Hyundai is sharing heavily doctored images of the upcoming Elantra N, offering a taste of what its performance arm plans to do when unleased upon the rest of the company’s lineup. Unlike N-Line products, which are more about supporting modest performance upgrades with visual embellishments, N models are basically as hardcore as the manufacturer can build a vehicle while still attempting to turn a profit.
Thus far the formula has only had sufficient time to produce the 275-horsepower Veloster N — a hatchback that seems intentionally designed to dunk on the more reserved Volkswagen GTI. But the Elantra is rumored to embrace the Veloster’s powertrain and a similar personality, resulting in something relatively unique for our market.
If you woke up this morning and immediately thought what this world needs is a mid-engine Hyundai with 810 horsepower, then we have good news for you.
In partnership with Rimac, the South Korean giant has produced this electrified RM20e, a prototype said to be pointing the way to the next generation of Hyundai’s N performance chops.
With Hyundai promising to give the N treatment to more models in its lineup, everyone expected the new i20 to be the next performance inductee. The subcompact debuted in its vanilla format earlier this year, equipped with a modest but serviceable 1.0-liter turbo engine making 118 horsepower. While that may be ideal for saving gas on grocery runs, Hyundai wants to deliver something a bit more raucous for enthusiasts.
The automaker teased the upcoming i20 N in a winter testing video that primarily focused on the World Rally Championship car fans of the sport would already recognize. The RM19 prototype was also seen kicking up snow in the clips, before a substantially camouflaged i20 received its time in the sun.
I drove the racetrack-ready Hyundai RM19 prototype, and I didn’t crash it.
The day after the Los Angeles Auto Show, while most of the rest of the assembled automotive media was either at home or in an airplane heading that way, I was in a shuttle bus heading north from Westwood/Beverly Hills towards the desert. Awaiting me would be the RM19 high-performance version of the Hyundai Veloster N.
The bus was ferrying me to Hyundai’s Proving Grounds located in/near California City, California. In addition to driving the RM19, I’d autocross a production Veloster N against the clock – something I did on the launch last year, outside of Sacramento – and be offered the chance to ride right-seat with a pro driver on an autocross in a race-prepped Veloster N. I’d also get to off-road a Palisade SUV and take a Nexo fuel-cell crossover around the high-speed track.
I skipped the right-seat ride due to lack of time, and I have little to say about autocross or the off-road. Those were merely repeats of experiences I’ve had before. The story here is the RM19, which Hyundai claims is a preview of future N products.
That exact future isn’t yet clear.
In today’s episode of Surprising Bedfellows, we find the corporate duo of Hyundai/Kia throwing money in the general direction of Rimac. Technically titled Rimac Automobili, it’s the Croatian high-performance EV company known for making the outrageously fast Concept One supercar, a vehicle thrust into the public eye when Richard Hammond binned one at a Swiss hillclimb. That was a wreck from which he mercifully has recovered. Legend has it that the subsequent media exposure helped the company sell three units that same day.
Today, the EV company announced a $90 million partnership with the Korean giants. They’ll be working together to develop an electric version of Hyundai Motor’s N brand midship sports car and a high-performance fuel cell electric vehicle.
Hyundai’s Veloster may be the first to wear the N badge and we’ve already explained it won’t be the last. However, the plot has thickened slightly. The new division won’t be limited to peppering existing models with enhanced powertrains and sport-inspired accessories, it’s eventually going to have its own halo car.
Thomas Schemera, who was appointed head of Hyundai’s new high performance and motorsport division earlier this year, is claiming that the Veloster N is only “the first phase of N vehicles.” But he isn’t talking about the future N-Line, which is to be comprised of gently tweaked Hyundai cars. Apparently, the group is developing a halo performance model to show off what the sporting division can really do.
In Hyundai’s mind, consumers now know the brand builds reliable cars. Quality cars. Attractive cars. “But now we have the knowledge to add sportiness to that image,” says Klaus Köster, Hyundai’s European director for high performance vehicle development.
The Hyundai i30 N, essentially a high-performance version of the Hyundai Elantra GT that Americans will soon be able to purchase in less powerful iterations, is instantly becoming the foundation for a Hyundai brand that wants to be taken more seriously for its athleticism.
Just as the i30 N spent much of its development time at Hyundai’s six-year-old technical center beside Germany’s iconic Nürburgring circuit, now every Hyundai will be assessed at the Nürburgring.
The Santa Fe’s ‘Ring time probably won’t be published.
It’s time for performance SUVs to leave the luxury domain and make their way down into the mainstream.
And who better to bring a performance utility vehicle to the masses than the man who previously headed up BMW’s M division, Albert Biermann.
Biermann, after three decades at BMW and more than half a decade in charge at BMW M, joined the Hyundai Motor Group as head of vehicle test and high performance development in 2014. His list of responsibilities at Hyundai and Kia is lengthy. His aspirations for Hyundai’s N brand, according to Drive, are lofty.
But while conventional thought would lead you to believe Hyundai’s N performance sub-brand would focus on cars, Biermann says, “The fun-to-drive element is not limited to the size and segment of the car; you can create fun cars in every segment.”
As a result — and this won’t surprise anyone who remembers that Biermann’s previous position included oversight of M versions of the BMW X5 and BMW X6 — there’s likely a Hyundai Tucson N in the future.
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