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Hyundai Ioniq 5 N simulates engine revs and gearchanges in 'Ignition' mode

How involved would you like to be? You might remember that last year Toyota filed a patent for a battery-electric vehicle with an H-pattern gearshift, so that an electric powertrain would respond like a manual internally combusting car, complete with a clutch pedal that felt like the real thing, even though, like the gearlever, it would be false.

As yet, no Toyota has arrived with this hardware, but Hyundai’s N performance division has taken a similar concept.

The Hyundai Ioniq 5 N is the first electric product of Hyundai’s N fun division. “For N, fun to drive is the highest priority. Electrification has transformed our lives but [so far] not our hearts,” Till Wartenberg, N’s vice-president, told me before we drove a prototype. “Car enthusiasts are the last group who can be electrified,” he said. I have a feeling he’s right. I like electric power, but it’s quite telling that when I recount the most fun I’ve had in EVs, an original Tesla Roadster, a Renault Twizy and a Nissan Leaf with plastic ‘drift tyres’ at the back all still feature heavily.

Finally, the Ioniq 5 N on a circuit eclipses all of those. It’s meant to be the car that finally sucks enthusiasts in, and part of the way it does so is by giving us the chance to pull on our muscle memory and aural sensibilities.

“Is shifting possible in an electric car? And what do we do about sound?” asked Wartenberg. The Ioniq 5 N has answers, if you want them.

Hyunda ioniq 5 n review 202305 0 0

Select the right mode (there are a lot of them) and it makes a synthetic engine noise, it has a rev counter that runs to an arbitrary 8000rpm and its wheel paddles change non-existent gears. The set-up is modelled to mimic Hyundai’s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. There are jolts as you pull gears, you get more engine braking at high revs than at low revs and there’s less power at low revs.

This may sound deeply unnecessary and, on paper, it is. “E-shift will, of course, make the car slower,” said Albert Biermann, N’s technical advisor. “But we don’t care about numbers. It’s only about driving fun.”

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Biermann was N’s first chief and before that the boss of BMW’s M division, so he’s of an age to have spent most of his career alongside old-school mechanical noises. “We’re using sound to intuitively communicate,” he said. “For me, as an N guy, Ignition [the false-sound mode] gives me the right feedback. We think it helps you a lot to play with the car.”

I did too, but ever since I started playing with cars, they’ve made sounds. When Jaguar launched its I-Pace one-make electric race series in 2018, one of the racers, Bryan Sellers, described driving it as “like having sensory deprivation”. The sounds his mind had come to associate with speed had been taken away.

I pace 150

This, though, may be no bad thing. Without gear and engine noise, you’re better able to hear the tyres, which give their own clues on grip levels. It’s surely faster.

The Ioniq 5 N’s various modes include other synthetic noises too, varying sound volumes, or noises but no gears. My two preferences were having all the engine and gear experience on or having all of them off. Where – gratifyingly, even in silence – I still thought it was the best-handling, most fun EV I’ve driven.

Over two days with it, I know how involved I enjoyed being. But I wonder, over a lifetime, how much will that change?

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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si73 9 July 2023
Well I think, like the little abarth, it's a great idea, if the sound helps to make you feel involved and helps your perception of speed then I reckon it will be a bit of fun, when you're not in the mood it can be switched off, so much like a switched sports exhaust, quiet when you need it to be and Rorty when you want some fun.
Hope unlike the abarth it's switchable on the move, something abarth need to sort out asap, in my opinion.
MrJ 8 July 2023

Synthetic sound is a moronic add-on, like spraying faux mud on your 4x4.

Pierre 8 July 2023
MrJ wrote:

Synthetic sound is a moronic add-on, like spraying faux mud on your 4x4.

Exactly this. 

catnip 9 July 2023

Same from me.

These artificial noises will no doubt be loved by all the (teenage-minded) motoring journalists, in the same way the naff, synthetic pops and bangs of sports exhausts are now.  The problem is, apart from the awful sound, the people who have these sports exhausts are, in general, pretty needy, so have to have them switched on all the time so that people will look at them. If the false engine noises from electric vehicles were only piped to the inside it wouldn't be so bad, but I bet they aren't. Why can't people just enjoy the different experience, the smoothness, the quietness the acceleration of an electric vehicle. Its all very nice, really.

289 9 July 2023

@ Mr J

Totally agree with you....its 'sad' in the extreme- Pathetic.

The sort of thing a kid does in his imaginary car or pedal car.

EV buyers just need to accept that this is boring anodyne A-B transport....not a a thing of excitement or emotion or pride of ownership.

Andrew1 8 July 2023
That's like eating a veggie burger or sausage. You know it's not the real deal but at least it looks like it. Sort of. Eventually you are able to move on.
Anton motorhead 9 July 2023
Eh?? I don't get your comparison to veggie burgers. I have had veggie burgers that were better than beef burgers. They are the real deal taste wise - artificial sounds in EV are definitely not.
Anton motorhead 9 July 2023
Eh?? I don't get your comparison to veggie burgers. I have had veggie burgers that were better than beef burgers. They are the real deal taste wise - artificial sounds in EV are definitely not.
Anton motorhead 9 July 2023
Eh?? I don't get your comparison to veggie burgers. I have had veggie burgers that were better than beef burgers. They are the real deal taste wise - artificial sounds in EV are definitely not.