Hyundai's hopped-up N lineup is one of the most interesting corners of the affordable-car universe. Every vehicle under this banner carries all manner of user adjustability, from damping stiffness to tailpipe volume. These settings let owners settle into a groove that better aligns with their personal tastes, and it helps sets N apart from less configurable competitors. The Ioniq 5 N will be the first performance EV in this parade, and after spending some time sliding across a frozen lake or two, we're happy to report that the future of N is about as bright as can be.
At its winter proving grounds in Arjeplog, Sweden, Hyundai admitted it's not quite ready to divulge full specs. All we know right now is that the Ioniq 5 N's dual electric motors combine for a net output of 600-ish horsepower. This is 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 may think—many of its underpinnings were tweaked just for the N division.
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 clever 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 for shuffling through its drive modes and enabling various features. The biggest change, though, is the inclusion of a fixed center console; whereas the standard version may seek to boost interior volume, the N variant would rather give you a place to brace your body as the lateral g's ramp up.
Atop a slick, mostly frozen lake amid unseasonably mild weather, with Pirelli Sottozero winter tires sans studs, slipping sideways is all but guaranteed. Hyundai had us attempt to hold a drift in the sharpest N driving mode without any electronic interference, and like any other vehicle, the Ioniq 5 N prototype demanded intense amounts of throttle and steering input to prevent a pirouette. Switching to its dedicated drift mode adjusts torque distribution at each wheel to better hold a drift after initiating it with a fat stab of the go pedal or an abrupt lift under full brake regeneration. The steering also reduces its damping to allow for more granular control without a full arm workout. It's still on the driver to avoid spinning, but the machinations taking place in the drivetrain inspire enough confidence to hang the tail out more and for longer.
But perhaps you don't want to use drift mode. There are still ways to customize the Ioniq 5 N's demeanor to suit your specific driving style. Four different modes (Eco, Normal, Sport, and N) adjust the steering weight, damping, and throttle sensitivity, but tons of automakers let you do that. The 5 N goes above and beyond by letting the driver alter torque distribution on a spectrum between nearly full front or rear bias. Throw everything toward the bow, and the 5 N acts just like a front-wheel-drive car would on the ice—terminal understeer with bouts of liftoff oversteer. Throw it all sternward, and you can do your best impression of a Mustang leaving Cars and Coffee.
These heroics come from two separate types of differentials. The Ioniq 5 N's rear end utilizes an electronic limited-slip differential to shuffle torque left and right, while the front end's open diff 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's working hard, there's little to no ABS-style brake chatter coming from the inside wheel. The result is smooth operation and impressive body control over surfaces that would send ordinary commuters scrambling for a work-from-home day.
The ability to move the Ioniq 5 N's power every which way brings big benefits to more traditional winter-driving scenarios as well. Mixed-traction surfaces can be tricky for starting and stopping, but the differentials did a commendable job keeping the 5 N tracking 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 shoved its way up without drama.
Not every bit of software is dedicated to making you Keiichi Tsuchiya, though. Some parts swing right back toward 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 either shift paddle to better mimic an internal-combustion car. The reasoning here is that it may help drivers used to conventional cars ease into EV operation by giving them cues that breed a sense of familiarity. Turning on this feature also places a tachometer on the gauge display, even though it doesn't correlate to e-motor speed; it's just a neat little flourish with a fake redline near the Elantra N's real one. Performance isn't the point here, since the feature doesn't do squat in that department. Instead, it gives drivers another way to tweak the 5 N to their specific tastes.
Even the sound synthesizer plays a part in easing the transition. We found it a nice complement to the Ioniq's drift mode, as the sound rising and falling provides a good aural cue to what the tires are doing. Three different sounds will be on offer, but only one was available during our excursion, and it brought a little bit of a high-strung four-cylinder vibe to the 5 N. Do you like it? Great, then use it. Don't like it? Also great, you never need 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 borne witness to 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 beginning of the subbrand's push upward, toward higher performance envelopes while still maintaining a value proposition that jibes with the Korean automaker's long-held ethos. Anybody can make an electric car accelerate with alacrity, that's not difficult. But Hyundai is hoping 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 he 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.