"Electric cars will kill the passion for cars". Over the past two years, I have read this comment hundreds of times in our tests of non-combustion engine cars. And when I argue with someone who thinks this way, I reply that electric cars have a hard time exciting enthusiasts simply because battery-powered sports cars have not yet been invented.
So it's just a matter of time. Or rather "was" a matter of time, because the Hyundai Ioniq 5 N I tested in Korea is exactly that: an electric sports car. The first of its kind.
It's not a question of power, nor of how many seconds it takes to accelerate from 0-100 km/h, nor - of course - of top speed (you can find the figures at the end of the article anyway). This electric car is different and can be called "sporty" because it is designed to entertain the driver. Full stop. Which means appealing to those physical, dynamic and acoustic sensations that determine driving emotions.
Entering the Ioniq 5 N we are greeted by a sporty, enveloping seat that is strictly mechanical in its adjustments. The upholstery is made of Alcantara, as is the steering wheel, with perfect grip. The driving position is a little high, but the standard car is what it is, a compact crossover.
Hyundai IONIQ 5 N steering wheel rim in Alcantara
Details that you 'feel' immediately
I turn the 'gearbox' rotor on the steering column and set off, quietly, as in a conventional Ioniq 5, but I notice other noises that make me smile: the sound of gravel slapping against the wheel arches, evidently (and deliberately) emptied of sound deadening material.
I notice that the digital instrumentation shows three temperatures, that of the two engines and that of the 84 kWh battery. Then it only takes one manoeuvre, leaving the car park, to feel the steering is extraordinarily heavy, direct, real... Something I have never 'felt' in an electric car. And in fact (I discover later) it's not just an electronic issue: the steering column has been modified to be more direct to the front wheels and there's a more robust steering box to withstand the stresses of a lap of the Nordschleife.
How it handles on the road
I can't go to the circuit because of a logistical setback and have to make do with a bumpy road around Seoul. I try to keep the pace within local limits and endure the traffic that grips every square kilometre of the country. I don't get even half of the 641 bhp offered by the two engines, but it's enough to test the consistency of the tuning, with the response you'd expect from a.... sports compact? That's what I'd call the Ioniq 5 N, although its size and dimensions make it a bit of a stretch.
The IONIQ 5 on the roads of Seoul
On a road like this I can't 'analyse' it much, so I divert my attention to a function I haven't activated yet: N Sound, the digital sound generator with internal and external speakers. I press the button on the steering wheel and do so with misgivings: one, because driving so many electric cars I have never felt the need for artificial sound; two, because all the applications tested so far have left me indifferent or disappointed (read Abarth 500e).
But here it's different: the sound accompanies the power delivery of the two electric motors and much more. It reproduces gear changes with a second function called N Shift. And when I write "reproduces" I mean it does it physically, with a kick in the back and the engine holding back when you let go. The sensation is so real that I start giggling like a child, discovering that the system even simulates exhaust crackle (which doesn't exist) and even overspeeding (which doesn't exist) if you forget to 'shift'....
I forgot one detail: the emulated sound is that of the 276 bhp 2.0-litre petrol turbo in the i30 N.
This fusion of reality and digitisation sounds perfect, as does the regenerative braking system and the huge discs (400 mm at the front with four-piston monobloc calipers). On the move you don't notice anything and the braking modulates exceptionally well.
I get back on the motorway without disengaging any of these N functions, but as there are no more bends I put the gearbox into automatic mode. This is also simulated and I pretend that I don't want to be forced to change gear. "What's wrong with that, I think to myself.
I haven't dwelled on the Ioniq 5 N's aesthetics yet, but it deserves a comment. Much was already said about the design of this model when the 'civilian' version was introduced as a tribute to the lines of the 1980s. The N touch is noticeable and makes the car look very different, thanks to specific front and rear appendages that also have a technical function.
Integrated into the front bumper are active fins that facilitate the passage of air to cool the battery when necessary. The temperature management system of the latter is particularly sophisticated and ensures ideal performance depending on the type of use, including no less than two programmes for circuit driving.
The 21-inch forged aluminium wheels fitted with 275/35R21 Pirelli P-Zero tyres are very nice.
A final consideration
Electric car, digital sound, fake gears.... Reading all this, I can imagine how many of you are throwing your hands up in the air. However, after this experience aboard the Ioniq 5 N, I've come to realise that driving emotions are determined by an extraordinarily complex equation involving variables that you can't imagine until you experience them first-hand. And they may change your mind, just as they did mine, when I considered the sound generator to be absolute nonsense.
The bottom line is that there is no single recipe for creating so-called "driving pleasure" and electric cars will lead us to discover new ingredients that will change and be perfected over time. With one certainty: what counts is the final taste of driving, as a whole. And before judging a car or a particular technical solution, you should always try it out.
Interested in the car? It will be available in the UK in December starting at £65,000.
Gallery: Hyundai Ioniq 5 N test drive
Hyundai Ioniq 5 N