the feel of a car with an internal combustion engine. The challenge was met by Dongkyun Kim, who previously worked on the development of the Elantra N’s eight-speed dual-clutch transmission.”
Adaptive Suspension and 21-Inch Wheels
The IONIQ 5 N is based on a proven formula: a more rigid chassis, adaptive suspension, upgraded brakes and large 21-inch wheels on wide Pirelli P Zero performance tires. The dual motors generate a combined 601 horsepower—or 641 horsepower for 10 seconds when drivers push the red “N Grin Boost” button on the steering wheel. Peak torque is rated at 546 lb-ft. With N Launch Control activated, acceleration from 0-100 km/h is achieved in just 3.4 seconds.
The angular body of Hyundai’s electric crossover has been redesigned with a so-called N Mask graphic fascia that includes a functional mesh along with air curtain and air flaps for extra cooling. There’s a wing-type spoiler and orange-accented diffuser in the rear, not to mention the addition of a rear window wiper. The latter will be found on other IONIQ 5 models starting in 2025.
Inside, the N bucket seats are positioned about 20 mm lower compared to the basic specification. N-branded elements also include the steering wheel, door scuff panels and metal pedals. The steering wheel is a real beauty: not only does it feature that “N Grin Boost” button we talked about earlier, but you’ll also find two more special buttons for N e-shift and N Active Sound+.
The first one simulates the eight-speed dual-clutch transmission of ICE-powered N cars, while the other simulates the sound effects of those cars when the ‘Ignition’ theme is selected. If you prefer, ‘Evolution’ provides a signature high-performance sound inspired by Hyundai’s RN22e concept, while the ‘Supersonic’ theme is a unique concept inspired by twin-engine fighter jets. The sound is channeled through a 10-speaker system (eight internal, two external).
Wait, it gets even better. The IONIQ 5 N features an N Drift Optimizer that helps maintain the drift angle by balancing multiple vehicle controls responding to real-time inputs. The integrated Torque Kick Drift function allows the driver to simulate the clutch kick action of rear-wheel-driven ICE vehicles for driving scenarios that require more immediate drift initiation. On top of that, Left Foot Braking allows the brake pedal and throttle to work at the same time when driving on the track.
The regenerative braking system was developed specifically for the IONIQ 5 N. It offers up to a maximum of 0.6 G decelerative force—an industry-leading figure—through N Brake Regen alone and remains engaged under ABS activation with a maximum of 0.2 G. All of this is fantastic, but the IONIQ 5 N still weighs nearly 2.2 tons and it shows when attacking sharp corners.
400 Units for Canada
Hyundai Canada says only 400 units of the new IONIQ 5 N will be available in the first year, with deliveries starting in March 2024 as 2025 models. Pricing has yet to be announced, but should be somewhere north of $70,000, making the vehicle ineligible to EV rebates.
Ultimately, the IONIQ 5 N is a marvel of modern automotive engineering and by far the most exhilarating EV I’ve ever tested. A lot of it is fake, sure, but the incredible execution will make believers out of most thrill-seeking drivers.