For several years, Hyundai’s N division A-team has been dedicated to developing a line of electric sports cars. The RN22e shows what they’ll be like
- Thrilling acceleration
- Precise handling
- Meaty steering
- Oversteer on tap
- Compelling artificial noise
- Much of this will enter production
- Feels heavy at over 2000kg
- Likely to be over $100K
- I5N to miss twin-clutch diff at first
- Faux-gear shifts are not intuitive
The Hyundai RN22e is an N car like no other. Its name is an acronym, being short for Rolling Lab (N Division) 2022 Electric – quite the mouthful.
What’s important to know is that this 4.9-metre sedan is a test bed prototype for the technologies that will be used for Hyundai’s first two fully-electric N cars: the Ioniq 5 N sports SUV, and the Ioniq 6 N sedan.
Hyundai’s performance division, publicly known as N since its 2018 market launch, has made extensive use of rolling lab prototypes over the last decade. These included the RM19 ‘racing midship’ mid-engined sports car in a Veloster body – a prototype that, sadly, did not make production.
However, the RN22e will most certainly make production, if in (an only slightly) toned-down format. Take away the crazy aero, huge rear wing and stripped-out racing interior and the RN22e is a fairly accurate presentation of what the real electric N twins will bring, we’re told.
That starts with the powertrain, which will carry over into next year’s Ioniq 5 N virtually untouched. Shared in a basic sense with the 2023 Kia EV6 GT, the twin-motor, fully-electric powertrain pumps out a manic 430kW of power and 740Nm of torque – 62 percent of it at the rear end, which can be isolated from the rest of the system for drifting purposes.
A scan of the RN22e’s on-paper stats would lead some to the conclusion that it’s a rebadged EV6 GT painted in N’s signature hue of performance blue. The two share the Hyundai e-GMP platform and 800-volt charging capability, plus their motor hardware. The similarities effectively stop there.
Sitting down with Chasing Cars at our second opportunity to drive the RN22e in anger – a generous session at South Australia’s The Bend raceway, which followed an introduction at the punishing Bilster Berg loop in Germany – N adviser Albert Biermann said Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 N would be far more track-ready.
Extensive system cooling, larger 400mm-calliper brakes and a bespoke-for-N 74kWh battery set the RN22e, Ioniq 5 N and Ioniq 6 N apart from the Kia – which Biermann also developed himself, with the brief that it was to be a GT car, not a racetrack weapon.
Chasing Cars understands that the development target for the Ioniq 5 N and Ioniq 6 N is the ability to complete two laps of the Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit without performance de-rating setting in. Such a feat will require very effective battery and motor cooling, and is currently beyond the ability of virtually every rival EV product.
Racetrack capability has been elevated to one of Hyundai N division’s three brand pillars, alongside corner-rascal characteristics and everyday drivability. That’s quite the brief, but one that many enthusiasts would say Hyundai has nailed with its petrol-fed N cars, from the $35K i20 N light hatch to the $52K Kona N SUV.
Hundreds of N fans turned up at The Bend for Hyundai Australia’s 2022 N festival earlier this month, and they caught a glimpse of the RN22e being tested around the circuit amidst a field of the company’s existing N models.
Those fans would undoubtedly have been shocked to read what Biermann had told Chasing Cars immediately before we were seated behind the wheel of the RN22e: tight new European emissions laws would necessitate discontinuation of the i20 N, i30 N hatch and Kona N mid-decade, leaving the i30 Sedan N as the sole petrol N model standing past 2025.
All of that immediately enhanced the pressure that sits on the broad shoulders of this prototype. The RN22e and its progeniture – the Ioniq 5 N and Ioniq 6 N – won’t just be some halo N product and tech-showcase – they will be nearly the entirety of the N lineup within a short few years.
The RN22e is a multi-million dollar prototype, but both production models that will follow are expected to cost $100,000 or more – just like the EV6. That’s about double where today’s Hyundai N cars sit – quite a leap for a performance division that is just five years old.
When EV and battery tech gets cheaper, it is Biermann’s dream to return the i30 N to the road as an all-electric hot hatch.
Until that point, though, it is clear that N division has to go premium – and it will do so by concentrating on a pair of beastly high-performance EVs that are hot enough that we’d have called them supercars 10 years ago.
