The invitation was cryptic. Hyundai public relations offered “an ultra-performance prototype drive for a select group of media,” at its California Proving Ground just outside of Mojave. Gosh, would that be the Veloster N–based racing midship RM19 prototype that our tame racing driver, Randy Pobst, drove at the Nürburgring? He loved the car despite a couple of quibbles. Well, sign me up!
I arrived at the proving ground we happen to use to evaluate and test cars during our annual Car of the Year program, where Hyundai had set up four stations. The new Palisade SUV and its chief competitors were to be driven on an off-road course. Several stock Veloster Ns were gathered on the vehicle dynamics area (VDA) for an autocross challenge. Two Veloster N TCR race cars with their regular drivers were prepped with an extra front seat for ride-alongs. And the actual point of our being there, the main event, was not one but two Veloster N RM19 prototypes ready for us to drive on the proving ground’s winding-road course. One had come from Korea, the other from Germany—the actual car Randy drove, including, as I was about to find out, what he described as a soft long-travel brake pedal and low-rpm turbo lag. More on this later.
A little background first: The RM19 is what Hyundai calls a rolling test bed, brand shaper, or halo car. It is a blend of the Veloster N street car’s passenger compartment and the TCR (Touring Car Racer) running gear with one main difference. They’ve moved the turbocharged 2.0-liter TCR-based race engine to where the back seat would be in a Veloster N, thus converting it from front- to rear-wheel drive. Also, while the front suspension maintains struts, the rear suspension is proper control arms. The RM19 gets the TCR’s splitter, side skirts, and rear wing, but because it doesn’t have to comply with any racing series rules, the RM19 gets an enhanced ground-effect aero package (a giant diffuser). Collectively, this adds up to 420 pounds of downforce at 125 mph with a 62 percent rear aero balance.
Also, its TCR-sourced engine is turned up from the BOP or “balance of performance”-mandated 340 horsepower to an unrestrained 385, and torque output goes from 332 to 350 lb-ft. The TCR’s racing Xtrac six-speed sequential manual gets bolted between the rear wheels. Hyundai fitted much wider and more aggressive tires to the RM19: Pirelli P Zero Trofeo Rs, 245/30R20 front and 305/30R20 rear, that necessitated those honking box fenders that account for the 5-inch increase in width. Interestingly, the RM19’s wheelbase is nearly an inch longer, and overall length is greater by about 2 inches compared to a stock Veloster N.
A stock Veloster N tipped our scales at 3,052 pounds (60/40 percent front/rear), so at 2,650 pounds the RM19 shed some 400 pounds and now has a likely 45/55 weight distribution. In terms of weight to power, the RM19 moves just 6.9 pounds with each horsepower, putting it between a 2020 Corvette Z51 (7.3 lb/hp) and a Porsche GT3 RS (6.3 lb/hp). But because first gear is so tall, it would be difficult to launch with any sort of snap, hence the barely sub-4-second 0–60 estimate.
The RM19 is not meant for drag racing. It’s meant for track use and as a test bed for a possible production (oh, please!) mid-engine Hyundai hot hatch. In the first RM19, the car from Germany, I cinched the racing harnesses down with Yeo Hoon Yoon, senior research engineer/total chassis concept test team, beside me. To get the car rolling required a huge amount of clutch slip as first gear felt an awful lot like a second gear. Underway, the clutch wasn’t required at all; just bang off up/downshifts by pulling the appropriate paddle. Oh, the sound of straight-cut gears is marvelous, like a kid in the back seat screaming gear noises, “Nyaaaaaaaa-nyaaaaaa!” As I’ve been around Hyundai Proving Ground’s winding road course literally hundreds of times, I was immediately comfortable putting a good pace down. Soon, I discovered the turbo lag Randy complained about. There’s really nobody home below 3,000 rpm, then torque comes online with a vengeance, peaking rapidly at 4,000 rpm and gradually tapering off. The close-ratio sequential gearbox is quick to react, but the 7,000-rpm rev limiter is also quick to arrive. The barely visible shift light needs to be made larger and more evident to help the driver work with the peaky power curve.
