Hyundai Motor Company first introduced the name of the N brand in Korea when it unveiled the Veloster N, a high-performance model, in June 2018. About three years later, the Kona N was released in April, and in July, the Avante N (Elantra N) was released to the world and started to be sold in Korea at the same time. There are three N models released in Korea, but if you add global models, there are six N models that have been released so far.
Before launching the N brand, Hyundai Motors participated in motorsports and accumulated know-how for high-performance cars. Hyundai returned to the WRC in 2014, and in October 2017 announced that it would participate in the TCR race with a mass-produced touring car. As is well known, the technology honed in motorsports is the basis for enhancing the perfection of mass-produced cars. Hyundai Motor did not stop there and launched a high-performance brand N, laying the foundation for expanding high-performance technology. It is not difficult to guess that the know-how and technology accumulated through this process must have been reflected in a significant part in the latest model, Avante N.
From another point of view, the Avante N is unique. A high-performance four-door sedan from ordinary automakers is rare in the world. There are cars with similar characteristics, but most of them have premium brand emblems or are hatchbacks, not sedans, in the same class as Avante.
If you look for a model with a concept similar to the Avante N, you will find cars developed by Japanese brands for homologation in the WRC in the 1990s. But there’s something different about these cars – how they drive. In the past, racing cars eligible to compete in the WRC had to be homologated based on mass-produced cars that met certain annual sales standards – hence four-wheel-drive cars being dominant in Japan. This means that, regardless of the era, a front-wheel-drive high-performance sedan like the Avante N is rare. This is especially true considering that the popularity of sedans in the market these days is waning.
Looking at the evolution of the N model, it becomes quite obvious that Avante N is becoming popular. The heart is an evolution of the 2.0L T-GDi engine that has been passed down from the beginning of the N model, but the skeleton that supports the heart is the Hyundai Motor Group’s third-generation platform.
What will happen when the latest platform is combined with the technology and know-how learned from motorsport? What does the high-performance semi-mid-size four-door sedan really mean to us? The answer could be found at the N Circuit Experience event held at Inje Speedium.
Before the event started, I was able to take a look at the interior and exterior of Avante N for a while. The appearance is similar to that of the general Avante, but it is decorated much more boldly. Various design elements housed only by Avante N have the effect of making the center of gravity look lower than that of general Avante. Several elements unique to the N model also add a sporty atmosphere to the interior. In particular, the suede headrest-integrated N light sports bucket seat in the test car evokes the desire to drive hard.
The event included three sessions. First, a warm-up session to understand the basic driving characteristics of the car started, a road tour session to feel the driving sensation on a regular road, and two circuit drive sessions to properly experience the performance. It is a schedule where five participants form a group and take part in the session in order according to the instructor’s guidance, and take a look at all aspects of Avante N.
In the warm-up session, they experienced slalom, launch control, and target braking. In the slalom, while turning the steering wheel to the left and right in succession, a smooth and precise initial response followed by an even reflective front body movement and the well-maintained heaviness of the power steering. It felt sporty, yet tuned to be easy to handle.
Launch control and target braking felt similar. Launch Control regulates the driving stability system and completely converts engine torque into acceleration force. During sudden braking, the large-diameter front brake disc and the brake pad with increased friction reduce the speed thoroughly and strongly.
These features and devices were good enough but less provocative. This is because the front of the vehicle gets lifted up less when accelerating or decelerating. This allowed the car to react precisely to the driver’s controls, allowing the driver to feel and adjust the car’s movements accordingly. This means that the Avante N has the basics of a sporty car.
After the warm-up session, the participants followed the instructor’s car to the road near the Inje Speedium in a line. The ordinary road with uphills and downhills, large and small corners was perfect for understanding what it feels like to drive Avante N in daily life. I drove the car in Normal mode until the turning point, then in N mode after that. Then I compared the characteristics of each mode while driving.
The first thing that came to me was optimized ride comfort. As I experienced earlier in the warm-up session, the suspension didn’t move too much up and down, but it wasn’t as stiff. When passing through a speed bump, it also exhibits soft and flexible characteristics at the moment it faces the impact. It didn’t even feel like it was tied up.
When the driving mode is switched to N mode, all driving-related functions become more sensitive and the its power is highlited. The exaggerated post-combustion sound and the slightly tougher shifting are elements that can only be recognized in high-performance models such as the Avante N, which let the drivers know that anyone can drive freely at any time.
What’s impressive is that even with this ride and handling became quite tight, you could still drive naturally. Considering the fact that only the old European automakers’ hot hatches could give such a sophisticated feel until now, it is truly surprising that a Korean 4-door sedan can do so, too. With this, I don’t think you will feel any discomfort even if you run in Sport mode or N mode in everyday driving, not on the track.
