At the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show, Hyundai Motor Company announced the official launch of N, a high‒performance auto brand other than its mass‒produced lineups. Although Hyundai’s announcement may have sounded unusual for its customers overseas, it was a breakthrough for the fans in Korea.
In the meantime, Hyundai Motor Company has nurtured its N brand using the technology and experience it gained from various motorsports events, such as the WRC, TCR, and the 24‒hour Nurburgring endurance race. In addition, since the launch of the brand, the automaker has released new models every year to spread the charm of N’s three core elements ‒ race track capability, corner rascal, and everyday sports car ‒ not only in Korea but also in Europe, the United States, and Asia, etc. Many of them have a solid fan base.
And recently, the N brand presented RN22e and N Vision 74 to introduce a specific blueprint for its new future called “high‒performance electrification N.” Here, Dong‒hee Lee and Byung‒hui Kang explained the meaning of the N brand, the meaning of the technology obtained through covering both motorsports and mass‒produced cars, and the real charm of the N brand; Both are automotive consultants and professional racing drivers, respectively, but in addition to their day jobs, they are both auto columnists. Here lie the details of the N brand after they have taken a close look.
People have already had expectations for Hyundai’s high‒performance model for some time. And in 2012, the company officially took action. At the 2012 Paris Motor Show in September of that year, Hyundai unveiled the i20 WRC rally car and announced its participation in the world‒class motorsport event, WRC. After 10 years of disappearing from the 2003 WRC, the automaker is back. In the same year, Hyundai Motor Sport GmbH was established in Europe, and in line with this, people with experience and skills from WRC gathered one after another at HMSG. A year later, in 2013, rally drivers such as Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo joined together to establish Hyundai Motorsport, and officially unveiled the i20 WRC rally car to participate in the 2014 WRC season. At this time, the N logo was first attached to a rally car to be showcased to the world.
Columnist Dong‒hee Lee talked about his impression of the N brand: “When the automaker announced its return to the WRC at the end of 2013, the N mark branded on the i20 WRC rally car could not be bolder. Since the high‒performance car development center was established, and the RM (Racing Midship) project ‒ a leading technology for high‒performance cars ‒ began in 2012, the N brand is celebrating its 10th anniversary. In the meantime, various N models have been released inside and outside of Korea, and many people are experiencing the joy of N.”
Since then, Hyundai Motorsport has participated in the WRC, one of the world’s best motorsport categories, from 2014 to now, winning the manufacturer’s championship twice in 2019 and 2020, and is actively working. Since 2016, it has been participating in the 24‒hour Nurburgring endurance race in Germany every year to prove the technology and reliability of race cars and high‒performance cars. Last year and this year, the Elantra N TCR(Avante N TCR) won the class championship. In 2018, a race car based on the N brand won the first season of the WTCR, a top‒level touring car race, and this year, it is proving its outstanding competitiveness by winning the overall championship of the driver and team riding the Elantra N TCR. Columnist Byung‒hui Kang, who participated in motorsport with an N race car, explained how motorsport activities nurtured the N models.
“Rally is a harsh motorsport for both the car and the driver. Race cars suffer tirelessly because of off‒road bumps and countless jumps that seem impossible to go through. In such extreme situations, the rally car must deliver maximum maneuverability and clear feedback to the driver. In other words, performance is important, but a car that can communicate well with the driver would go faster. As in endurance races, cars are constantly pushing their limits. In particular, the Nurburgring, where cars drive at high speed faster than any other track, has quite a lot of high‒speed corners exceeding 200 km/h, and the height difference reaches up to 300 m. The engine exceeds the limits of rotation 24 hours a day, and the stress on the powertrain is beyond imagination due to severe pressure from top to bottom and left to right. Although three or four drivers take turns, the car itself cannot; hence durability and reliability are essential elements.”
As columnist Byung‒hui Kang said, the N brand has perfected its know‒how in technology, maneuverability, and durability by constantly testing them in different environments such as WRC and endurance races. Then they utilized these elements in their N model. Columnist Dong‒hee Lee mentioned that the reason for falling in love with the driving pleasure and pure charm of the N model is its relationship with motorsports, high‒quality balance, and the brand philosophy that pursues emotional enjoyment.
