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Four-wheel-drive, 641bhp hatch is both technically complex and simply entertaining

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Of all electric cars, it strikes me that the new Hyundai Ioniq 5 N is the first to have been developed from the outset as a pure driver’s car.

There are electric sports saloons, 2000bhp hypercars and, in the form of the Abarth 500e, even a superficial hot hatch. All are impressive in their ways but the N is different. This the best electric driver’s car yet made.

Hyundai’s N performance division is on good form, of course. Its i30 and i20 hot hatchbacks are the best in their classes, even though those classes are slimmer than they once were.

It has recruited well from the outset too, including in 2019 Tyrone Johnson, one of the men behind the most recent Ford Focus RS, which is what, if anything, the Ioniq 5 N feels closest to – although there’s more complexity to it than that.

Read on to find out how in both subjective and objective performance terms, Hyundai has created the world's most fun EV. 



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As a basis, N takes the standard Ioniq 5 and strengthens it considerably, in a similar manner to other N products – a big commitment given this all happens on the standard production line.

There are 42 extra welds and an additional 2.1m of adhesive applied, to stiffen the shell. The steering mounting (for a faster-ratio rack) is strengthened. So too are the battery and motor mounts (there are two motors) and front and rear suspension subframes.

I wondered why the lower-slung Ioniq 6 wasn’t given N treatment first but, as a saloon, it would have courted tough dynamic comparison with BMW’s M3 et al. As a hatch, the 5 gets an easier ride, not that it especially needs it

The axles are new because they have to cope with a lot of power and the rear end has an electronically controlled limited-slip differential.

The front motor generates a consistent 223bhp and the rear 378bhp, for a system total of 601bhp, although for 10sec intervals that can be boosted to 235bhp and 406bhp for a 641bhp maximum, following which it all needs to cool off a bit. 

Thermal management of the drivetrain and 84kWh battery (800V, maximum 350kW charge speed, occupying no more space than the regular 77kWh unit) is one of the ongoing challenges of performance EVs.

If you select N Race mode on this Ioniq, it knocks back the power output by a small but unspecified amount to allows the N to lap the Nürburgring Nordschleife in under eight minutes twice without overheating. N doesn’t like talking lap times but uses the stat to make the point that other EVs can’t.


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You can mostly skip through this section. The regular Ioniq 5 has a good interior and it's enhanced in that very traditional 'performance car'  way for the N variant - with figure-hugging seats, nicer pedals and some ritzier materials. 

But in short, it's very usable, there are sensible, real buttons for the things you need while driving, and check out the regular N review if that's important to you. Otherwise move on, because there's loads more interesting stuff to tell you about this frankly excellent driver's car.


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Aside from proving the drivetrain is up to scratch, Hyundai prefers to talk fun and smiles, not numbers, and to provide those, its systems are exceptionally complicated. A front-drive hot hatchback like an i20 N is one of the more straightforward performance cars.

Here, Hyundai has laid the tech and the drive modes on thick – though I don’t think it’s any worse for it. 

Four steering wheel buttons let you select six drive modes (plus the overboost function), two of which are driver customisable. You can pick how angry the motor response, steering weight, damper stiffness, differential locking and stability control sensitivity are, the head-up display layout, and whether you have a synthetic engine noise (from three) or not.

There’s more. With noise on, you can choose (or not) to have fake gearshift points. Then there’s an N brake pedal that allows various one-pedal driving brake severity up to the point where it’s basically activating the ABS when you lift off. You can change the torque distribution front to rear, plus there’s a ‘drift optimiser’ mode in which to practise low-speed doughnuts and hooning. And a launch control. 

Depending on the circuit, Hyundai has achieved a performance aim of allowing 20 minutes' hard driving, followed by 20 minutes' charging, and 20 minutes' driving… repeat and repeat. It won't do that at, say, the Nürburgring, but at less throttle-heavy circuits, it has pulled off the trick. Which is impressive going. And Hyundais generally charge quickly and consistently.

See the 'Ride and handling' section here for how all this gels together, because honestly it's hard to consider the performance without noting its impact on how it makes the car feel in corners. But know that when the engine note is turned off in a straight line, this acts like most other very fast EVs - it can do 0-62mph in 3.4sec. With the fake noises and gearshifts on, you could swear you were in an automatic internally combusted car - it gives more engine braking and better acceleration at 'high' revs, for example.


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It's impossible to get on top of all of the Ioniq 5 N's drive modes and different vibes in just a handful laps of a pretty challenging circuit (as the wonderful Castellolí is, laid on for part of our testing), or to fully explore all of those systems on the road, given this car’s monumental performance. So let’s start with the basics and know that if you leave the car in one of its mildly furious standard modes, it’s terrifically entertaining on circuit.

I began with the fake engine noise and gearshift on. I know they’re silly, but N says the same bloke who tuned the i30 N’s eight-speed real automatic gearbox also tuned the way this works, and for those of us used to mechanical things, it makes it easier to, say, judge braking points or turn-in speeds because our brains know to use sounds as input triggers. Plus it gives you something to do. 

