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From the Excel to now! How Hyundai managed to evolve and sell its first six-figure car - and why it may still aim higher

The Hyundai Ioniq 5 N was a long time coming for the brand.

As Rachel Hunter famously told us - it won't happen overnight, but it will happen.

She was talking about shampoo but her wise words also apply to Hyundai cars. As we recently reported, Hyundai Australia has little trouble finding buyers for its first six-figure model, the Ioniq 5 N electric performance car, with 126 buyers flocking to its website to order the new machine.

Normally 126 buyers for a car wouldn't be anything to write about, but given the Ioniq 5 N is priced from $111,000 plus on-road costs this is a massive moment in the history of the brand.

And the origin of this event can be traced back more than a decade. It was 2012 when Hyundai decided to make its own in-house high-performance division, creating the 'N' brand (with the letter standing for Namyang, its South Korean R&D centre), which it announced to the public at the Paris Motor Show that same year.

It wasn't until 2014 that Hyundai began laying the groundwork for its performance brand, entering the World Rally Championship (WRC) in its first global motorsport endeavour at the highest level. While not as mainstream and high-profile as Formula One, competing in the WRC helped to both establish how serious Hyundai was about building a performance brand, but also allowed its engineers to learn valuable lessons about how to build performance cars.

It took until 2017 until these lessons were applied to a car for the public, with the i30 N hot hatch debuting as a new rival to the likes of the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Honda Civic Type R and Ford Focus ST. This was a crucial step for the brand because it allowed Hyundai to enter the performance car market at a competitive price point and compare itself to competitors that were firmly established.

Fast forward a few years and Hyundai added the i30 Sedan N, i20 N and Kona N to expand its portfolio and the appeal of its N models.

And this was arguably the key to the brand's most recent success with the Ioniq 5 N, because the company took a 'slow and steady' approach and built up an audience of loyal enthusiasts - especially here in Australia. The annual 'N Festival' is a drive day and on-track experience that typically attracts hundreds of owners from around the country, a remarkable achievement given the brand's almost complete lack of performance heritage before 2012.

Because of this now loyal following that Hyundai Australia cultivated it was able to introduce the Ioniq 5 N at its record-high price and not induce shock but actually entice sales. Had Hyundai tried to jump straight into this top end of the market it likely would have struggled to convince buyers to take a chance.

As I wrote recently, performance car prices are on the rise, but the reason why people are willing to accept these huge price jumps for the likes of the i30 N, Golf GTI and Civic Type R is because they have a reputation that convinces people that they're worth the asking price.

Which is a pertinent point, because Hyundai may not have given up on setting its sights higher. Since the earliest days of the N brand there has been talks of Hyundai building a 'Porsche rival' and it isn't just a media beat-up. The brand has produced a series of 'Racing Mid-ship' concept cars, beginning with the RM14 in 2014 that was meant to preview its eventual sports car move. The RM20e arguably previewed what we've got with the Ioniq 5 N, it was a dual-motor electric concept in a unique, Veloster-inspired body.

Hyundai clearly has its sights set on moving up the performance car ladder, so don't be surprised if the $111,000 Ioniq 5 N is just the next rung up on its way to the top. Porsche is planning an electric 718 range, which would make the ideal target for Hyundai to aim at.

That may sound far fetched, but so did the idea of Hyundai selling a 430+kW, all-electric performance car for six-figures a decade ago...

Stephen Ottley
Contributing Journalist
Steve has been obsessed with all things automotive for as long as he can remember. Literally, his earliest memory is of a car. Having amassed an enviable Hot Wheels and Matchbox collection as a kid he moved into the world of real cars with an Alfa Romeo Alfasud. Despite that questionable history he carved a successful career for himself, firstly covering motorsport for Auto Action magazine before eventually moving into the automotive publishing world with CarsGuide in 2008. Since then he's worked for every major outlet, having work published in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age,, Street Machine, V8X and F1 Racing. These days he still loves cars as much as he did as a kid and has an Alfa Romeo Alfasud in the garage (but not the same one as before... that's a long story).
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