2023 Hyundai Ioniq 5 N prototype review

2023 Hyundai Ioniq 5 N prototype review

We drive a 450kW Hyundai Ioniq 5 N prototype on ice to learn if Hyundai’s exciting new EV performance car is an enthusiast’s delight… or not.


What we love
  • Driver enhancement systems deliver without taking over
  • Loads of power and the promise of performance
  • Driving this on ice was ridiculously fun 

What we don’t
  • A potential 2.5-tonne weight makes it the heaviest performance car we’ve ever driven
  • Limited driving conditions leave us well short of a conclusive finding
  • Will supply be even more constrained than other Ioniq models?

This is the Hyundai Ioniq 5 N high-performance electric hatchback, scheduled for launch globally in July and arriving in Australia later this year or early next. 

If this $100K performance car delivers what Hyundai promises, it will broaden the appeal of EVs from environmental advocates to embrace driving enthusiasts at half the price of the Porsche Taycan and the Audi RS E-Tron GT– the world’s only electric performance cars currently. 

If it fails to fulfil Hyundai’s promise, sub-$150K EVs will remain little more than eco-friendly commuter appliances and Hyundai N will have suffered its first reputation-damaging failure in its relatively short but impactful eight-year life.

The Hyundai Ioniq 5 N is therefore a crucial car, not just for Hyundai’s young N performance brand but for the enthusiast-focused future of the automotive industry. 

Key details 2023 Hyundai Ioniq 5 N prototype
Price $100,000 plus on-roads (estimated)
Colour of test car Camouflaged black and white chequerboard
Options Prototype components – $heaps
Unique hard-crafted wrap – $expensive
Engineering development gauges – $loads
Price as tested $500,000 plus on-roads (estimated)
(FYI, must be destroyed within three years)
Drive-away price Up to 10 years in jail
Rivals Porsche Taycan | Tesla Model Y Performance | Audi RS E-Tron GT

The Hyundai Ioniq 5 N production car is boldly scheduled to make its global debut in July at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, an international celebration of the world’s passion for automotive performance. The 5 N will enter production shortly after, going on sale in world markets late in 2023.

Hyundai’s N division, which is to Hyundai what M is to BMW and AMG is to Mercedes-Benz, developed the 5 N to be a racetrack capable everyday sports car. 

‘Racetrack capability’ is a Hyundai N brand tenet alongside ‘everyday sports car’ and ‘corner rascal’. 

Tesla and others have proved that EVs can go very fast in a straight line, but to this point only Porsche’s $160K to $350K Taycan (and its Audi RS E-Tron GT sibling under the skin) has proved they can also be made to go around corners with the agility, finesse and driver engagement to rival internal combustion engined sports cars. 

In fact, Hyundai wants to go further and create a performance EV that is at home on the racetrack as well.

And, before you think that taking your 5 N to a racetrack will first require ticking special performance-focused options boxes at the time of purchase, Hyundai N defines racetrack capability as: “Drive hard on the racetrack, just as it is”.

Building a high-performance production EV that can handle the crucible of a racetrack is not an insignificant challenge. If brands like BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen are yet to do it, let alone Ferrari, Maserati, McLaren and Lamborghini, who is Hyundai to think it can?

To prove that the brand’s boast has substance, Hyundai invited Drive.com.au to sample an Ioniq 5 N prototype during the development process in the extreme north of Sweden on the very edge of the Arctic Circle. 

The prototype we drove on the frozen lakes around Arjeplog – the automotive industry’s favourite winter testing location – is covered in camouflage on the outside and bristling with engineering development gear on the inside. 

Hyundai says many of the systems on the car are still being tuned and calibrated. Final specification is still some months away, but we’re told that most of the prototype is representative of what will eventually go into production.

Even so, specific details are scarce and Hyundai is coy about giving us more, mainly because changes can still happen before production is locked in. 

