Tuning a car is a great way to turn a reliable, everyday driver into a thrill-seeking, track-gobbling performance vehicle, but it can be an intimidating process for the average driver. Between overhauling the exhaust, tweaking the vehicle’s fuel management, upping the air intake, and diving into the money pit that is forced induction, unlocking a vehicle’s high-performance potential is no small task. That’s why tuning is often a task best left to the pros. Those choosing to outsource the project will be faced with two options: going through a local tuning shop or simply buying straight from the factory.
Many of today’s automakers––especially those on the higher end of the market––offer complete in-house tuning services that specialize in transforming the brand’s mainstream offerings into lean, mean driving machines. From Mercedes-AMG and BMW M to Dodge SRT and Toyota Gazoo Racing, these homegrown tuning outfits offer a number of advantages over their third-party counterparts with better reliability, customer service and, most importantly, comprehensive warranties. The latter is an important consideration when you’re looking to test a vehicle’s limits, which is just part of the reason why these brands have exploded in popularity over the last few years. Just take the Hyundai N brand, for example.
The South Korean automaker’s in-house tuning arm passed the 100,000 sales mark in early 2023, marking an important milestone for the six-year-old brand. Performance-minded models like the Veloster N, Kona N, and Elantra N have driven sales thus far, and things don’t look to be slowing down anytime soon as Hyundai prepares to launch its first all-electric N offering in the IONIQ 5 N. Drivers on the hunt for EVs for sale have plenty of options to choose from, so what’s so special about the all-new Hyundai IONIQ 5 N? Read on as we get the details on this exciting new model, explore the history of Hyundai’s N brand and see how a little “N DNA” goes a long way in building a performance vehicle.
The Beginning of the N
The story of Hyundai’s N brand starts where so many other tales of high-performance success have been written: Germany’s Nürburgring. The famous track is notable for its gruelling Nürburgring 24 Hours endurance race, which also happens to serve as the N brand’s origin story. It was during that race in 2007 that an unassuming team from Schumann Motorsport entered a Hyundai Coupe, ultimately walking away with a second-place class finish after completing an impressive 99 laps in bad weather.
The accomplishment resonated across some 8,500 km, garnering the attention of Hyundai brass in Seoul, who decided to gather a team of designers and engineers at the company’s Namyang R&D Center (the “N” in the N brand) to explore possible high-performance applications. Hyundai poached some of the auto world’s best and brightest minds to bring its performance brand to life, including Albert Biermann, the former Vice President of Engineering at BMW M, and Klaus Köster, the project manager for several Mercedes-AMG models. With a roster of experienced designers, engineers, executives, and marketers onboard, the Namyang team got straight to work, and the first N-badged vehicle––the i20 WRC––was unveiled in late 2013. The Hyundai WRC team would debut the i20 WRC at the 2014 Rallye Monte Carlo and earn its first victory at the Rallye Deutschland later that year.
Back at the Namyang R&D Center, the N team was putting early N models through their paces at the facility’s expansive new test track that includes a 2.1 km high-speed handling track, a 1.4 km multi-purpose handling track, and a 1.1 km low-friction handling track. Designed to mimic the highly technical layout of the iconic Nürburgring, the Namyang test track has been the proving ground for all N models to date.
While there’s little direct evidence tying Schumann Motorsport’s win to Hyundai’s decision to launch the N brand, there’s certainly a lot of overlap between the two entities. Case in point: when Hyundai returned to the Nürburgring 24 Hours in 2016 to test out the first N-brand concept in the Hyundai i30 2.0 Turbo, Peter Schumann was credited as the designer. Schumann and the Hyundai team gave the i30 a complete overhaul, tuning the engine, suspension, wheels, steering and more to turn the compact car into a legitimate contender on the track. While the i30 2.0 Turbo certainly wasn’t hurting for power, the vehicle was designed to put more of an emphasis on handling and pure enjoyment.
“In the process of designing high-performance engines, the highest possible horsepower output is not the top priority,” said Albert Biermann, then Head of Vehicle Test and High Performance Development at Hyundai. “Instead, the engineers focus on maximum driving pleasure and driving fun without compromising the every-day-usability.”
While the i30 2.0 Turbo would finish fourth in its class for the 2016 race with 91 laps completed, the Nürburgring event served as Hyundai’s coming out party, announcing the N brand as the newest player in the in-house tuning market. Three other Hyundai cars also got in on the fun, with a race-tuned Veloster 1.6 Turbo topping the bunch with a class victory. The brand has been a force to be reckoned with ever since, with Hyundai Motorsport winning the WRC title in both 2019 and 2020.
Putting the N In DNA
Hyundai N’s development has been guided by three key principles, which are known as the N DNA pillars. Developed by Hyundai Global Chief Marketing Officer and BMW ex-pat Thomas Schemera, the N DNA pillars include Corner Rascal, Everyday Sports Car, and Race Track Capability. While some of these are pretty self-explanatory, others are less intuitive, so let’s dive in and see just what these terms mean in real-world terms.
