For years, we’d heard rumors of a mid-engine sports car from Hyundai, intended to fly the flag for the brand’s N performance division. And Hyundai, to its credit, made no efforts to misdirect us. There was the RM19 concept — a Veloster with a mid-mounted 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder pulled straight out of a WTCR touring car. The company itself described the prototype, seen above, as “a development platform for future N brand products, including a potential brand-halo car.” Something big was happening. It isn’t anymore.
Indeed, Albert Biermann — the BMW M guy, who later became the Hyundai N guy and retired last year but still serves as a consultant for the Korean automaker — pretty much just revealed to Top Gear everything that this holy grail was supposed to be. He described it as a “supercar.”
[Biermann] explains that the Hyundai supercar would have been based around a carbon fibre tub chassis, with a mid-engined layout. “We had plans for a petrol [engine] with or without hybrid, or [it could’ve have accepted] a hydrogen fuel cell.”
It never got a real name, known within the company as only “The Chairman’s Car.” The price tag would have landed in the $150,000 range, prompting Top Gear to make comparisons to the Acura NSX. Biermann’s reply? “Sure, but not boring.” Damn.
Price and positioning, it would seem, are what doomed the forbidden flagship:
It was the Hyundai board that decreed ‘The Chairman’s Car’ would remain on the drawing board. “The problem was the car would have cost over $150,000, and at that time it was thought a Hyundai could not have this price.” Biermann goes on to agree that this was probably the right decision, as the i30N, and now the i20N and Kona N have brought Hyundai to a new audience of petrolhead customers precisely because they’re affordable.
The cancellation makes a little more sense now that we know how expensive this spectacle for the N brand would have been. Everything we’d heard painted the vehicle as more of a sports car — perhaps something in the Alfa 4C / Alpine A110 / Porsche 718 territory. In this latest interview, Biermann describes a machine that seems a little more serious than that.
Still, I can’t help but feel price is a flimsy excuse. Brand positioning does not matter anymore — not when Jeep is selling a six-figure SUV intended to woo Range Rover buyers, and we’re firmly entrenched in the age of dumb markups. Besides, if Hyundai was truly convinced nobody would take its supercar seriously, they could’ve just put a Genesis badge on the thing.
Ultimately the world didn’t need another exorbitantly expensive performance car, so personally I’m not going to lose sleep over this one. The prospect of an N flagship was compelling partially because it seemed like it would be attainable.
That said, the N brand is in something of a holding pattern these days. The Veloster N is dead, the Kona N is a fair but bloated stand-in, and the Elantra N is fugly. It’ll be interesting to see what the division can squeeze out of the Ioniq 5 and 6, but those aren’t exactly around the corner. N had a lot of momentum out of the gate, but now I reckon the brand could really use a spark of life — not more vaporware, pretty though the N Vision 74 is.