What we know is that the Ioniq 5 N will be Hyundai N’s first electric car and its first all-wheel-drive car. It is built on Hyundai’s E-GMP electric vehicle architecture that underpins the Ioniq 5 hatch and 6 streamliner sedan, the Kia EV6 and the Genesis GV60 crossover.

We know that the 5 N has two electric motors – one driving the front axle and one the rear – just like the Kia EV6 GT. But we don’t know if the 5 N has more than the 160kW and 270kW (for a combined 430kW) of the EV6. 

Despite our best attempts, Albert Biermann – the father of Hyundai’s N division and its chief technical advisor – will not reveal how each motor has been tuned. He does suggest that the production car will have “around 600hp (450kW)” and that it’s running the E-GMP’s next-generation battery pack which has “more energy capacity” than the current 77.4kW units in the Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6. 

He also refuses to disclose the vehicle’s kerb weight, which is intrinsic to the car’s dynamic ability. He does, however, suggest that it is around “2.5 tonnes”, which is 300kg heavier than Hyundai Motor Group’s current performance champ, the Kia EV6 GT.  

We’ve never heard of a 2.5-tonne performance car before, so that’s another ‘first’ for Hyundai N.

Weight, as we know, is the enemy of performance. Make a car heavy and you need stronger components to handle the stress. You also need more power to make it go fast and bigger brakes to make it stop.

Surprisingly, Hyundai is not overly concerned about the 5 N’s weight. Weight, says Biermann, is a product of the vehicle’s EV architecture because battery packs are heavy. Biermann believes that electrification is a necessary step for ‘N’, so the proof for critics and consumers alike will be in the driving.   

“We will transform N into this EV era and we will have a car for the driving enthusiast. We want to bring this driving excitement with EVs – or hydrogen cars sometime later – to those customers who still want to enjoy the traditional way of driving. That is what we try to get people out of their petrol cars and have similar fun in the Hyundai N EV.”

Biermann says Hyundai engineers familiarised themselves with the best performance EVs on sale today during the development process for the 5 N. 

“We drove the [Porsche] Taycan a few times around the Nurburgring to see what’s going on, what it’s doing. We also drove Teslas of course. But that’s pretty much it.”

No internal combustion engined cars were used as performance benchmarks, he said. 

Biermann is obviously aware that performance EVs have an even more limited driving range – and performance envelope – so calling an EV a racetrack car is a bold claim. 

The Kia EV6 GT, for example, has a WLTP driving range claim of 424km, but will be lucky to cover 300km when driven enthusiastically. Also, the EV6 GT’s batteries can only meet the full power demands of its two motors if it has at least 70 per cent charge. In other words, you’ll get at most 90km of track time before the GT becomes a considerably less powerful – and less exciting – car. 

Biermann is adamant that the 5 N has been engineered to do better than its Kia stablemate (Kia and Hyundai are both part of the Hyundai Motor Group).

“We don’t care much about the EV6 GT. It has a different job to do within the company.

“When it comes to the hardware, it’s pretty much the same [as the EV6 GT]. The platform was developed from the start to have a 160kW motor in the front. We didn’t have enough power for the rear, so we added a second inverter which gives us the power level we have now. We also worked hard to improve the cooling inside the motor.  

“The way we operate those motors and the control strategy is unique to 5 N.

“We claim [that] this is an N car with racetrack capability, and [will] not degrade after five minutes. So we put a lot of effort into battery cooling and having special track modes, where before you go out on the track, you can put the battery in the perfect sweet spot for surviving as long as possible.”

Biermann suggests that owners employ a “20/20/20” strategy to handle the intense demands of track use. 

“By that, I mean 20 minutes racing, 20 minutes charging, 20 minutes racing… That is what we are testing and that is what people can go to the track day and do.” 

Our first (limited) taste of the 5 N on the ice lakes of Arjeplog did not give us the chance to drive flat out for 20 minutes at a time. But it convinced us of two things: first, the 5 N has a lot more power than can possibly be deployed while on ice, and second, the 5 N’s chassis is incredibly talented and communicable when sliding around like a drift king.

Actually, I learned three things: this car is ludicrously fun to drive sideways. 