We’ll start with the least obvious pillar in Corner Rascal, which describes the enjoyment a driver experiences when taking a corner at high speeds. In order to (safely) achieve this unique driving sensation, N engineers developed various technologies, including the N Corner Carving Differential, rack-type motor-driven power steering (R-MDPS), and specially designed sports bucket seats. The N Corner Carving Differential reduces wheel slip and understeer, which increases maximum cornering speed. The R-MDPS system holds a number of advantages over the column-mounted steering approach, primarily its ability to provide precise and effective steering assistance.
The Everyday Sports Car pillar is Hyundai’s attempt to strike a balance between high-performance fun and everyday drivability, as alluded to in Biermann’s quote. This is accomplished by tuning practical models like the Elantra and IONIQ 5 that are suitable for daily driving. Hyundai also focuses more on the overall experience than raw power, adding exciting features like Hyundai’s N Grin Control System. Offering five different driving modes in the form of Eco, Normal, Sport, N, and N Custom, the N Grin Control System can automatically adjust everything from the engine and dampers to the vehicle’s Electronic Stability Control (ESC), N Corner Carving Differential, steering, and more.
Lastly, there’s Race Track Capability. Given the N brand’s racing heritage, it’s little surprise to see Hyundai put such an emphasis on out-of-the-box racing ability. From heavy-duty, race-inspired parts to weight-saving components, front splitters, side skirts, diffusers and rear-wing spoilers, Hyundai N models can be driven straight from the dealership to the track without the need for any aftermarket modifications.
Enter the IONIQ 5 N
The IONIQ 5 N represents the newest addition to the N lineup, and it’s entirely different from any model to come before. With an all-electric powertrain and 640 hp to play with, the IONIQ 5 N is bringing the N brand into a new, electrifying era of performance.
The new battery-electric compact crossover SUV was unveiled in mid-2023 at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. The N version of the IONIQ 5 will receive some important performance-related changes, including added air curtains and flaps to improve cooling, a wing-type spoiler, a rear diffuser, and extended wheel arches. Hyundai has also toyed with the dimensions, widening the crossover’s track by 50 mm while lowering the model by 20 mm in a bid to improve handling.
The performance credentials are just as strong under the hood, where you’ll find a dual-motor, all-wheel drive setup that squeezes 600 horses out of the 84 kWh battery pack. That should be more than enough power to plant your head firmly against the back of the seat, but if you’re looking for a little more excitement, the N Grin Boost feature allows drivers to access 640 hp for a short period. Hyundai’s N Grin Control System is also in full effect, with several different driving modes to choose from, including an intriguing N Drift Optimizer that will allow drivers to slide around the track to their heart’s delight.
While the instant torque offered by the EV powertrain gives IONIQ 5 N drivers more off-the-line acceleration than they’ll know what to do with, the all-electric design does come with some disadvantages. Specifically, the lack of a multi-speed transmission. While the single-speed gearbox used in electric vehicles is efficient, it lacks some of the engagement and feedback that drivers like to see out of performance models. Hyundai has engineered around this issue by giving the IONIQ 5 N a simulated shift feature that can be activated to replicate the feeling of a gear shift when you manipulate the steering wheel-mounted paddles.
The biggest change in the interior comes in the form of a bolstered front seat designed to keep drivers firmly in place while taking corners at high speed. The steering wheel also gives IONIQ 5 N owners direct access to the N Grin Control System. Information on range, charging, and battery life has not yet been revealed, along with other infotainment and safety-related details, but it should generally fall in line with the specs of the standard IONIQ 5.
Don’t forget about the warranty. As we mentioned earlier, the comprehensive warranty offered by a major auto brand like Hyundai is one of the key reasons to choose a performance vehicle that’s been tuned in-house over a custom tuning job, and the IONIQ 5 N certainly doesn’t disappoint in that department. Hyundai’s warranty covers five years or 100,000 km, with an electric powertrain warranty that’ll give you peace of mind for 10 years or 160,000 km. Finally, Hyundai sweetens the deal with complimentary roadside assistance for five years and unlimited kilometres.
A Thrilling Ride You Will Remember
From that fateful Nürburgring 24 Hours race in 2007 to the 2024 IONIQ 5 N, the N brand has certainly come a long way in the last 16 years. The early success of Schumann Motorsport opened the door to a world of high-performance fun at Hyundai, and the South Korean automaker has been busy chasing that potential ever since. The whole N brand story is a good reminder that, at the end of the day, an automaker’s exploits on the race track have a way of trickling down to the consumer market. Races like the Nürburgring 24 Hours have inspired some of the most iconic vehicles in automotive history––a list that the Hyundai IONIQ 5 N looks destined to join before too long. The SUV’s all-electric design allows Hyundai engineers to pull out all the stops, leveraging the EV’s instant torque to deliver a thrilling ride that drivers won’t soon forget.