Hyundai’s sprung N series is one of the most interesting corners of the affordable car universe. Every vehicle under this banner has all kinds of user adjustability, from damping stiffness to exhaust volume. These settings let owners settle into a groove that better matches their personal taste, and they help set N apart from less configurable competitors. The Ioniq 5 N will be the first performance EV in this parade, and after spending some time across a frozen lake or two, we’re happy to report that the future of N is about as bright as can be be.
At its winter proving ground in Arjeplog, Sweden, Hyundai admitted it wasn’t quite ready to reveal full specifications. All we know now is that the Ioniq 5 N’s dual electric motors combine for a net output of 600 horsepower. It’s no mere facsimile of the 576-hp Kia EV6 GT, despite the pair sharing the E-GMP platform. There are fewer underlying components in common than you might think – much of its underpinnings have been adapted just for the N-section.
Aesthetically, the Ioniq 5 N retains the dedication to theater we see on the Kona and Elantra N models. Outside, there’s a massive rear diffuser, large wheels with a smart design, bigger brakes, fatter fenders and tires, and a more aggressive front bumper. Inside, the 5 N’s steering wheel picks up four extra buttons to shuffle through its drive modes and enable various features. The biggest change, however, is the inclusion of a fixed center console; while the standard version may seek to boost interior volume, the N variant will instead give you a place to brace your body as the lateral g’s ramp up.
On top of a slippery, mostly frozen lake in the midst of unusually mild weather, with studless Pirelli Sottozero winter tires, sideways sliding is all but guaranteed. Hyundai had us try a drift in the sharpest N drive mode without any electronic interference, and like any other vehicle, the Ioniq 5 N prototype required intense amounts of acceleration and steering input to avoid a pirouette. Switching to its dedicated drive mode adjusts the torque distribution at each wheel to better hold a drive after starting with a fat stab of the pedal or a sudden lift off under full brake regeneration. The steering also reduces its damping to allow for more grain control without a full-arm workout. It’s still up to the driver to keep it from spinning, but the mechanisms going on in the drivetrain inspire enough confidence to hang the tail out more and longer.
But maybe you don’t want to use drive mode. There are still ways to adjust the Ioniq 5 N’s stance to suit your particular driving style. Four different modes (Eco, Normal, Sport and N) adjust steering weight, damping and throttle sensitivity, but tons of automakers let you do that. The 5 N goes above and beyond by allowing the driver to change torque distribution on a spectrum between near full front or rear. Throw everything to the bow, and the 5 N behaves just like a front-wheel-drive car on ice – terminal understeer with bouts of lift-oversteer. Throw it all in reverse, and you can do your best impression of a Mustang leaving Cars and Coffee.
These heroics come from two distinct types of differentials. The Ioniq 5 N’s rear uses an electronic limited-slip differential to shuffle torque left and right, while the front’s open differential pairs with brake-based torque vectoring. The latter was chosen to reduce both 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 squeal coming from the inside wheel. The result is smooth operation and impressive body control over surfaces that would have regular commuters scrambling for a work-from-home day.
The ability to move the Ioniq 5N’s power either way also brings huge benefits to more traditional winter driving scenarios. Mixed traction surfaces can be difficult to start and stop, but the differentials did a commendable job of keeping the 5 N track straight during launches and under hard ABS engagement. We even scaled a 20 percent grade with the passenger-side wheels on pure ice, and the Ioniq just pushed its way up without drama.
However, not every piece of software is dedicated to making you Keiichi Tsuchiya. Some parts swing straight back to theater. Press the lower-right button on the steering wheel, and the Ioniq 5 N will add simulated gearshifts, interrupting torque delivery with a pull of one of the shift paddles to better mimic an internal combustion engine. The reasoning here is that it can help drivers accustomed to conventional cars get into EV business by giving them cues that cultivate a sense of familiarity. Turning this feature on also puts a tachometer on the gauge display, though it doesn’t correspond to e-car speed; it’s just a neat little flower with a fake redline near the Elantra N’s real one. Performance isn’t the point here, as the feature doesn’t do squat in that department. Instead, it gives drivers another way to tailor the 5 N to their specific tastes.
Even the sound synthesizer plays a role in easing the transition. We found this to be a good complement to the Ioniq’s drive mode, as the rising and falling sound gives a good feel for what the tires are doing. Three different sounds will be offered, but only one was available during our outing, and it brought a bit of a high-strung four-cylinder vibe to the 5 N. do you like it Great, then use it. Don’t you like it? Also great, you never have to turn it on. But having the choice is nice.
The Ioniq 5 N is a watershed moment for Hyundai’s fledgling N performance division. We’ve already witnessed some supremely sublime 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 push upwards, towards higher performance envelopes, while still maintaining a value proposition that matches the Korean automaker’s long-standing ethos. Anyone can make an electric car accelerate quickly, it’s not difficult. But Hyundai hopes the Ioniq 5 N’s software – and the power of choice it brings – will help this N stand out from the crowd.
Cars are Andrew Krok’s jam, along with boysenberry. After graduating with a degree in English from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2009, Andrew cut his teeth writing freelance magazine features, and now has a decade of full-time review experience under his belt. A Chicagoan by birth, he has been a Detroit resident since 2015. Maybe one day he’ll do something about that half-finished engineering degree.