Beyond that, we have no idea what it drives like on real-world roads or how it goes on a racetrack because that was untestable in Sweden’s Lapland. We’re told that opportunity will follow at launch in July.

Key details 2023 Hyundai Ioniq 5 N Prototype
Engine Dual front and rear electric motors
Power 160kW front motor
290kW rear motor
450kW combined output
(all figures estimated)
Torque Unknown
Drive type All-wheel drive that can be switched to 100 per cent front or rear or increments between
Transmission Single-speed transmission
Power-to-weight ratio 180kW/t (est)
Weight 2500kg (est)
0–100km/h 3.5 seconds (est)

So, what do we know for sure?  

We know the 5 N has adjustable dampers and an electric limited-slip differential in the rear that can apportion torque across the rear axle to improve acceleration in and out of corners. Both of these systems have been tuned uniquely for the 5 N. 

We also know the 5 N has a clever, driver-programmable torque distribution system that can turn the car into a pure front-driver or rear-driver – or any 10 per cent increments in between. 

Obviously, this system is limited by the outputs from each motor. In front-drive mode it can never utilise more than what the front motor has available (estimated at 160kW), and in rear-drive mode the limit will presumably be around 290kW – if our 450kW total system output assumption is correct.

We know the 5 N also has a Drift Mode, which turns this car into a manic and malleable machine that (almost) any idiot can drift.

We know these things because we got the chance to try N Drift Mode, N Differential Mode and N-Durance Mode during our 90-minute test drive.

Drift Mode, to put it bluntly, is bloody brilliant. Our test drive took place on a huge circle carved into the frozen lake, which gave us the perfect opportunity to feel how Drift Mode manages both axles and massages throttle inputs to keep you sliding longer. 

Hyundai has gone to great lengths to make the Ioniq 5 N’s performance party tricks accessible to more than just expert drivers. As Biermann said, “we don’t care if we are not the absolute fastest around a track, but we want to be the most fun for the driver”. 

Nothing demonstrates that better than Drift Mode. This system uses all the car’s many sensors and systems (including the adjustable suspension) to keep the car in a controllable drift. It sometimes softens overzealous throttle inputs or applies small amounts of drive to the front axle to reduce the drift angle if spinning is likely. 

The system is not unbeatable; you can still spin if you push too hard. That’s deliberate, says Biermann, because the goal was “not to take the challenge out of drifting, but for drivers to enjoy the fun” of a successful drift.

Beyond that, Biermann said considerable development work went into the braking system because of the complexities of combining energy regeneration with high-intensity racetrack deceleration. 

“I don’t know if the 5 N has the biggest [brakes] ever on a Hyundai. The magic is not so much the brakes but the combination with the regeneration [system] that makes it a very strong brake.”

Biermann explains that energy recuperation is “supporting the brakes. So the burden on the brakes is not as big as you might think on a heavy car. 

“We had to exceed or break down our expectations. We pushed regeneration in areas where we couldn’t go before because we are controlling the vehicle’s dynamics very tightly, and we always try to push regeneration to the limits of stability. 

“So we try to feed into the battery whenever we can. If you get ABS braking on a track – and you will – we keep feeding into the battery, which is probably not what so many cars are doing nowadays.” 

Physics cannot be totally ignored, however. Biermann acknowledges that a 2.5-tonne car with a drift mode has the potential to destroy tyres quickly.  And that won’t be cheap if the prototype’s 21-inch Pirelli P Zeros are fitted to production versions.

“I mean, of course this car will eat tons of tyres if you go on the track and push it to the limits. Tyre degradation maybe is more an issue than battery degradation,” he laughs. “We suggest if they go drifting, then they buy cheap tyres somewhere, because in the drifting they just burn the tyres down in five minutes, right?

“I don’t know how many customers will do that, but if they are drift experts or want the drag racing or something… Yeah, they will [need to] find their solutions.”