“The strengths of the N brand are: technology inspired by motorsport, high performance and reliability, the ability to be harmoniously used in mass‒produced cars, and the maximized enjoyment they bring. In the N, elements such as the rear spoiler developed with aerodynamics technology refined through WRC and the e‒LSD that helps cornering by utilizing 100% of engine power provide pleasure from start to finish.”
The skills and experience honed through motorsports are not only utilized for mass‒produced cars. Speaking of the i30 N, the first model of the N brand, a mass‒produced version was launched in 2017 based on the technology honed in the WRC and the 24‒hour Nurburgring endurance race; and in 2018, the i30 N TCR, a touring car based on this, has debuted for the WTCR. In other words, technology and experience affect each other while crossing the border between motorsports and mass‒produced cars. This effect creates a solid fan base on N around the world. Anyone who sees a race car that looks just like their daily car at a motorsport event will be thrilled; on the other hand, driving a mass‒produced version of a race car would also be an amazing experience.
Kang remembers the N maniacs he encountered in motorsports competitions in Korea and abroad, “Now the whole world knows about the N brand participating in motorsport, and more and more rising stars want to drive an N race car. It was important to find technical weaknesses and improve performance through motorsports, but at the same time, the N brand’s fan base became huge intangible assets. I feel thrilled whenever I see N owners from different countries greeting each other around the Nurburgring, passers‒by who come near the standstill N model and ask questions, and foreigners waving N flags at overseas stadiums.”
As such, Hyundai Motor Company’s brilliant performance in motorsports had a huge impact on strengthening the position of the N brand. At the same time, since the i30 N was released in 2017, new cars have been unveiled every year, and they have driven the growth of the N brand rapidly. A total of six N models have been released in the global market so far: i30 N, i30 Fastback N, Veloster N, Kona N, Elantra N, and i20 N. After filling the lineup with C‒segment models suitable for track driving for pure driving pleasure, the automaker added the i20 N, a B‒segment hatchback, reflecting the taste of the European market, where small hatchbacks are popular. The charms of each model are diverse, but they have one thing in common: they basically aim for the emotional pleasure of driving that the N brand pursues.
After experiencing all of N Brand’s lineup, Kang explained what he thought about each model:
First off, the i 30 N, Hyundai Motor Europe’s strategic cornerstone, “really tightens the lower body. So even while driving fast on the Autobahn, it can be tempting to drive through winding forest roads. This model also let go of excessive power and focused on overall balance. On the other hand, the i30 Fastback N has changed to a more luxurious ride than the hatchback type. It’s perfect for traveling with the family in the back seat. It has excellent aerodynamic performance and stability during high‒speed driving, and pursues the refined stability of its upper class. The i20 N follows the classic 1990s fun car design philosophy. It features lightweight, simple construction, mechanical LSD, and soft, forgiving suspension. This car is better suited for random public roads than for smooth roads like tracks. This model is the first N model that fits the rally concept regardless of the type of road surface and allows you to enjoy the refreshing feeling of a lightweight body.”
Then, regarding the charm of Korean N models:
“The Veloster N is characterized by its flexibility to control the load movement more delicately than the i30 N. Considering the ability to respond on Korean roads, it has a better setting. Active e‒LSD solved most of the understeer problems of front‒wheel drive models. Also, users who enjoy track racing love the cornering power of the short wheelbase of this model. Kona N succeeded in combining three elements that are difficult to mix: high performance, SUV, and front‒wheel drive. This car can corner with powerful torque vectoring while maintaining the versatility of an SUV. At first, I thought this housed a 4‒wheel‒drive system like the WRC version, but it maintained front‒wheel drive for nimble cornering; This is a characteristic of N’s true philosophy. The Veloster N is the N model only for me, while the Kona N is for the family. From my point of view, Elantra N seems to have become the origin of the second generation of the N model. Like the roll cage of a race car, the chassis was additionally reinforced, and the lateral rigidity of the drive wheels was increased with an integrated drive axle designed for WRC rally cars. The body is larger than a hatchback but still robust, and the launch control logic produces formidable launch acceleration like that of a TCR race car. In addition, the sedan‒type body and long wheelbase provide a good balance between ride comfort and cornering performance.”
Not only global car enthusiasts but also leading automobile media outlets praised various N models. In Europe, where there is a strong tendency to prefer small and dynamic cars, Germany’s leading auto magazines chose the N model in a comparative evaluation with competing models. Earlier this year, three major German automobile magazines, 〈Auto Zeitung〉, 〈Auto Bild〉, and 〈Auto Motor und Sport〉, respectively compared the i20 N and the Volkswagen Polo GTI, then declared the victory of the i20 N.