The first lap was essentially an out lap, waiting for the tires to come up to temperature, with little slides and drifts here and there. On the second lap, the tires really began to work, and so I could really push the car’s limits. The overall balance and grip were remarkable. In many ways, the RM19 reminds me of how well the mid-engine McLaren 600LT responds to weight transfer, and because of that I could easily exploit the prototype’s inclination to rotate gently, predictably at will. The front end was so trustworthy and hooked up, the rear end so hooked up, that the RM19 never felt edgy or erratic. It was pointy, fun, carries speed well, but not quite as quick off the corners as I had hoped/imagined it would be. As the lap went on, things began to change. Although the six-piston front/four-piston rear braking capabilities remained, the brake pedal grew longer and I felt less confident about the brakes. I backed up my braking zone to compensate for it. Yup, that’s the one thing keeping it from being entirely trusty.
Sitting beside me this time was Mason Filippi, currently driving for Bryan Herta Autosport in a Hyundai Veloster N TCR. After Randy’s drive in RM19 #1, engineers in Korea worked on the brake feel in the RM19 #2. Mission accomplished. The pedal was much firmer, less apt to develop that squishy feeling, and so I drove it deeper and deeper into the braking zones, repeatedly. This meant I wasn’t adding throttle to come up to the maximum cornering speed; I was maintaining it and looking for the right moment to go back to wide-open throttle. Sure, the turbo lag was still there. I was driving around it, riding the peak above 4,000 rpm, and suddenly the entire car was working. I felt like I could just drive it harder into and off of the corners. Apparently, Mason noticed this, too, and on my cool-down lap, he suggested we turn up the car to full power and go for another lap. Wait, what? We weren’t at full power? He reached over and twisted the “Map” controller to its fourth position, or 390 PS (385 SAE horsepower) and said, “Do another lap.” Now we’re cookin’! Wow, the way it came off the corners was what I expected from a car with this weight-to-power ratio. I could drift and catch the car on corner exits with the quick ratio steering. It was alive and wonderful and what I had hoped it would be. Now I could see why Randy was so enthusiastic.
On the real cool-down lap, I asked Mason what I did right and wrong. “Well, you’re very smooth,” he said, “but the car can handle more aggressive input—like your transition from braking to power could be faster.” He added, “Also, those high-speed esses? Yeah, you could’ve taken those ‘flat’ [full throttle].” And there’s the thing. I was driving this pseudo race car with real downforce like a street car, nudging up to what I imagined to be its limits but leaving a whole lot on the table. Like I said, having driven dozens of street cars around that track, including the 2020 C8 Corvette and 911, I had in the back of my head the speeds those corners and esses could sustain—but without true aero. Damn. Real downforce is tricky and hard to trust. Can I go again, please?
Looking Back/Looking Forward
What an absolute treat it was to drive Hyundai’s mid-engine prototype rolling test bed. Great car, and rumors persist that Hyundai is actually considering a production version. They did reveal that the next RM (20?) will feature a version of the turbocharged Smartstream 2.5T production inline-four engine and an equally production-ready eight-speed twin-clutch automated manual—both said to be headed into the next Veloster N. “Electrification seems inevitable,” said Albert Biermann, head of Hyundai’s research and development as well as the company’s performance division. So perhaps the RM20 will supplement internal combustion with electric motors? We’ll have to wait and see.
N Is Expanding
In the meantime, expect N Performance versions of other Hyundai products, starting with an SUV (Kona) and sedan (Elantra) in 2020 and 2021, plus the next-gen Veloster N mentioned above. Also, there will be N Performance and Design parts available “for every model.” In a recent interview, Biermann said a mid-engine Hyundai production car may be a few years off, though he admits there isn’t yet a large enough N presence, hence the roll out mentioned above. Further, he admitted that the mid-engine 2020 Corvette C8’s $59,995 base price presents a considerable challenge for Hyundai to bring a similar sports car to the market. One can hope and dream, but oh how far Hyundai has come.
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