Imagine that 10 years ago, someone told you that in ten years, the car manufacturer you admire most would be Hyundai. You’ll be giggling out of your Recaro.
The only thing you can tell about the fantasy in the past is true – the Korean maker of mediocre economy hatchbacks (with only a slight rebound in its history) can go from pony to pure in such a short period of time. Stallion — if the world accepts the almighty shakeup.
With our world leaders completely stripped of their dignity and some of our long-held human rights threatened due to a global pandemic, the planet feels very different now than it did 10 years ago.
But it’s not this cultural reset that makes us look at modern cars differently. No, it’s Hyundai that has changed dramatically, an automaker that was on this track before these major world events forced their way into our lives.
In 2016, the tone was set for the company’s reinvention with the launch of the modern performance brand N. And we weren’t ready. not at all.
I covered the unveiling of the first N, the i30 N. It showed how little faith we had in Hyundai that I, as the most junior employee working on the magazine at the time, was sent to watch its unveiling. We thought we knew what to expect.
You see, we drove the high-performance Kia Proceed GT from Hyundai’s sister brand. This warm hatch is well balanced and vibrant. not bad. But you don’t want one.
And the Kia Stinger. This car shows real promise. It has an incredible base of performance, but it’s finished with a mass-market glaze—the kind that leaves a bitter aftertaste in car lovers’ mouths.
So we know what to expect from this new Hyundai hatchback. A sporty hatchback, but nothing to worry about a Volkswagen Golf GTI, nor does it see where Renault Sport is headed.
But boy were we wrong. The i30 N is a right hot hatch. Make it the way you want it. It’s full of emotions that only a lover of high-performance cars can bring. While ticking, it sounds like a WRC car sneaking around the service area. To me, the triangular brake lights scream Manta 400 hood vents.
It’s well designed. It has a limited slip differential and a solid chassis. It grabs when you want it; slips when you don’t. The entire steering system is new, as the regular i30 isn’t firm enough, nor does it offer enough feel.
That latter point isn’t the sexiest of truths, but it’s the kind of in-depth and expensive modification that rarely makes it past car company accountants. It shows how focused Hyundai is on making the i30 N a proper hot contender. Perhaps, even at the expense of any profits. I’ve always thought Hyundai lost money on the i30 N because it felt so well designed.
Still, while not profitable, it’s worth it because the i30 is the foundation of the N brand. If it wasn’t as potent as the Kia Proceed GT, we wouldn’t be applauding it right now.
The i30 N was the spark that made us all turn east and focus on Hyundai. The Kona, Veloster and i20 all received the N treatment with the same success as the original.
Then there are the non-performance Hyundais we can’t take our eyes off of. The Ioniq 5 could be an electric hatchback – that’s a huge one – but it looks like it should be confined to a slowly spinning turntable – it’s too futuristic to be a car you can bought car. Hyundai’s van, the Staria, is equally puzzling. Both are stunning…the hatchback and the van.
Then we get into Hyundai’s actual concept cars and prototypes. These types of cars, exotic machines that never make it to production, are rarely exciting. There is no doubt that they often look beautiful, but they are usually designed to be displayed at old car shows. Their sole purpose is to tout false new technologies and make industry and design people hot under their interior scarves.
Hyundai didn’t get that memo. The Korean brand’s concept wanted to show us — people who actually buy and love cars, not industry design experts and futurists — where the company is headed. Hyundai’s prototypes, which often smell of burnt rubber around them, are excellent.
To showcase its future drivetrain, Hyundai stuffed its electric motors into completely redeveloped Velosters to make a mid-engine rear-wheel-drive track car in the form of the N ETCR and RM20e instead of one. The latter makes more than 800hp.
One of the company’s most exotic products is the iMax N, a high-performance drifting eight-passenger van.modern someone is Taiguiban Fans, obviously.
Then there’s the more sedate but equally charming Grandeur restomod that Hyundai makes for 2021. The original Grandeur sedan, but with the luster, elegance and matrix lights of a 1980s vision of the future. It’s retro without being flashy, festive without being obtrusive, and humorous without being joking. The judgment was perfect.
Despite these victories, Hyundai has managed to outdo itself recently. In early 2022, it unveiled two concepts that leverage new-world technology and, in a way that seems — if we don’t know — seems to be endorsed by Speedhunters.
First up is the RN22e, essentially the N version of Hyundai’s swooping Ioniq 6 sedan. In the really lovely N-Type, it’s light blue and has ample power (569hp) from two electric motors, one at each axle, with torque vectoring at the rear. Most astounding, though, is its exterior. There’s never been a GT3 race car built with a sedan, because that would be ridiculous. But it looks incredible, and we know it because that’s what the RN22e looks like. Huge wings, massive diffuser, wide stance, bubbly arches and more.
The best of the two concepts, however, is the N Vision 74. It combines the retro styling, high performance and sheer joyful attitude of every Hyundai concept we’ve touched, and crams those attributes into a wild wedge-shaped package.
The basis for the N Vision 74 was the Hyundai Pony Coupé concept car, designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro for the 1974 Turin Motor Show and, yes, you guessed it. An updated, modernized and electric version of this crisp coupe would be lovely. It will let us chat and share some photos online, just like Grandeur restomod does.
But Hyundai didn’t leave it there, and we’re grateful. It takes a 70’s concept and does what any of us would do. What would we do if we had an infinite budget and the right mix of respect and disrespect for corporate tradition.
The N Vision 74 has a 1970s Group 5 silhouette style body kit. The large, wide box arch ends abruptly at the door, leaving huge cooling holes front and rear. Its wheels are like a cleaned-up version of the turbofan engine on the Trans Am Audi 200 Quattro, big and smooth. And, instead of simply mimicking the racing highlights of the last century, it has a huge modern aerodynamic package including wings, diffuser and splitter.
Why it needs so much downforce is puzzling, as official images show it being tipped into corners, sideways, before any apex. I know the pictures aren’t real, just digital renderings, but pictures like this show what Hyundai intends. That’s how it wants you to see its car on the exact opposite lock. This is another thing about Hyundai that you have to admire.
Hyundai seems determined to prove that in a V8-and-gas-free future, irresponsible fun can still be. The N Vision 74 has two electric motors, but unlike the RN22e, they’re both used on the rear axle, making shredding rubber easier. It’s also hydrogen-powered, our favorite “new” form of propulsion. Not that long a charge time.
It seems that there are people like us – people with 4A-GE induction noise interrupted by Eurobeat and constantly playing in our heads – making decisions in modern times. Heck, more than one person. There seems to be a group of people out there who really love cars.
This is why I admire Hyundai now. Every one of its concept cars or performance cars feels as if one of your fellow riders is right behind it. You half hope that every new car is announced the way a friend buys it, builds it, or does something stupid.Instead of flashy PDF press releases, you get a whatsapp with a picture and a simple ‘Look at this’.
photographer Mark Riccione
Twitter: Mark Riccione
Attached image by modern