In particular, the i20 N finally won the Speed Week event (2021), an annual event in which the British automobile magazine 〈Top Gear〉 picks the car with the most driving pleasure among high‒performance cars. At that time, the most sports cars of all time, such as Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, BMW, and Lotus, were competitors in 〈Top Gear〉 Speed Week, and the i20 N became the first hot hatch ever to win 〈Top Gear〉 Speed Week with exhilarating driving fun.
There was not only optimism about the performance of the rapidly growing N brand. The biggest concern was the uncertain future of internal combustion engines. However, the N brand has been preparing for the future from the beginning ‒ the high‒performance electrification N. Lee explained the changes in the environment from the launch of the N brand until now.
“People still envy high‒performance cars. However, the image of a high‒performance car is not what it used to be. The Paris Climate Agreement held in 2016 and subsequent fuel economy measures put pressure on internal combustion engines. If automakers fail to meet standard fuel economy standards or exceed carbon dioxide emission standards, they have to pay a carbon tax, which is stressful for car companies. All automakers could not survive unless they released electric vehicles immediately. In some ways, this situation would have been a huge obstacle for the N brand, which was expanding in the high‒performance car market. In July 2017, the N brand’s first mass‒produced car, the i30 N, debuted, and at the same time, new regulations began. And now that the Elantra N has been released, it is rapidly changing to the era of electric vehicles. Still, the N brand has been preparing for electrification faster than anyone else.”
As Lee said, the N brand has swiftly prepared for the era of electrification ‒ just as it has been participating in the ETCR, a pure electric touring car race since last year. The future of high‒performance electrification has taken shape through the RM series, which is known as a high‒performance concept/rolling lab (moving laboratory) that can actually drive. The RM20e, unveiled in 2020, was developed based on the Veloster N ETCR, an electric touring race car, and has convenience specifications for actual driving. And the RN22e and N Vision 74, which were released this year, presented the future of the N brand in more detail. Lee described the RN22e and N Vision 74 as follows:
“The RN22e is a high‒performance electric vehicle concept using E‒GMP, a platform exclusively for electric vehicles of the Hyundai Motor Group. It has the best aerodynamic performance of the Hyundai Motor Group and the advantages of E‒GMP, and implemented e‒TVTC, an electric motor version of e‒LSD, which was one of the characteristics of the internal combustion engine N model. In particular, the RN22e’s battery pre‒conditioning helps fast charging by raising the temperature in advance before entering the track and lowering the temperature after driving. This technology proves that the automaker has taken track driving into consideration.”
“The N Vision 74 has a story inherited from the Pony Coupe concept, which was Korea’s first independent sports car model, and thrilled me from the beginning. Of course, the biggest feature of this model is that it houses a hydrogen electric hybrid system. This system compensates for the charging time, a disadvantage of electric vehicles, through hydrogen fuel cell technology. N Vision 74 is the essence of the N brand for the mid‒to long‒term future. For track driving, the automaker developed independent cooling systems and controlled airflow for each major component of the hydrogen fuel cell stack, battery and PE system. The model’s level of perfection has indeed surpassed that of a concept car. The value of the N Vision 74 is even greater because this model has almost become a reality.”
We all live in a time of change that goes faster than ever. Even in the automobile industry, the wave of electrification is approaching us at an outrageous speed. Amidst this rapid change, the N brand has grown tirelessly; The power of the N brand, which has changed over the past seven years, proves this. Nevertheless, the value and essence pursued by the N brand have never been shaken. Owners of the N will continue to enjoy the thrill of driving both in everyday life and on the track. This is why the N brand can still survive as an attractive, high‒performance brand even in the era of electrification.
by Se‒hwan Lee
Photography by Geun‒jae Lim
Video by HMG Journal
HMG Journal Operation Teamgroup@hyundai.com
Pursuant to the Creative Commons License (CCL) 2.0, all users can copy, distribute, and transmit Information available on the Hyundai Motor Group Newsroom, or use it for exhibitions and performances. Please note, however, that all information is protected by copyright. Information users must use the information available on the Hyundai Motor Group Newsroom for strictly private/personal purposes only.HMG Operation Policy