Synthetic gearshifts are quite the revelation. Hyundai claims to have replicated the shift quality of the dual-clutch gearbox in combustion-engined N models. For me, it feels more like the torque converter in a BMW M5 but, either way, they’re amazingly convincing, giving you ‘engine braking’ in the lower ratios and plenty of shape in the power delivery. It might be a terrible contrivance, but they improve the driving experience no end and remind me of the ‘cueing’ that makes world-class driver-in-loop simulators so utterly convincing

Even after years of development, Hyundai’s engineers like using it, and I did too. The ‘engine’ noise itself could use some work – it’s flatly synthetic – and it’s possible in a while we’ll be over it and it’ll all seem anachronistic. But whenever you reach that point, just turn it off – then the gearshift paddles adjust the regeneration.

With or without it, the N’s dynamics are first rate, especially given this is a 2200kg performance car. As a result of the mass, there is notable pitch under acceleration and roll in cornering, even with the dampers stiffened, but the steering weights up nicely to let you lean against it. You’d barely know the brakes are by-wire too. It could have more pedal resistance under heavy track braking but then might feel too obstructive on the road.

Turn-in is good, particularly if you settle the nose first by trail braking. I don’t think a Porsche Taycan turns this well, or has this fantastic level of adjustability, even if you leave the power balance alone by not pitching the N into its rear-drive mode. The rear motor is more powerful than the front anyway, the tyres are 275/35 R21 Pirelli P Zeros all around and the weight distribution must be fairly even. 

As a result – and with stability control off, which N says means you’re entirely on your own – the Ioniq turns large mid-corner grip into a slide on corner exit. It even wants to ease into gentle oversteer in high-speed corners. The last Ford Focus RS did this, but not to this extent, and not this controllably either. It’s “not a drift car,” says Tyrone Johnson, “but it can be made to drift.” And it’s still great fun if you’re precise and don’t let it.

The drift optimiser is a novelty. Hyundai wettened a skid pan so we could play with it. The throttle response is too sharp to easily enter a prolonged slide, but as a way to practice car control, it’s huge fun. Look out for viral videos of owners sliding into lamp posts in wet retail outlet car parks.

But the car is seriously satisfying on the road too. European Ns have a softer damper set-up than the original prototype we drove – Hyundai even does some tuning in the UK – but the vertical control unsuprisingly remains considerbly tighter than that of your standard Ioniq 5. Direction changes feel sharp and accurate, with pleasingly precise steering. There's also good enough compliance and a keen edge to proceedings. As well as the Focus RS, there are hints of Mercedes-AMG A45 or even Mitsubishi Evo about it, though it’s more mature and multifaceted than all of those. I’d drive this over most of them.

And sure, at 2.2 tonnes, the N is no fairy, but a pedigree driving position and fine synthesis of steering behaviour, roll rates and throttle/brake response contrive to shrink it – certainly to the extent that you feel confident barrelling into bends, teasing the chassis. Pushed hard, the natural mid-corner balance neatly smudges all four tyres across the road surface while maintaining terrific momentum. It’s a bit like the old Volkswagen Golf R Estate in this sense, only with less adjustability on a lifted ‘throttle’ but more – much more – when back on the power. 

As for isolation over longer distances, the 5 N is pretty compelling. Another key takeaway from our drive at Castellolí Circuit and on the surrounding routes was that, in its softer damper setting, the Ioniq 5 N can be wonderfully laid back.

Just how laid back? It was telling when, after an afternoon on track, we hopped into another Ioniq 5 N for the dull run to the airport. Heading out along Castellolí’s access road, I caught myself thinking: “Ah, nice to be back in something quiet, comfy and gloriously undemanding.” But of course, it was the very same car, just in the default, sat-back drive mode rather than with all the N shenanigans ramped up. 


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Weight isn’t the enemy of efficiency in an EV in the way it is in an ICE car because there’s energy recuperation under braking. The Ioniq 5 N can regenerate 0.6g of energy under braking, and even 0.2g while the ABS is activated. 

What is a bar to high efficiency is big rolling resistance and aerodynamic drag, which is a shame because the Ioniq 5 has sports tyres, a large frontal area and even a little rear downforce. 

N engineers, of course, would prefer a lighter base car, but there isn’t a focus on that within the company. So although N ambassador and technical advisor Albert Biermann says “there are not as many cars that were as good a starting point as the Ioniq 5”, he concedes that “it’s not easy to apply the N treatment” to what is a “2.2-tonne elephant dancing”. Although here it is at least the quality of the dance, rather than the fact that it’s doing it at all, that’s impressive.

As for price, at £64,956 in basic form, the 5 N is expensive but not prohibitively so. In fact, on a per-horsepower basis, it might just be the bargain performance car of the moment, and that’s before you consider either its versatility as an ordinary EV (350kW rapid charging, massively spacious cabin) or its evident status as a legitimate driver’s car. It has pretty vast bandwidth. 


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Hot hatch, sports saloon, rally replica. Who knows how you'd quite define the Ioniq 5 N. What I can tell you is that it feels like it has parts of those, distilled, albeit slightly synthetically, into a whole that’s really enjoyable. And tangibly not gimmickily so too. 

And all against what is, still, limiting technology – too heavy, too easy to overheat. Hyundai has worked through those limitations brilliantly. Despite this, the N is genuinely capable and retains a great sense of fun and mechanical interaction. After hours with it, there was still so much more to explore. 

I think this is a landmark car. The first genuine EV driver’s car. A car we could bring along to Britain's Best Driver’s Car in 2024 and be confident it’ll perform well. Not because it makes brmm noises, but because the tuning is excellent and the engineering feels real. The all-electric driver’s car, finally, has arrived.

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

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.