Hyundai Ioniq 5 N review: complex, fascinating and brilliant in equal measure
Hyundai has thrown every trick in the book – plus a few more – at the Ioniq 5 N to create an engaging EV. The results are superb.
‘We’ve made an elephant that can dance’. That’s how Hyundai’s technical advisor Albert Biermann describes the new, 2.2 ton Ioniq 5 N. Hyundai freely admits that building an engaging electric car – one befitting of the N badge – isn’t entirely straightforward, so it's approaching its first performance EV from a different angle. The Ioniq 5 N is not, they say, about the raw numbers it can produce (enormous though they are). It’s been developed to put the driver at the centre, and uses a set of fiendishly complex software solutions to open up new levels of interaction – the kind of which we haven't seen on a mainstream EV before. The early verdict? It does indeed dance quite well.
We have about an hour’s worth of driving on a South Korean mountain pass and a few laps of the Korean GP circuit (remember that?) to sink our teeth into the Ioniq 5 N, and given the level of configurability on offer here, that isn't a lot of time. From N Torque Distribution, N Pedal, N Drift Optimizer to N Race, the number of adjustable parameters is borderline ridiculous. Oh, and it can simulate the sound and response of a petrol engine and dual-clutch gearbox if you wish. But the key is that the Ioniq 5 N doesn’t need to be in the right mode to reveal its underlying quality, which is evident from the first mile or two. This is much, much more than an Ioniq 5 with the wick turned up.
To achieve the kind of feel and response befitting of an N product, Hyundai has applied fundamental engineering changes to the car’s chassis and structure. The body in white gains 42 additional weld points and extra bonding adhesive to increase rigidity, alongside stiffened front and rear subframes. The steering rack has also been reinforced, with stronger mounting points for the N-specific battery and motor setup.
The 5 N is built on Hyundai’s modular E-GMP platform, with a motor at each axle generating a combined 601bhp (an extra 40bhp is available for ten second bursts via a boost button on the steering wheel). The rear motor uses an e-LSD to distribute torque between the rear wheels, and the system is fed by an 84kWh battery with its own radiator and cooling circuit to provide repeatable performance on track. Very difficult to achieve in an energy-hungry 2.2 ton EV, but Hyundai promises to have cracked it; thanks in part to the platform’s 800v architecture which allows for rapid charging rates (up to 350kW) and better heat management. Around 280 miles should be possible from a full battery, subject to final homologation.
It’s tempting to start fiddling with the software tricks straight away, but we begin with everything switched off. The baseline is promising; there are shades of Honda Civic Type R in the fine-graded, linear feel to the controls, and while the 5 N does feel noticeably wider than a conventional hot hatch, it carves your chosen line with a crisp, clean accuracy. Between corners it’s ballistic – of course it is – but on the road, it’s hard to settle into a flow when using all that potential. Roads are divided into momentary bursts of nausea-inducing thrust and heavy braking, and while the car can deal with it, the forces at play are enormous and not entirely pleasant. It’s a problem that afflicts all fast EVs, and while you can coast along on part throttle, the complete lack of interaction with the powertrain removes any joy from doing so.
That’s where the N e-shift mode comes in. Switch it on and the Ioniq 5 N no longer delivers its performance in a binary fashion, and instead simulates an 8000rpm petrol engine connected to an eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox. The torque curve, rev limiter, shift response and engine braking have each been calibrated to mimic a petrol car, and the effect is very convincing. Use all the (fake) revs and the Ioniq 5 N is still shockingly fast, but the performance builds in what, ironically, feels like a more natural crescendo. Or you can flick up a gear or two to meter out the power, before downshifting and using engine braking to tuck into corners just as you might in an i30 N. Slower, yes, but infinitely more engaging. It’s just a shame that Hyundai got the tricky part – the calibration – right, but the sound so wrong. The distorted synthesised engine note sounds like it’s been ripped from Gran Turismo 2. Maybe that’s being unkind to the game…
While N e-shift brings a welcome character change, some of the other modes are gimmicks (there were bound to be one or two). The N Drift Optimizer is, for one, useless for owners that don’t want to shred an expensive set of 21-inch Pirellis within a few corners, and it doesn’t actually make drifting very easy. Then there’s the N Pedal function, which uses aggressive regenerative braking to mobilise the rear end when you back off the throttle mid-corner. In reality, it convinces you and your passengers that you’ve forgotten how to drive, with a switch-like one pedal driving action that’s almost impossible to modulate smoothly.
But there is a genuinely exciting car in there somewhere. Dial up the dampers to Sport, set the rear e-LSD to its most aggressive setting and switch to a 10:90 front-to-rear torque split, and the Ioniq 5 N throws up the kind of vivid driving experience that very few other EVs can. The clarity to the controls breeds real confidence, and you can pivot neatly into an apex before chasing the throttle hard as the car hunkers down and kicks sideways over a bump with a flare of revs. Properly exciting. The weight only really comes to the surface if you’re greedy on the way into corners and through quick direction changes.
As for how this ability translates on a track, our handful of laps revealed that the software augmentation melds into the background to leave a friendly, expressive balance that feels almost entirely natural. With a rear-biased torque split the Ioniq 5 N feels more supersaloon that hot hatch in how it can be driven on the throttle, but also in the way you manage the weight throughout the lap; some patience is required when pouring the car into slow corners and the tyres start to squirm around under the strain when fully loaded at speed, or under hard braking. It doesn’t feel out of its depth so long as you leave that slight margin, picking the circuit apart while driving within that wide window of adjustability.
We left N e-shift on during our laps, and digital noise aside, it’s easy to forget that you’re not actually driving an ICE car, such is the consistency and accuracy of its implementation. There were a few moments where a slight lift generated more rotation than expected under the simulated engine braking, but the Ioniq 5 N always felt manageable, exploitable and just plain fun.
The caveat is that neither the track or the relatively smooth, flowing roads in South Korea gave the Ioniq 5 N the kind of workout that a technical British b-road will. We know it's good, but qualifying just how good is a bit trickier. Regardless, there’s little doubt that Hyundai has produced one of the most convincing electric performance cars yet.
Price and rivals
There’s no denying that £65,000 is a huge sum of money for a hot pseudo-crossover, but it’s hard to think of any sub-£100k EV that comes close to the Ioniq 5 N for its dynamic ability and sense of fun. You’ll need to look at the £79,200 Porsche Taycan to get anywhere close, but the base 402bhp rear-wheel drive version is significantly less powerful than the Hyundai and has more of a straight-laced feel.
Given the extensive engineering and software development work ingrained in the project, it's surprising that the Ioniq 5 N costs just £2355 more than the 577bhp Kia EV6 GT – a car that shares the same platform but is streets behind the Hyundai for involvement and depth of engineering. The same goes for the £67,540 Ford Mustang Mach-E GT, and any current Tesla.
Hyundai Ioniq 5 N specs
|223bhp front, 378bhp rear
|601bhp (641bhp overboost)