Hyundai’s leapfrogging N lineup is one of the most interesting corners of the affordable car universe. Every vehicle under this banner brings all kinds of user adjustability, from damping stiffness to tailpipe volume. These settings allow owners to adjust to a groove that is more in line with their personal taste, and this helps set the N apart from its less configurable competitors. The Ioniq 5 N will be the first performance EV in this parade and after spending some time across the frozen lake, we’re happy to report that the N’s future is as bright as it gets.
In the winter in Arjeplog, Sweden, Hyundai admitted it was not yet ready to reveal full specifications. What we do know now is that the Ioniq 5 N’s dual electric motors combine for a net output of 600-ish horsepower. This is no mere facsimile of the 576-hp Kia EV6 GT, although the pair share the E-GMP platform. There are fewer basic components in common than you might think—many of the basics have been modified just for the N part.
Aesthetically, the Ioniq 5 N maintains the dedication to theater we see on the Kona and Elantra N models. Outside, there’s a large rear diffuser, cleverly designed large wheels, bigger brakes, fatter fenders and tires and more aggressive front bumper. Inside, the 5 N’s steering wheel takes four additional buttons to revamp its driving modes and enable various features. The biggest change, however, is the inclusion of a fixed center console; while the standard version may strive to increase interior volume, the N variant prefers to give you a place to brace your body during lateral g ramps.
On slick lakes, mostly frozen in the middle of unseasonably mild weather, with studless Pirelli Sottozero winter tires, skidding sideways is all but guaranteed. Hyundai asked us to resist drifting in the sharpest N drive mode without any electronic interference, and like any other vehicle, the Ioniq 5 N prototype required plenty of throttle and steering input to avoid a pirouette. Switching to drift mode specifically adjusts the torque distribution on each wheel to better resist drifting after initiating it with a fat stab of the go pedal or a sharp lift under full brake regeneration. The steering wheel also has its damping reduced to allow for more granular control without a full arm workout. It’s still up to the driver to avoid spinning, but the machinations going on in the drive give enough confidence to hang the tail longer and longer.
But maybe you don’t want to use drift mode. There are still ways to tailor the Ioniq 5 N’s behavior to suit your specific driving style. Four different modes (Eco, Normal, Sport and N) adjust steering weight, damping and throttle sensitivity, but many automakers let you do that. 5 N goes above and beyond by letting the driver vary the torque distribution on a spectrum between almost full front or biased rear. Throw everything to the bow, and the 5 N behaves like a front-wheel-drive car on ice—terminal understeer with an attack of takeoff oversteer. Throw them all firmly, and you can do your best impression of a Mustang leaving Cars and Coffee.
This heroism comes from two separate types of difference. The rear of the Ioniq 5 N uses an electronic limited-slip differential to shuffle torque left and right, while the front-end open diff pairs with brake-based torque vectoring. The latter was chosen to reduce front-end weight and cost, but it’s still quite capable. Even when the setup is working hard, there is little to no ABS-style brake noise coming from the inner wheels. The result is smooth operation and impressive body control over surfaces that would leave the average commuter scrambling to work from home.
The ability to take the Ioniq 5 N’s power anywhere also brings huge benefits to more traditional winter driving scenarios. Mixed traction surfaces can be tricky to start and stop, but the differential does a commendable job of keeping the 5 N tracking straight on launch and under hard ABS engagement. We also drove up a 20 percent grade with the passenger-side wheel on pure ice, and the Ioniq just soared up without drama.
Not all software is dedicated to turning you into Keiichi Tsuchiya, though. Some parts swing right into the theater. Press the lower right button on the steering wheel, and the Ioniq 5 N will add a simulated gear shift, disrupting torque delivery with a pull on either shift paddle to better mimic an internal combustion car. The reasoning here is that it can help drivers who are used to conventional cars ease into EV operation by giving them familiar cues. Turning this feature on also puts a tachometer on the gauge display, although it isn’t related to the e-motor’s speed; it just blooms a little neat with a fake redline near the original Elantra N. Performance isn’t the main thing here, as this feature doesn’t do squat in that department. Instead, it gives drivers another way to modify the 5 N to their specific tastes.
Even sound synthesizers play a role in facilitating the transition. We found it to be a nice complement to the Ioniq’s drift mode, as the up and down sounds provide a good aural cue to what the tires are doing. Three different sounds will be offered, but only one was available during our visit, and it brings a bit of high-strung four-cylinder vibe to the 5 N. Do you like it? Great, then use it. Do not like? Also great, you don’t have to turn it on. But having options is nice.
The Ioniq 5 N is a milestone for Hyundai’s new N performance division. We’ve already witnessed some seriously awesome N cars, and the division’s internal combustion efforts won’t stop until the world forces Hyundai’s hand. But the 5 N represents the start of the sub-brand’s upward push, towards a higher performance envelope while still maintaining a value proposition that fits the Korean automaker’s long-held ethos. Anyone can make an electric car accelerate fast, it’s not hard. But Hyundai hopes the Ioniq 5 N’s software—and the optional power it brings—will help this N stand out from the crowd.
Cars are jam Andrew Krok, along with boysenberry. After graduating with a degree in English from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2009, Andrew cut freelance magazine features by writing, and now he has a decade of full-time review experience. A Chicagoan by birth, he’s been a resident of Detroit since 2015. Maybe one day he’ll do something about that half-finished engineering degree.