‘We Don’t Want A Horsepower War’: Hyundai N Boss On Performance EVs

By automotive-mag.com 6 Min Read

Driving a 1,000-horsepower car is not fun. It is a kick in the stomach. A controlled explosion, the throttle held down for only a few seconds at a time. Any more than that and it leads to jail, or the grave. (And that’s when you aren’t stuck in traffic and can actually properly open it up somewhere.) But you don’t build a 1,000-horsepower car for fun. You build it to beat the guys building 900-hp cars. You do it to win the horsepower war. Two months later, someone beats you, and the cycle repeats. But Hyundai isn’t participating.

“We don’t want to be in the horsepower war,” Hyundai N Boss Joonwoo Park told InsideEVs. “Making horsepower exponentially bigger in an EV is so easy, but we actually have a different approach.”

The Korean automaker will let everyone else advertise bigger numbers. Its focus is on a fun driving experience. That strikes me as prudent. The first two 0-60 mph runs in a 1,000-hp car are fun, but the novelty wears off. At least it did for me when I drove the Tesla Model S Plaid. So I took it to the canyons, and found the experience more terrifying than engaging. The brakes and chassis can’t handle the power, so you’re rocketing toward a cliffside and then trusting spongy, under-specced brakes to slow you down. 

A Taycan Turbo S handles the curves better, but it is still too fast to safely go full-throttle on a twisty public road for more than three seconds. Ever. At the recent first drive of the new, lap-record-setting Porsche Taycan Turbo GT, Porsche had journalists stop on the back straight of Circuito Monteblanco in Spain and use launch control. If the company hadn’t implemented that policy, rumor has it that the car would be doing about 170 mph on the back straight. That’s too fast for an amateur driver to go in a cage-less car. So we’ve reached the point where performance EVs aren’t just too fast for the street, they’re too fast for the track.

Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 N has a “tamer” output: 601 hp for sustained operation, with a boost function that gives the driver 641 hp for 10 seconds. Park thinks that alone may be too much for many people.

“This is a 641-hp vehicle, and I’m not 100% sure what percentage of [automotive journalists] and our fans can manage that,” Park said. “Even though we can have over 1000 hp, there are not many people who can control that”

“The purpose gets lost,” Vice President of N Brand & Motorsport Till Wartenberg added.

The action outside of our pit box window at Laguna Seca Raceway proved their point. Hyundai had assembled 29 journalists to drive the Ioniq 5 N on one of America’s best tracks, and only a handful of those were good enough to take the front-straight crest flat-out.

I was not among them. I’m not ashamed of that. I’ve done hours of instructed driving, driven dozens of 600-hp cars and done dozens of flying laps in cars ranging from the Mazda Miata to the Ferrari 296 GTB. I am far from a racing driver but also far more comfortable with speed than the average performance car buyer. Yet on Laguna Seca’s many blind sections, the limiting factor of the Ioniq 5 N wasn’t its power. It was me. 

If you’ve never raced, or done fewer than a dozen track days, you, too, would be the weakest link. Plus, while you can make a racetrack-capable EV for under $100,000, and you can make a 1,000-hp-plus EV for under $100,000, so far no one has done both. The 1,092-hp Taycan Turbo GT starts at $231,995. It is far, far quicker than the Ioniq 5 N. An experienced amateur racer or a pro would surely enjoy that speed. But for the average person, it’s more risky than it is fun, more for marketing than for joy.

Hyundai Ioniq 5 N First Track Drive

I respect that Hyundai isn’t playing that game. In fact, Park wants to make a less powerful EV N car. Both of us agreed that 300 to 400 hp in a lightweight car is the sweet spot to make something feel quick but not uncomfortably so, fun without being overwhelming.

Current EV economics don’t support making a cheaper, less powerful EV that can still handle the track, but it’s high on Park’s list. The N brand started with affordable, tossable cars, and that’s what executives say they want to make in the EV era.

“We’re not about speed, we’re not about horsepower,” Till said.

“Yep, we’re about fun,” Park added.

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