Electric cars are boring, aren’t they? Quiet and refined, lovely to drive, zero emissions and dazzling fast in a straight line they may be, but they also rival sitting on a bus for driver engagement.
Hyundai’s RN22e is an exception, despite being a pure electric car lugging around half-a-tonne of battery.
As I’m harnessed into this prototype’s race seat, it burbles along The Bend’s pitlane sounding like a proper petrol guzzler. There are gear shift paddles behind its racy suede steering wheel and even a button to engage Drift Mode. Clearly, this is no ordinary EV.
Before I know it, the throttle has delivered a riot of speed and the car’s hurtling toward turn one sounding like a crazy spaceship. That’s thanks to 430kW and 740Nm of electric muscle, a 260km/h top speed and a 0-100km/h time of less than four seconds.
That’s all great, you must be thinking, but who cares when it’s a racing prototype nobody can buy?
Well, underneath the RN22e’s angry-looking aero body is, basically, a Hyundai Ioniq 5 N.
This EV hot hatch enters production in August 2023, so you should be able to buy something that drives like the RN22e, probably for about $100,000, come 2024.
Let’s talk about the good bits first. While EVs are often simple point-and-press cars, Hyundai has prioritised proper driver engagement here. Pilot a petrol i30N or i20N and you’ll know ‘N’ understands driving fun and interaction
From start up, the RN22e sounds like the love child of a revvy four-cylinder turbo and burbling V8, and it vibrates, just like a “real” car.
On the tech front, there’s a twin-clutch type rear differential called an e-TVTC, as Hyundai demands anything wearing its N badge must be a “corner rascal”.
Show it a bend and this all-wheel-drive racer sits ludicrously flat, its steering response is lightning fast and its rear end allows a luscious, easy-to-control slide when you stomp on the throttle.
In Sport mode the N e-shift’s in play, the motor noise builds and you tap your way through “gears” just like a real dual-clutch auto, with drops in power and a little jolt at each change for good measure.
The not so good? Well, it’s all clever fakery. The gear shifts, the noise, the mechanical-like jolts … all smoke and mirrors.
The RN22e can’t hide its weight under braking, although giant 400mm rotors and regeneration do a fine job, and the simulated gear shifts feel far from perfect. We’re assured the Ioniq 5 N production car feels truer to life.
Can such a sporting EV ever match its petrol equivalent for engagement?
“As far as I can tell there’s no EV that comes close to the driver involvement of a traditional high-performance car,” said Albert Biermann, technical adviser to Hyundai N. In a former life, Biermann engineered most of BMW M’s greatest hits.
“But we have the idea to do one and we’ve been working on it for quite some time.” He promised the forthcoming hot hatch Ioniq 5 N was a more evolved – and involving – version of this prototype.
Despite the artifice, it’s hard not to get excited about Hyundai’s track-ready performance EVs. An Ioniq 6 N sedan follows the 5 N, its sleek body seen under the RN22e’s giant wing, diffuser and side skirts.
The electric elephant in the room is battery life. We were given about 10 minutes on track, as was another journalist, then the prototype was plugged in. We’d not used much battery, but when charge gets too low or batteries too hot the car limits its performance for protection.
Hyundai’s battery can charge from 10-80 per cent in less than 18 minutes, if there’s an ultra-rapid 350kW charger to hand. For now, you’ll not find one of those at a racetrack.
There’s work to be done, but Hyundai N’s efforts give hope for driving enthusiasts facing an all-electric future.
This prototype may be video game-like with simulated gear shifts and fake noise through speakers, but the speed, cornering and smile on my face were very real. One thing’s for sure, the Ioniq 5 N will not be boring.
Originally published as Hyundai RN22e concept shows the potential of electric cars
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