Currently reading: The future of N: Hyundai N Vision 74 and RN22e driven
Hyundai looks back at its history to push the boundaries of eco-friendly tech, as two of its latest prototypes reveal

While EVs have been developing at what feels close to an exponential pace, other new automotive tech hasn’t been hanging around either.

It’s nine years since I last drove a hydrogen-powered Hyundai, that being the ix35 Fuel Cell which was being used to prove the concept of automotive LH2 with laps of the M25. It had the urge to keep up with motorway traffic, but there was little to spare: anything other than brief requests for acceleration created the sensation of output dropping as the fuel cell struggled to meet demand.

By way of some contrast, today’s showing of the 670bhp N Vision 74 ‘rolling lab’ demonstrator includes not only a race track but also at some jaunty drift angles. 

The retro-styled N Vision 74 is definitely the star of Hyundai’s ‘N Day’ at Bilster Berg in Germany, but it’s not the only highlight. In a demonstration of the company’s ability to push on multiple fronts when it comes to next-generation performance tech, we were also able to experience the RN22e, which comes pretty close to previewing the powertrain of the forthcoming Ioniq 5 N – and which, if anything, turns out to be slightly more exciting.

Yet when the N Vision 74 is nearby, either as an immaculate clay model or the rougher-edged driveable concept, it’s honestly hard to look at anything else. When Hyundai released images of the concept earlier this year, it pretty much set the automotive internet aflame with its retro-futuristic styling and muscular proportions. But while the design is both compelling and genuinely linked to the story of the DeLorean DMC-12, work on its powertrain has been going on for considerably longer – and the original idea was to see a concept bearing radically different branding.

Hyundai n vision 74 2022 rear qtr tracking

I find out about the fascinating back story – and get to watch some PR minders squirm – thanks to the presence at Bilster Berg of Albert Biermann. The 66-year-old German engineer, who came to Hyundai from BMW’s M division, may have retired as Hyundai-Kia’s R&D boss, but he still works for the company with the far-roving job title of executive technical advisor. He remains a forthright interview subject, with his first revelation being that the driveable demonstrator didn’t start life as a Hyundai.

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“It’s a [Kia] Stinger,” he grins. "The design came much later – and the whole idea started with a different brand. It wasn’t an N thing at all, it was for the luxury brand [Genesis]. But then we said this is a lot of complicated stuff so we have to build a mecha-proto – that’s what we call a prototype built on an existing car – and then apply the new systems. We realised the Stinger was the closest in terms of size.”

So while three prototype Stingers are still running about with the high-output fuel cell system, using the same stack as the existing Nexo SUV together with a 62.4kWh battery pack and two 335bhp electric motors, one for each rear wheel, this one now wears coupé bodywork.

Hyundai n vision 74 crossing finish line

According to Biermann, the project’s main role has been as a testbed for a virtual differential that controls the relationship between the separate rear motors, with Hyundai figuring that it might ultimately want to go beyond the output of the 576bhp dual-motor system that we’ve already experienced in the Kia EV6

“The first mecha-proto was two years ago,” Biermann says. “The first time I drove it at Namyang [Hyundai’s test track], it felt a little weird – scary, to be honest. But now it feels like a mechanical differential.”

I soon get the chance to experience it for myself. Many concept cars are only nominally driveable, running at low speeds and stretching the artfulness of journalists’ ‘on the road’ and ‘behind the wheel’ descriptors to breaking point. But my passenger ride in the N Vision 74 confirms that isn’t the case here, with some committed oversteer around some of Bilster Berg’s fast and falling corners.

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My own drive is slightly tamer. The stability control has been re-energised, although my co-pilot promises it can be slackened to what is effectively a Sport mode. Getting into the driver’s seat past a full roll cage is a squeeze, and it’s definitely possible to see the interior contours of the Stinger that lurks beneath but by the time I get to the end of the pit lane and fully open the throttle for the first time, my brain is no longer recording minutiae. It feels at least as fast as the numbers suggest it should – a sub-4.0sec 0-62mph, according to Hyundai – and, unlike that far-off iX35 Fuel Cell, it has an instantaneous throttle response.

Hyundai n vision 74 2022 mike duff behind wheel

Unlike with most fuel cells, there’s no direct relationship between the hydrogen stack and the motors, with current being supplied by the battery. The 85kW fuel cell can’t get close to supplying the drivetrain’s peak output but is working all the time as an on-board generator for the much more potent cell pack – one that could, in production form, extend range to a claimed 370 miles.

And that clever differential? Despite wearing Pirelli P Zero 4S road tyres and weighing around two tonnes, the N Vision 74 has an abundance of grip. It turns into Bilster Berg’s faster corners with huge confidence and has plentiful traction in the slower ones. There’s no sense that the only connection between the rear wheels is one provided by control software, and as speed and loads build, the traction management is slackened so I can experience a similarly natural feeling as the back end edges into oversteer. 

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The hydrogen powertrain is the headline-grabber, but the cleverness of the traction management is the most impressive thing. My only substantive criticism, beyond the limitation of a four-lap stint, is the slightly wooden brake pedal and a reluctance to shed the speed that the motor is so able to wind on.

