The slide was actually rather comical. “N Motorsport; N Cars; N Performance Parts; N Line Aesthetic Packages” - in order of descending importance. Sound familiar? I chuckled into my coffee, but they were serious. We were at the Hyundai Proving Grounds outside of Mojave, CA one of the greatest wonderlands a driver could hope for: it had a high-speed oval, several off-road courses, including a proper rally stage, the biggest skidpad I’ve ever seen, and a 3.1 mile “Winding Road” - a track with street lines painted on it. I couldn’t wait to go play.
But first: the briefing room. And a series of slides showing brand strategy over the next several years.
Hyundai doesn’t just want a piece of BMW, they want the whole thing. After poaching Albert Biermann from BMW’s M division, the Korean automaker has a determined plan to follow his former employer's playbook. Biermann’s first round of products, the Genesis G70 and Veloster N, I personally think are better than any current BMW on the market.
And in between the N Motorsport (in this case, the Veloster N TCR racer) and the standard cars, a slot as of today only occupied by Veloster N, our 2020 PCOTY, is what Biermann is calling the ‘Brand Shaper.’ The Brand Shaper is neither a virtual car like the Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo, nor is it a production halo car like the Lexus LFA. Rather, it is a functional prototype used to test new technologies and demonstrate the vision for the brand, but in the real world, in a way that works. And folks, it works real good.
That Brand Shaper is the RM-19 prototype: a mid-engined race car loosely based on the Veloster, but cranked up to full Shogun. The Renault R5 Turbo 2 wishes it could pull this look off. The Veloster N is friendly; this is angry, like it’s ready to run up the hill at Pikes Peak, with a body five inches wider than the Veloster N, and two inches wider than the TCR car. It’s longer than the TCR car too, with a massive rear wing and extended front splitter. The bodywork shrouds front tires 10mm wider than a Ferrari 458’s, and rear tires the same size you’d get on the C8 Corvette: 305/30ZR20.
RM-19 (standing for Racing Midship) is actually the fourth iteration of the RM design: RM’s 14, 15, and 16 had different levels of development, but Hyundai is confident enough in 19 that they are letting a bunch of us have a go, and using words like “chassis capable on both track and public road” to, maybe, subtly imply we may be able to buy something like this one day?
Between the A and B pillars is standard Veloster stuff, and feels instantly familiar when you sit in it. Aside from racing seats and a detachable racing wheel with paddle shifters, everything seems normal and functional. The gauge cluster, multimedia systems, climate control, factory key fob and start button all work just like the road car. And though the bodywork looks as if it’s been added to the standard Veloster structure, in reality new front and rear subframes were created to take the most advantage of the engine’s new placement, and to convert the rear suspension to a double-wishbone setup. The front remains a McPherson strut. There’s also a partial roll cage behind the seats, meant more for chassis rigidity than impact protection.
Aerodynamically, RM-19 is tuned for stability, with a fully closed floor, a massive rear diffuser, and a large GT-style wing raised high above the hatch. There’s a new hood extractor, used to improve flow through the front-mounted intercooler. The wide fender flares contribute to the package, and the whole thing is good for 418 lbs of downforce at 120 mph. And directly behind the driver’s left ear, you’ll find the engine intake.
That engine, the 2.0 liter gas direct injected four-cylinder straight out of the TCR Race Car, makes 360 HP and 400 lb/ft in today’s tune. The engine closely resembles what you get in the stock Veloster N, but with bumped up compression, a bigger turbo, freer flowing exhaust, more powerful intercooler, and improved durability via better head gaskets and studs. Any familiarity with the street-tuned production Veloster N pretty much goes out the window once you begin to interact with the RM-19’s X-Trac six-speed sequential gearbox. It requires the use of a (very finicky) clutch pedal to get going, but then it’s two-footed driving with the left foot modulating the brakes alone; you don’t need a clutch for either upshifts or downshifts once rolling, and the harder you drive, the smoother the gearchange gets.
