Hyundai RM20e teases N’s future

By on December 2, 2021 0

Hyundai’s N performance sub-brand isn’t big on concept cars, at least not in the traditional sense. Rather than the superficial pomp of auto show mockups, the group prefers its science projects to have the substance of scalable development platforms. Witness the evolution of its RM prototypes, which the company has used since 2012 to refine its performance philosophy and flesh out new technologies, with a large emphasis on center-mounted internal combustion powertrains. But to show how its RM program relates to an automotive world that is rapidly shifting to electric, Hyundai invited us to drive its latest iteration, the 799-horsepower RM20e, on a demanding race track, nothing less.

Considering we were already on the hilly Sonoma Circuit in California for the launch of the 276-horsepower 2022 Elantra N sedan, the timing of our ride was convenient. But it was also important: Hyundai has many electric vehicles in its product pipeline, including at least one dedicated performance model, and the company has entered into a significant development partnership with Croatian electric vehicle startup Rimac, maker of the vehicle. ‘unbelievably powerful Nevera hypercar.

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In Hyundai parlance, RM means rear powertrain placement, giving these prototypes favorable weight distribution and agile handling. They have historically used Veloster hatchback body shells with adjustable control arm rear suspensions and four thru cross wheels where the rear seat and cargo space were. Recent iterations have taken the form of captive competition vehicles; the RM19 we previously drove is a modified version of the company’s TCR race car, featuring a 390 horsepower turbo engine mated to a six-speed sequential manual transmission. But the RM program was instrumental in the development of new production components, including active exhaust systems, electronically controlled limited-slip differentials, and the current eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission found in some vehicles of the Hyundai Motor group.

The RM20e is the first electric RM model. Based on the RM19 and its EV counterpart which competes in the booming ETCR racing series, the RM20e is a set of flared fenders, carbon fiber and roll cage tubes, decked out in aerodynamic appendages and a livery inspired by the wiring diagrams. It is unmistakably a racing car, equipped with hitched sports seats and a fixed competition steering wheel. Still, it shares many interior elements with the Veloster N, even its pedals. The large six-piston front and four-piston rear brake calipers are metered by a motorsport grade ABS system. And instead of slick tires, the 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels are wrapped in DOT-approved Pirelli P Zero rubber, size 265 / 35ZR-19 and 305 / 30ZR-20, respectively.

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Look through the tailgate and you can make out the Rimac label affixed to the rather small battery (gross capacity of 60.0 kWh) located at the top of the rear axle. With a robust 800-volt output, the lithium-ion pack powers four motors mounted in pairs to power each rear wheel independently, allowing for torque vectoring capability. Peak output is 799 horsepower and 708 pound-feet of torque, with the battery capable of being recharged from zero to 80 percent in 30 minutes. At over 4,100 pounds, the RM20e weighs half a ton more than the RM19, but we have little reason to doubt Hyundai’s claims that it can hit 60 mph in under three seconds and 124 mph in under 10. .

The RM20e is loud for an electric vehicle, and we mean that as a compliment. In addition to the whine of its direct-drive gearboxes with straight-cut gears, a range of speakers and amplifiers mounted inside and outside the car can emit several sound and vibration profiles, from the Authentic purr of an electric motor to a deeper thrum, inspired by the V-8. The latter will never be mistaken for the rumble of a small block, but it does give the car the effect of rough idling when parked. Step on the surprisingly gradual throttle and the sound transforms into a high-pitched chirp, joining a chorus of rapid noises coming from the cargo area. Fully programmable and adding welcome entertainment to the often boring vibe of driving an electric vehicle – Hyundai says the system can even simulate gear changes for extra theater – it’s appropriate technology from the manufacturer of some of the best existing four-cylinder engines.

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The RM20e is 5.3 inches wider than a Veloster N, but its axles are only about an inch apart, at 105.2 inches. With its stocky footprint and weight in the back, it’s not the easiest car to drive quickly. Brake on a turn or disrespect the throttle and it will bite, coming off in a pronounced but controllable slide, even with reduced power and multistage traction control fully activated via the buttons on the steering wheel. But once acclimatized to how easily this car spins around its central axis, it feels balanced and responsive, with laser-precise steering and absolutely zero body roll. Our confidence grew as we progressed from a warm-up on an autocross course to laps of the big track in Sonoma. The RM20e’s full shot of instant torque crushes you in the seatback and erases short moments in the blink of an eye, the sound of the audio system elevating the excitement to what we’ve come to expect from something 799 horsepower. The biggest challenges came in playing with the different levels of regeneration under braking (effectively changing the balance of the brakes) and adjusting to the seemingly endless power band without any gear shifting.

Hyundai engineers were obviously eager to talk about the next N Model, although they remained tight-lipped on details, only hinting at an N drift mode and promising more details soon. The company’s commitment to hydrogen fuel cells, which spawned both the portable fuel cell generator that was available to charge the RM20e and the recent 671 hp Vision FK sports car concept, co-developed with Rimac, is also of continuing interest. This technology is probably more advanced in the product pipeline, but the direct experience of the RM program has left us excited about the future of performance cars from Hyundai, no matter how powerful their wheels are.

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