Hey, I've seen this one, it's a classic

Hyundai n vision 74 2022 sketches 2

Hyundai has long been a forward-looking brand, one driven by the understandable desire to move beyond its origins as a maker of cheap and frequently cheerless cars.

Yet the N Vision 74 has been inspired by one of its earliest models. When the original Hyundai Pony was shown at Turin in 1974, the fledgling company, which had previously made Ford Cortinas under licence, also introduced a concept for a coupé version – one that, like the hatch, had been designed by Giorgio Giugiaro at Italdesign. The car didn’t make production, but Giugiaro was canny enough to recycle some of the themes into the DeLorean DMC.

Hyundai design chief SangYup Lee is keen to stress the N Vision 74 isn’t an attempt at a retro recreation, but that Pony Coupé was clearly used as a jumping-off point, with details such as the sharp transition from the roof to rear screen, the crisply angular glasshouse and deep front grille paying affectionate homage.

The concept’s main role was to attract attention, which it did, but production sadly seems unlikely.

“We could maybe do it as a pure EV,” says executive technical advisor Albert Biermann. “But it couldn’t sit on the EGMP platform and keep these proportions, so we would have to lift it significantly or make a new battery.”

Driving the RN22e

Hyundai rn22e 2022 front tracking

The RN22e is less novel but much closer to production reality. Beneath the wings and ducts the basic shape is that of the new Ioniq 6, and the underpinnings in effect preview most of the hardware we will see for the first time on the Ioniq 5 N. That means the same 77.4kWh 800V powerpack and dual-motor system that we’ve already experienced in the hugely impressive Kia EV6 GT. Deviations from that set-up are a rear differential featuring twin clutch packs to allow much more aggressive torque-vectoring, plus the promise of circuit-level regeneration.

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Even direct comparison with the N Vision 74 doesn’t feel like an anti-climax. The RN22e’s straight-line acceleration doesn’t feel quite as savage, although it’s still hugely fast, but it’s markedly more agile and adjustable under cornering loads (although the track-biased P-Zero Corsa rubber it wears doubtless plays a part in this). There’s markedly more rear-end slip at higher speeds, too, likely due to a morepermissive stability control algorithm. But the RN22e doesn’t feel wayward even when being pushed beyond its limits, and my in-car chaperone seems happy for me to try as hard as I like, albeit with a flat-out i30 N pace car limiting peak speeds on the longer straights.

There are two other new functions to experience. The first is an aggressive sound symposer, one that creates an engine-like noise both inside and outside the car and adds some generated vibration through seat bases. First impressions were more favourable than those of many similar systems, probably because it sounds more like a combustion engine, although I still preferred the lack of distraction with it off. The second was what the development team describe as a virtual gearshift, which uses steering-wheel paddles and the speaker soundtrack to simulate the rising revs of a combustion engine and the need to change gear. It even hits a pretend limiter if you don’t select a new ratio.

Hyundai rn22e 2022 interior

This was a first look at an unfinished system that would be integrated with a simulated rev counter or even shift lights. It’s part of N’s mission to, as Biermann puts it, “make the same crazy emotional cars that we made before”. Maybe it’s even ludicrous enough to catch on.

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Hyundai’s corporate confidence is evident across the entire group at present, and that’s as true at N division as it is anywhere else, where the performance arm owes more to the drive and ethos imparted by Biermann than anywhere else across the brand. While he acknowledges that he will soon have retired fully, planning to spend more time with his grandchildren, he will certainly leave behind a far more interesting company than the one he joined.


Hyundai N Vision 74

Power 671bhp Torque 664lb ft Top speed 155mph+ 0-60mph >4.0sec Range 400 miles (approx.) 

Hyundai RN22e

Power 577bhp Torque 548lb ft Top speed 155mph+ 0-60mph 3.8sec Range NA 

Mike Duff

Mike Duff
Title: Contributing editor

Mike has been writing about cars for more than 25 years, having defected from radio journalism to follow his passion. He has been a contributor to Autocar since 2004, and is a former editor of the Autocar website. 

Mike joined Autocar full-time in 2007, first as features editor before taking the reins at Being in charge of the video strategy at the time saw him create our long running “will it drift?” series. For which he apologies.

He specialises in adventurous drive stories, many in unlikely places. He once drove to Serbia to visit the Zastava factory, took a £1500 Mercedes W124 E-Class to Berlin to meet some of its taxi siblings and did Scotland’s North Coast 500 in a Porsche Boxster during a winter storm. He also seems to be a hypercar magnet, having driven such exotics as the Koenigsegg One:1, Lamborghini SCV12, Lotus Evija and Pagani Huayra R.

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JJ 7 September 2022
Huge missed opportunity, in my view, for the Japanese and Koreans not to be producing more retro-futuristic models, based on the development of styling themes contained in past "icons" from their line-ups.

The rising Asian middle and upper classes would gobble them up, thanks to that combination of new wealth and old nostalgia for what was around when "starting out".
Especially if combined with EV platforms. ..

The German makers have spent the last 40 years recycling the styling themes of "icons".
Time the Japanese and Koreans took a shot at that, too.