Hyundai Vision N 74 concept review: 670bhp hydrogen hybrid drift car driven

By topgearsingapore, 07 September 2022

Hyundai Vision N 74 concept review: 670bhp hydrogen hybrid drift car driven

Hyundai’s N Division wanted a showcase for its endeavours with hydrogen fuel cells. It’s shown us a Vision Gran Turismo racing concept before, but since then Hyundai’s been busy shrinking and refining the hydrogen fuel cell tech. So far, it’s gone into the Nexo, which is a sensible-looking family crossover. Something a little more exotic was needed this time.

So, Hyundai delved into the family archives and pulled out the Pony concept from 1974. This neat, pretty little coupe was the work of Italian design maestro Giorgetto Giugiaro. Yep, the gentleman who blessed the world with the look of the BMW M1, Maserati Bora, Lotus Esprit, many glorious Alfa Romeos and the iconic MK1 VW Golf. He also tried to put Hyundai on the sporting map.

The pony concept was pretty radical for Hyundai, and the production car lost some of the sharp creasing. Giugiaro remembered them, however, and recycled some of the same cues into the iconic DeLorean. In an alternative universe, Marty McFly might’ve used a Hyundai to get Back To The Future.

Ah, so that’s the ‘74’ in the name, then?

Correct. This is Hyundai nodding to its past, being confident enough to have a go at a two-door sports car, and powering it with a properly futuristic drivetrain, all in one machine.

What’s under the bonnet?

A fuel cell, juiced by twin 4.2kg hydrogen tanks under the slatted rear deck. They’re pressurised to a terrifying 700bar. How come they don’t just explode with the forces inside? The answer is ballistic carbon fibre. Hyundai’s made the tanks from a lightweight weave that’s literally bulletproof.

Filling said tanks takes five minutes and provides around 595Km of range. But this is not just a hydrogen car – it’s a hydrogen hybrid. See, the N Vision 74 also features a 62.4kWh battery, which can be rapid-charged from the mains. So, it’s an electric car first, but when the battery starts to run flat, the hydrogen fuel cell can kick in to extend range. All with zero emissions besides water. The down side is all this engineering is heavy. Two-and-a-half-tonnes heavy.

Can’t be very quick, then?

On the contrary, it’s fast alright. Each rear wheel has its own electric motor. Together, they provide 670bhp, and because they’re independently controlled, clever handling tricks are afoot. If you’re being neat and tidy, torque vectoring can help slow the inside wheel in a corner to pivot the car towards the apex. If you’re being lairy and childish, the 900Nm torrent of torque can be unleashed instantly in tandem, unsticking the rear tyres and kicking the N Vision 74 into monstrous drifts.

This is all theoretical though right? It’s just a concept car.

Usually, you’d be spot on. Concept cars are designed to grab headlines, twinkle on a rotating plinth for five minutes at a motor show, then get dumped in a storage unit until they’re reclaimed by mother nature.

But because the N Division was a) determined that none of the tech in the Vision was beyond the realms of feasibility, and b) the N Division has a cracking sense of humour, they’ve gone ahead and built a fully functioning prototype. And when I say functioning, I mean it has air conditioning, power steering, and a working dashboard showing real-time power levels, lap times and torque distribution. Technologically, it’s got a superior dashboard to the latest VW Golf.

What’s it like to drive then?

Fast enough to pin you back in the seat, responsive enough to have you laughing out loud, and full of potential. Also, I ought to be clear that I didn’t find out the car was just shy of 2,500kg until a few hours after I’d driven it. Straight after my laps, I’d have sworn it was 1,800kg tops. That’s what superb body control and phenomenal torque management will do for you. As any Porsche Cayenne Turbo or Bentley Bentayga engineer will tell you, tech can make kilos (temporarily) evaporate. If McFly and Doc had had one of these, BTTF would’ve been a much shorter movie.

The Vision doesn’t feel like a fragile one off. Sure, the roll cage rattles a bit, but it takes kerbs in its stride, the brakes are beautifully progressive (there’s only a little regen effect, as performance was a priority) and the suede steering wheel serves up plenty of feedback. The steering’s geared quite quickly, but that’s just as well as all this thing wants to do is light up the rear tyres and slide.

In the Track mode – oh yes, there’s even driving modes – Hyundai’s engineers say the twin motors can mimic the best limited slip differential in the world. Reactions are instant, so you never have that sense of waiting a split second for the diff to lock up. It’s just push the throttle, catch the slide, grin a lot.

Behind your head, there’s all sorts of whirring from the cooling fans needed to keep the motors and pressurisation system at the optimal temperature. The battery is air- and water-cooled, to maximise on-track performance without it degrading in the heat.

Why isn’t it a quad-motor 2,000bhp rocketship?

Because Hyundai says it’s not interested in which EV can accelerate the fastest. That arms race is already getting silly – launch control in a Tesla Model S Plaid or Rimac makes seeing your breakfast in reverse almost inevitable. This isn’t the last word in speed, but for guilt-free zero local emission powerslides, you can’t do better.

Hydrogen’s still not a viable power source though, is it?

You’re pessimistic today. But no, with a mere 15 stations in the UK offering it at the pump, this is still a glimpse of a possible future rather than a production reality. But I like what it says about Hyundai. Just because EV seems to be the solution governments are into right now, doesn’t mean they will be forever. Look at what happened to diesel in the last decade.

Hyundai isn’t just hedging its bets with propulsion strategy – it’s also having fun with the experimentation phase. The engineers call the Vision a ‘rolling laboratory’. They could have simply simulated all its attributes in a computer or on a dyno. But they didn’t. They built a slidable chassis, clothed it in a stunning shell, and set it free to be enjoyed. It’s easily the most intriguing concept car of 2022.

PHOTOS Mark Riccioni
TEXT Ollie Kew

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