The interior of the Ioniq 5 N – well, what we could see below the dash covers – suggests the 5 N is largely similar to lesser Ioniq 5s. The main differences are in the deep sports bucket seats (manually adjustable on the prototype), a unique thick-rimmed steering wheel with ‘gearchange’ paddles, driving mode buttons above the spokes, and two round buttons below the spokes for entering N Mode and Drift Mode.

The infotainment system has also been changed to incorporate a number of N-specific pages. Drivers can control many of the 5 N’s unique features via this system, including the 5 N’s special sound profiles that give the usually silent EV three distinctive soundtracks inside and outside. 

The 5 N’s soundtracks pair particularly well with the Virtual Gear Shift (VGS) system to enhance your aural and tactile experience. Alternatively, when drifting, the soundtracks provide an aural indication of throttle application, which in turn helps a driver smooth out uncouth prods and pokes.

Truth be told, not much of what the Hyundai Ioniq 5 N has is groundbreaking in the automotive industry – other cars have had adjustable suspension, torque distribution adjusters and rear LSDs – but it is the first time they’ve been brought together on an electric vehicle, and made to work so brilliantly together. 

One feature the new 5 N has that truly is a world first for Hyundai Motor Group is that Virtual Gear Shift. This system that simulates the ‘feel’ of an internal combustion engine revving and shifting gears was meant to debut with the Ioniq 5 N, but sibling brand Genesis jumped the queue and included it in its 2023 update for the GV60 crossover.

The Ioniq 5 N’s system is more evolved than the GV60, however, providing a surprisingly faithful internal combustion engine experience right down to the momentary weight transfer on gearchanges and ‘engine braking’ on downchanges.

Before you deride it as an unnecessary gimmick intended only to soften the transition to EVs for internal combustion Luddites, it does add value to the experience of driving the Ioniq 5 N. Equally, it is switchable so you can opt in or out as your sensitivities dictate.

“This is the point,” says Biermann. “We don’t say to people this is how you must drive. We give them tools to have more fun, and it is up to them how far they want to go.”

Overall, the Ioniq 5 N is a compelling car that prioritises driver engagement in everything it does. It’s also an impressively mature and resolved vehicle from a performance car brand that didn’t exist before 2014. 

This prototype 5 N suggests that Hyundai N has matured very rapidly, and now not only harbours bold ambitions to make EVs appeal to sports car enthusiasts and track day participants, but could very well make them a reality.

The Ioniq 5 N is not a slam dunk; there’s no way we can call that after just 90 minutes behind the wheel on a frozen lake in northern Sweden. We need to test the car more comprehensively in conditions more representative of what owners will do to know just how successfully Hyundai has been at creating the world’s first (relatively) affordable high-performance EV.

We also know that, as good as the vehicle’s real-world and racetrack performance prove to be, its considerable weight will be a talking point with critics and enthusiasts alike. 

The only salve for that is – Biermann agrees – we are in a performance growth phase right now, and a weight-reduction phase will inevitably follow. EV builders are enamoured with the incredible power jumps afforded by electrification, but it cannot continue forever, and soon they will be forced to turn their efforts to weight reduction for further performance gains. 

But after even such a short exposure to this car in extremely slippery conditions on the edge of the Arctic Circle, we know the Ioniq 5 N has the potential to get performance car enthusiasts excited about the EV future.

* Please note, the ratings below are specific to this limited testing opportunity and what little information we know at the time of writing.

Glenn Butler

Glenn Butler is one of Australia’s best-known motoring journalists having spent the last 25 years reporting on cars on radio, TV, web and print. He’s a former editor of Wheels, Australia’s most respected car magazine, and was deputy editor of Drive.com.au before that. Glenn’s also worked at an executive level for two of Australia’s most prominent car companies, so he understands how much care and consideration goes into designing and developing new cars. As a journalist, he’s driven everything from Ferraris to Fiats on all continents except Antarctica (which he one day hopes to achieve) and loves discovering each car’s unique personality and strengths. Glenn knows a car’s price isn’t indicative of its competence, and even the cheapest car can enhance your life and expand your horizons. 

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