The world does not need the Hyundai Ioniq 5 N. The company should not sell it. It is a waste of energy.
I’m not going to temper that statement by saying at least it satisfies a guilty pleasure, as I might if I were to review whipped cream: “The world does not need whipped cream. It has no nutritional value and makes you fat. But that’s okay because it’s oh so delicious, and comes with so many possibilities.”
No, the Hyundai Ioniq 5 N is just too fast, too furious and plain ugly to boot. It looks like a Tron rally car with red accents. It doesn’t improve on the regular car’s range or efficiency, but just consumes more resources to provide more power, which really isn’t needed.
I’m not even saying this because I’m bitter that the police pulled me over while I was driving it, cutting into the single hour I had for this brief tryout. More on that later. It just really has no reason to exist other than to clock fast times on a closed track, and those aspects of it that are technical breakthroughs belong on other, more deserving vehicles.
There is no price announced yet on the Ioniq 5 N, which will be sold in Canada in the spring. It’s widely expected to come at a premium of about $30,000 over the regular car, which means buyers could be looking at close to $100,000 including tax. At that price, if you’re serious about track days, I suggest you save your money and buy a more rewarding Porsche instead. At least you might be able to fix the Porsche if something goes wrong.
The Ioniq 5 N is a mix of performance car and real-life video game avatar, all based on the South Korean company’s hugely successful Ioniq 5 electric SUV. I’ve said many nice things about that popular EV and it really has pushed the electric-vehicle envelope with its fast-charging 800-volt battery architecture. I’ve driven it several times, as well as its Kia EV6 and Genesis GV60 cousins, and never failed to be impressed.
“Would I buy the Ioniq 5 with my own money?” I wrote here two years ago. “I most certainly would, because it offers technology way above its price range while keeping the car comfortable and very enjoyable to drive.”
Put an N on the Ioniq 5, however, and it becomes a different beast. “N” is Hyundai’s performance division, like AMG is to Mercedes, M to BMW or V to Cadillac. The N division pumped up the 320-horsepower of the top-end regular car to a mighty 641 horsepower, lowered the suspension, widened the track and added all kinds of weird and wonderful tricks to its already well-stocked repertoire.
For example, it has gears. Not a simulated stick-shift transmission like the one I tried recently on a Lexus EV test car, but a simulated eight-speed, paddle-shifting dual-clutch transmission. You don’t have to use it, but if it’s activated, it will feel just like you’re pulling strongly through those eight cogs, bouncing off the pretend limiter if you don’t shift quickly enough.
It makes noise, too – your choice of “Ignition,” “Evolution” or “Supersonic.” Start the car, leave it in Park, press your foot on the throttle and the speakers will crackle and pop all day long as you simulate hitting the red line. Outside, nobody hears a thing. (You can also set it to make exterior noise, but it was pretty quiet, and when I did this in a crowd of people, nobody noticed.) Or you can keep the car silent.
I sound dismissive of these gears and noises because I am, but Hyundai says there’s good reason for them, other than just the fun of it. On a track, an experienced racer will gauge the inputs for the car as much on its sound as its feel, and the noises are carefully calibrated to provide meaningful feedback. As well, the gears allow better manipulation of the engine braking as a set-up for corners. This is especially so when the N-braking and N-pedal options are activated, which provide a hefty 0.6 G of regenerative braking. (Normal EVs with one-pedal braking will offer about half that.)
The brakes, of course, are larger, lighter and better cooled than those on the regular car, and there’s a large spoiler at the back that apparently improves air flow and downforce. The software wizardry continues with an electronic limited-slip differential at the rear axle and “N-Torque Distribution” that can be adjusted to 11 levels between the front and back. The only other production car I can think of that offers this is the Subaru WRX STi. Drivers who’ve reported back from a closed course say all this works well to place the weight on the nose that’s needed for cornering, and even for drifting.
It’s a lot of weight and heavier than the regular car, though Hyundai hasn’t revealed the difference. Suffice to say that the new 84 kilowatt-hour battery, with its two-stage inverter and 448 kilowatts of power from the twin motors, absolutely blows the regular Ioniq 5 into the weeds. And that’s the case even against the top-end regular car, with a 77.4-kilowatt-hour battery and 239-kilowatt twin motors, which already makes almost twice the power of the base model.
Tap the red “NGB” button on the busy steering wheel (“NGB” stands for N-Grin Boost, which is about the dumbest moniker I can think of that’s attached to any vehicle) and you get 10 seconds of maximum everything, just as the Genesis GV60 offers, and which I first experienced 10 years ago on Porsches. An extra 40 horsepower is created to boost maximum power to a seat-pinning 641 horsepower and you’re off. Apparently, it’s good for accelerating from zero to 100 kilometres an hour in 3.4 seconds.
Which brings me to my unfortunate meeting with the California Highway Patrol, up on the twisting Angeles Crest Highway.
I was driving on my best behaviour with a Hyundai representative in the passenger seat, stuck behind an older Mercedes sedan that was tootling along well below the speed limit. Its driver was oblivious to the concept of pulling over at the many courtesy passing points. So when a straight stretch appeared, short but sweet, I pulled out, dropped down a couple of simulated gears, and floored the throttle. I was comfortable with the car’s instant torque and incredible acceleration.
Except I hit the rev limiter almost instantly and stopped accelerating. My brain refused to tell my fingers to flick the paddle and shift into the next gear. I’ve been driving electric cars for the past decade and this is not an instinctive action because EVs don’t have gears and just surge all the way to top speed without shifting. In reality, it was likely less than a second before all the inputs clicked into place and I shifted up and surged past, but that was too long. It took me closer to the upcoming curve than I would have liked, on the wrong side of double yellow lines just as the cruiser came around the corner toward me.
I pulled over immediately, before the cop even turned around and activated his lights. The Mercedes pootled past and when the officer arrived, he didn’t look impressed. Not with my driving and certainly not with my boy-racer car. We had a short conversation and he let me go with a well-deserved warning.
Perhaps this really is the reason I’m so down on this car, because it wants to be on a racetrack with its extra helpings of cobalt and nickel and lithium, and it’s a waste to drive it responsibly on public roads. I’d be more forgiving if all its technology was fitted to a more appropriate car, like a smaller hot-hatchback Kona or a sleeker Ioniq 6. Instead, it’s boxy and wedgy and should be carrying a dog in the back on the way to the park.
This is, apparently, just the start of Hyundai’s aspirations for electric cars and its N division. God help us all.