That fact becomes obvious as soon as you pull out onto the Bend’s fast 3.4km west circuit at full chat. With its previously 15,000rpm wick turned up to a frenetic 21,000rpm, the RN22e’s rear motor provides its full 270kW shove while the 160kW front motor donated by the Genesis GV60 luxury SUV pulls along with similar alacrity.
You’re shoved into the back of the seat as the RN22e completes its 0-100km/h sprint. Hyundai N prefers not to talk about 0-100km/h times, but we understand it to be 3.5 sec or quicker. Unlike in nearly every other EV, the sensation is much more palpable in this N because the team has spent years developing a remarkably loud artificial noise.
Called N sport sound plus, the acoustic splits the difference between faking the noise of a combustion engine and the Porsche Taycan’s full-space shuttle theme. We went in with skepticism but found that, on track, the RN22e’s loud sound really helped judge throttle inputs and, especially, corner entry speed.
We like it – but we also appreciate that you’ll be able to turn off sport sound plus at will, or tie it to a custom drive mode.
The same on/off functionality is assigned to a more controversial second driver-engagement builder N division has honed at the Nurburgring: an artificial gearbox that mimics Hyundai’s eight-speed wet DCT automatic.
Designed to simulate shifts at 9000rpm in a DCT petrol car – even aping the effect of bouncing off the rev limiter – the thinking is that keen combustion drivers will bond with the RN22e in a similar way.
This was our second experience of the tech – the system has been untouched since September. We remain unconvinced of its utility and intuitiveness, as there aren’t sufficient audible or tactile cues to make it obvious to us that you need to shift. Perhaps this can be improved before launch. Perhaps the feature is not necessary. Biermann himself believes in it.
What we can say we like is the RN22e’s precise handling and assertive demeanor on track. The steering is some of the best we’ve felt in an EV, and the weeks spent by N division – including Australian engineers – benchmarking the Porsche Taycan at the ‘Ring has paid off.
Relatively weighty in the setup we drove, but with a fast rack and what seemed to be decent front-end feel, the RN22e gives you confidence to corner quickly. Levels of chemical grip from the semi-slicks fitted to this tester were high, and mechanical grip was decent too.
That said, the RN22e demands patience when speeds become very high, as they do – the 21,000rpm rear motor affords a huge-for-EV top speed of 260km/h plus. This is a heavy vehicle, over 2000kg, and it feels it. Stepping into the RN22e from a sighting lap in a 1500kg Kona N revealed the mass.
But inputs via the steering are responded to crisply, and the RN22e also provides drivers with plenty more options on-throttle. All previous N cars have been front-wheel drive (FWD), bringing their own unique delights including plenty of lift-off oversteer character, but the RN22e lets you power into slides – hard.
The prototype benefits from a handling feature that will be ready for Ioniq 6 production in late 2024, but will not make the start of Ioniq 5 N builds in late 2023.
A twin-clutch rear differential, akin to that used in the Audi RS3 or Ford Focus RS, allows 100 percent of the rear motor’s vast torque to be sent to either rear wheel at once, allowing for more than ample motivation for huge slides on-throttle – or, alternatively, very precise ability to tweak the RN22e’s angle of attack with the loud pedal.
You can choose whether to drive it silly – with big tail-out moments and lots of smoke – or to engage with it deftly as RWD enthusiasts who like to pilot as quickly as possible do – by tightening cornering angle by gently allowing a small amount of wheel slip on throttle.
Silly or suave, these abilities catapult the RN22e to a level of sophistication well beyond any of N division’s existing, impressive products.
A 220kW rear-wheel drive version, mooted in 2021 by Hyundai marketing boss Thomas Schemera, could come later as a purist’s choice.
The Ioniq 5 N, which will be released first overseas by Christmas next year and in Australia in 2024, will launch instead with an adaptation of the Kia EV6 GT’s traditional limited-slip differential, but it will get the RN22e/Ioniq 6 N’s twin-clutch diff at facelift time.
Photographs of the big, long, expensive, powerful RN22e being hooned around The Bend by Hyundai’s test drivers – and this author – should be enough to demonstrate the step-change occurring within N division.
Whether the performance arm has voluntarily jumped into premium EV motoring or been pushed by hardcore European regulations that will destroy its mainstream lineup is essentially irrelevant now.
For the last several years, Hyundai’s A-team has spent nearly all of its time on the RN22e project and the EVs it will spawn. That level of care and concentration is evident in the prototype – and it should make the production N cars it will soon produce forces to be reckoned with.