Hyundai’s N brand continues to push the performance-modification envelope, and two concept cars the company unveiled at the 2023 Canadian International Auto Show extend that boundary further.
The N Vision 74 is the first hydrogen-hybrid ‘rolling lab’ — Hyundai’s preferred term over ‘concept’ — of the N brand and underscores Hyundai’s efforts and passion to develop high-performance, sustainable hydrogen electric vehicles. The RN22e is a track-ready EV that draws design inspiration from the Ioniq 6, and features chassis and battery software management developed to optimize high-speed performance (more on that latter model here).
The N Vision 74, which is making its Canadian debut at the CIAS, is a high-performance hydrogen fuel cell hybrid model inspired by two past Hyundai concepts: the N 2025 Vision Gran Turismo and the Hyundai Pony Coupe concept.
Hyundai vice-president of design Hok Soo Ha flew in from Seoul to be on the show room floor of the Toronto Convention Centre when the sheet came off the N Vision 74. For him, it was the culmination of two years of work spurred by something Hyundai has never done: looked in the rear-view mirror.
“We have 50 years of history in the automotive industry, but compared to companies like Ford, BMW and Mercedes, we’re still a kind of newcomer,” Hok Soo Ha said. “So, we have always been chasing the tales of the big OEMs, and never really dipped into our own heritage and own bloodline.”
That changed during the pandemic, when the decision was made to pay homage to Hyundai’s origin story with a concept from the pages of the company’s earliest chapter. You could find no better vehicle than the Pony Coupe concept, which was developed by the legendary car designer Giorgetto Giugiaro in 1974. To be clear, that is not the infamous Pony car, South Korea’s first production vehicle. While having a very low price and seeing somewhat spirited sales upon its debut in Canada in the early Eighties, the Giugiaro-designed hatchback proved to be not that well-made and certainly did not stand the test of time. For decades it tarnished Hyundai’s reputation among Canadian consumers, and it has only been during the last decade that the company has gained credibility in the marketplace. But it has done so in impressive fashion, as Hyundai Canada celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2023 as the second largest import brand in the country. And 21 per cent of those sales are EVs.
The Pony Coupe concept made it as far as the prototype phase for Hyundai’s first production sports car, but due to corporate decisions never made it off the factory line. Its distinctive front end, however, did enter automotive lore as the inspiration for the Delorean’s front end.
During the past decade, Hok Soo Ha noted that Hyundai vehicles “ticked all the boxes, and did everything well. But in doing so, we created a bunch of vanilla ice creams.” The ever-evolving performance-oriented N portfolio of vehicles, particularly in Hyundai’s growing all-electric stable, is intended to bring sprinkle some more flavour into the model line-up.
While the N Vision 74’s exterior borrows heavily from that long ago Coupe concept — the proportioned profile, the unique B pillar and the Parametric Pixel front lighting in the form of the original’s front end — the underpinnings pay homage to the Hyundai N 2025 Vision Grand Turismo, the concept that debuted in 2015, the same year that the N brand was launched. That concept was based on a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain, which is at the heart of the N Vision 74’s propulsion system.
However, for this rolling lab, Hyundai engineers integrated an electric, battery powered system to work in conjunction with the fuel cell stack. So a BEV and an FCEV. According to the company, having a fuel cell system and battery-electric powering the N Vision 74 together, the cooling efficiency is improved, while the two different power sources can be used depending on different driving conditions. In addition, this dual-power set-up enables better torque vectoring by twin motors on the rear, allowing a precise and responsive cornering experience. Moreover, N Vision 74 explores the balance between the performance and cooling with a three-channel cooling system.
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Hyundai vice-president of N Brand management & motorsport Till Wartenberg, also in attendance at the CIAS, said that the N Vision 74 will one day be the basis of a race car, itself a test bed for emerging technologies.
“The entire industry is thinking about how does motorsport, and racing look in the next five, ten, fifteen years,” Till said. “These rolling labs are here to test what is possible. We are focussing on cooling, battery software management.”
He noted that with its quick fuelling — the 4.2 kg hydrogen talk can be filled in about five minutes — and 600-plus kilometre range, the N Vision 74 could be ideally suited to endurance racing. It certainly has the specs to back that up, with a 670-horsepower rating, 664 lbs.-ft of torque and a top speed north of 250 km/h from the system’s 62.4 kWh battery pack and 4.2 kg hydrogen tank.
Perhaps it is time we rethink the place in history the Hyundai Pony occupies?
For more information about the Canadian International Auto Show, and why you should go, click here!