Though we weren’t given much seat time in the RM-19, (just three laps around the Winding Road Course; I begged for, and received, three more to make a video), it becomes apparent very quickly that Hyundai is serious about the business of going fast. The power delivery is linear and aggressive, but now, has all the traction in the world to go along with it–the 305’s out back really can’t be overwhelmed with this power. Though the RM-19 is slightly heavier than the factory Veloster N at 3,190 lbs (compared to 3,036 for N), the added power and torque more than makes up for it. Getting a really good launch with this clutch would take loads of practice, but I’d imagine when you nail it (or once Hyundai adapts their new 8-speed DCT), this thing should be good for 0-60 sprints in the mid-high threes. Hyundai says it’s gear limited to 160 mph with the six-speed, but even if it wasn’t, the aero creates a lot of drag at that pace and it would be tough to go much faster. A four-gear pull tells me that the RM-19 would have no trouble keeping up with, say, a Porsche 718 Cayman S in a straight line.
The course features mostly third gear sweeping corners, a couple tighter, second gear corners, and a lone straightaway that *would* allow you to nearly run out fourth before brushing the brakes for a big left hand sweeper, if they hadn’t chicaned it. Hyundai has added three first-gear chicanes in the fastest sections of the track, to keep speeds down for some of the less experienced drivers on hand, as well as to demonstrate threshold braking and autocross-speed agility of the vehicle.
Mastering the art of front/rear weight transfer is really key to making the RM-19 get around a tight corner. Because of the mid-rear weight bias, you have to really get on the brakes hard in order to transfer enough weight forward to get it to turn it as hard as you need; you need patience at the apex, and then you have to be light-foot on corner exit, because once you feed power back in, those 305’s in back can overwhelm the 245’s in front, and you get push, not over-rotation. A light brush on the brakes can rein that in and get the front end going straight again. Those brakes are straight off the TCR race car and are programmed with a motorsport ABS system, which takes some real getting used to, as it does not ‘pulse’ the same way street systems do. I didn’t have the confidence I would have in a normal street car doing threshold braking for the chicanes, though I’d imagine with more than six laps of practice, it would become natural.
On the track’s many, many open sweeping corners, this much thought and energy is not required. The aerodynamics provide the high-speed balance and stability necessary to make the RM-19 feel incredibly natural taking a corner very fast, even on the normal Pirellii Corsa tires fitted for this drive. When things do get a bit loose, it tends to happen predictably and with feedback from the tires, more as sound than feel through my hands; the steering feel is changed from the street car. It’s the same programmable electric power steering system we saw in the Veloster N, but with 10mm wider wheels up front and no weight, so not as natural feeling. The ride quality is surprisingly good, and the body moves on its suspension more like a rally car than a circuit-focused racer; in fact, as I did my laps, I couldn’t help but be reminded of some of the great mid-engined hatchbacks, the Renault R5 Turbo, the Lancia Delta S4, Peugeot 205 T16, Renaultsport Clio V6, and Ford Shogun, and this one goes right up along with them, and in fact, is probably way better to actually drive fast.
The takeaway here, for me at least, is that Hyundai is perfectly positioned right now to bring an affordable mid-engined sports car to market. Would I like to see a production version of the RM-19, for homologation purposes or otherwise? Hell yes I would. But that, I do not think is really the point.
I think Hyundai could come to market with an affordable mid-engined sports coupe for less than the price of a Boxster or base Corvette. Rather than trying to adapt a Veloster (or i30) for a mid-engined configuration, they could use this powertrain and the knowledge gained from RM-19 to build a new car with a dedicated chassis, which would mean ideal weight distribution and steering that’s really meant for the application. Think Alpine A110, MR2 Turbo, that kind of thing. I believe they are at a point where they could execute a car like that, and really show BMW with its M-ified crossover lineup and numbed steering feel, what’s up.