Returning to Inje Speedium, I put on a helmet, checked and adjusted tire pressure, and then enjoyed a circuit drive. In the first circuit drive of 20 minutes, I got to know the track, and in the second circuit drive of the following 20 minutes, I was able to feel the car’s performance to the maximum.
Upon entering the track and increasing speed, the engine’s capabilities were more evident than in previous sessions. The N-dedicated 2.0L turbo engine with flat power technology evenly marked the figure close to the maximum output from 5,500rpm, which is slightly lower than the rev limit. This is the result of raising the torque in the high rev range. The torque that does not drop quickly even at high revs makes it easier to achieve maximum performance.
By activating the NGS (N Green Shift) function, the thrill of acceleration became more intense. NGS is a feature that not only increases the torque for 20 seconds in the engine rev range close to the limit, but also draws out the hidden 10 horsepower output. It is activated with a single press of the NGS button on the steering wheel, and the powerful acceleration that continues until the engine rpm is reached and shifts to the next gear make you realize the outstanding performance of the powertrain.
On the track, when entering the straight course of Inje Speedium, I heard the instructor in the leading car telling me to use the NGS function over the radio. In a long straight section, you can focus on acceleration without worrying about steering. To be honest, the difference between using the NGS feature and not using it isn’t dramatic enough. However, even after shifting at the rev limit, a strong sense of acceleration continues, which increases the exhilarating feeling and pleasure.
The NGS function of Avante N can be used again after 40 seconds; this means you can use the same features more often than the Veloster N, which made you wait three minutes to use it again. In Inje Speedium, where it takes just over two minutes to complete one rotation with the Avante N, there is one more opportunity to use this function.
Another important device that adds to the fun on the track is the e-LSD (electronic-Limited Slip Differential). The steering feel, which can become dull with understeer when accelerating out of corners, remains sharp thanks to the N-Corner Carving Differential. On the Inje Speedium track, the 6th and 17th corners would make this feature stand out when you accelerate out of the curve and go uphill.
The excellent grip and refined suspension of the default Michelin Pilot Sport 4S, brakes that reduce speed accurately and smoothly, and the N-Corner Carving Differential that makes steering control more fun – are all combined to bring out the engine power to the maximum on a circuit.
In high-speed corners, rough operation of the accelerator pedal or steering wheel can push the rear wheels outward. However, if the speed is to a certain extent, the rear spoiler suppresses the decrease in the traction of the rear wheel. The rear spoiler is often considered to be more important from a style point of view rather than a function, but in the Avante N, it does its job of securing the grip of the rear wheel.
Car enthusiasts often say that cars with too many driving-related electronic devices make them think they are good at driving. But at least the Avante N isn’t a car that deceives drivers. Various equipment is constantly in contact with the driver, helping the drivers’ senses can direct the car’s abilities effectively.
After two circuit drives, it was time to say goodbye to Avante N. Usually, after a sports drive at Inje Speedium, I am so exhausted that I need to rest enough before heading home. However, after test-driving the Avante N, I was not so tired that I was able to get back home after a while.
The answer to the question of ‘why did the automaker design such a high-performance model with a semi-mid-size four-door sedan’ finally came to mind at that time. Avante, which became the basis of Avante N, is trying to embrace a wide customer base in the current passenger car market, where there are not many sedans left. The Avante N went one step further and added sportiness and leisurely power to the stability and comfort of the sedan – hence the advantages of the Avante and the semi-midsize sedan expanded to the high-performance area.
Moreover, with the new platform, there are almost no flaws in driving performance. You can enjoy powerful performance and sporty driving characteristics, but at the same time fully reveal the comfort of an everyday sedan. This N model, the Avante N, is a car that solves the most difficult tasks in the most sophisticated way.
During the test drive, the staff marked the participants’ achievements. Scores recorded during emergency braking, slalom and circuit driving were added up after the event and used to rank the participants in each group.
When I was leaving the venue, I saw my scorecard displayed on the monitor and received a small souvenir from the host for winning first place in the group. It was the perfect gift after a great time with a fun car.
Avante N is the first N model to use the 3rd generation platform. However, it may become a historic model that will be the finale of the rare genre of ‘internal combustion engine high-performance semi-mid-size sedan’. Now let’s look forward to the new generation N model that houses a new powertrain for a new era. What will be the next challenge for Hyundai Motor Company?
by Chung-hee (Jason) Ryu
Chung-hee (Jason) Ryu is doing his work in automotive journalism over twenty years and most of the period as a freelancer. He was a staff writer for well-known automotive magazines in South Korea such as ‘Carlife’ and ‘Motor Magazine’, and also an author of ‘Explaining Automotive Terms and Basics’ and ‘The Car Inside-out’. He is a jury of International Engine and Powertrain of The Year awards, since 2017.
*Any opinions expressed in this material are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the HMG.