Hyundai RN22e (IONIQ 6 N) prototype test drive – Australian debut (video)

Brett Davis

Hyundai offered us a drive in an RN22e development vehicle that will inspire the upcoming IONIQ 6 N performance car, set to enter showrooms in the near future. We wiped our calendar clean of any functions and basically tripped over with excitement to make sure we could attend.

This is a big deal for a number of reasons. Firstly, Hyundai N is only just getting into its stride, what with the cracking products currently on offer. And all of them are brilliant in their own way and have gathered a sizeable following. Need proof? This prototype drive event took place at the 2022 N Festival at The Bend Motorsport Park, which is exactly in the middle of nowhere. Yet, 200 N owners turned up to enjoy their machines.

Looking around at the event, it’s clear to see the passion these owners have for their cars. Plenty were modified or at least personalised with little touches, with a heap of them featuring even louder exhaust systems. In other words, the N brand is real and now has a huge following. It’s very impressive when you consider the brand only launched about four years ago.

Now, due to ever-tightening emissions laws in various big and very important markets for car brands, Hyundai, like most others, is making a shift to electrified powertrains. That could be seen as a threat to the N brand in particular, because electric vehicles are not really praised for their driver engagement and sound and adjustability. What can N do to make an EV appealing for those seeking these traits?

2022 Hyundai RN22e concept – THE SPECS

Battery: 77.4kWh lithium-ion
Output: 430kW / 740Nm
1-speed auto with ‘Virtual Grin Shift’ simulated gears
Drive type: All-wheel drive
Starting price: Likely AU$110,000-plus

Hyundai not only brought across some of its key engineers and test drivers to the N Festival event to support the RN22e outings, the N brand’s founder (basically), and former Hyundai-Kia engineering boss and former BMW M mastermind, Albert Biermann, was also on attendance. And we get the sense he wasn’t there only to oversee the operations, but also simply to witness and absorb the atmosphere and passion that he no doubt created.

Now, we must reiterate the RN22e prototype being showcased here is still undergoing development. Various elements are yet to be finalised before the IONIQ 6 N production car hits the market. It will be heavily influenced by this, though, and some components are almost there. For example, the 400mm front brakes and four-piston monoblock calipers are apparently ready for the showroom model.

Taking a look inside, it’s obvious this is not complete. There’s some dashboard and some centre console, but no real floor or carpets, and full racing bucket seats with harness belts and no back seat. A serious roll cage occupies plenty of space too. It’s needed because the engineers have been pushing this thing to its limits to explore its potential and ensure it is a far-extending potential.

Another area that’s yet to be finalised is the powertrain and some of the driving functions. There is a sport mode on this prototype though which activates a bassy speaker mounted under/behind the rear bumper bar. It might seem gimmicky – and I’m the last person you’ll hear supporting any sort of fake engine sound systems – but this actually sounds pretty exciting. There’s a sense of action and theatre, and you can even ‘rev’ it up on the spot.

Even if you are like me and appreciate the mechanical marvel that is the combustion engine, there is just no other alternative for engine sounds except having some kind of speaker system. And this setup Hyundai has going, so far, is pretty darn good. It’s matched into the Virtual Grin Shift system, too. VGS is essentially a simulated gearbox, with paddle shifters and even a speed-limited redline in each gear – Biermann mentions testing a rev-limiter cutoff popping sound function, like on a petrol engine, which might appear on the production cars.

Out on the track we think the VGS tech is one of the biggest breakthroughs for EVs, specifically in the area of driver engagement. A lot of the time you drive an EV, it kind of feels like you’re sitting in a transport capsule as a passenger, hardly needed in the action of driving. This VGS tech brings back some of that man-and-machine relationship in our opinion.

The other major aspect helping with driver engagement is the rear differential. Or, in Hyundai language, the electronic Torque Vectoring by Twin Clutch (e-TVTC). It works like a limited-slip diff, precisely directing power to the best wheel at the back, depending on various factors such as steering angle and traction.

During our drive it was wet and even raining during some of it. However, this gave us a chance to explore the e-TVTC’s functionality and experience the sheer acceleration and speed. In concept form the RN22e uses the same twin-motor system as the Kia EV6 GT, producing a combined 430kW and 740Nm.

For the production version we’ve heard rumours suggesting the numbers will be a bit higher, potentially around the 450kW mark for the N models (including IONIQ 5 N). But even so, there is no shortage of grunt. For the N machines the motors are modified so they spin much faster than the regular motors, enabling a top speed of over 250km/h.

Down the main straight at The Bend it had no trouble flying past all petrol N models also on the circuit. That’s one big attraction to EVs, the incredible acceleration getting away from corners. Instant response and even some power oversteer is possible in this. We drove with the ESC in Sport mode, which allows plenty of slip and play. This is perfect so you can learn and slowly build up your understanding of the car before switching it off and enjoying the full potential.

The steering is quite weighted but there’s plenty of feedback so you can feel when it’s about to let go at the rear, or at the front in our case on some of the very slippery corners. It feels like you can pretty much use the power and response to get yourself out of trouble, with the clever diff also helping the car pivot and twist around the apex.

2022 Hyundai RN22e concept – THE VIDEO

If you were worried about what the influx of EVs would do for pure driving enthusiasts, we think you should continue to worry, like we are. But it’s good to know there are carmakers out there, clearly working hard to ensure as much of that feel-good stuff from decades of combustion engine development carries over to fun-focused EVs.

The IONIQ 6 N and IONIQ 5 N are set to offer almost all of the thrills and driving excitement of N’s cracking hot hatches, only with more power and acceleration. However, they will be the heaviest models yet, and they obviously won’t produce a barking soundtrack. From what we’ve been lucky enough to see with this RN22e prototype though, the transition to EVs, as inevitable as it is, should be a very interesting one for N.

Hyundai will launch the IONIQ 5 N first, sharing essentially the same foundations and E-GMP architecture, with a debut set for next year. The IONIQ 6 N will follow shortly after, based on this RN22e, offering slightly quicker track performance due to a sleeker design and lower ride height.

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