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Hyundai RM19 is a mid-engined Veloster race car for the street

This wide-body, rear-drive shocker might be poised for production, and it could get an electrified powertrain, too.

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- 04:18

Mid-engined. Rear-wheel drive. Sequential gearbox. And Hyundai may just build it.

Mike Cutler/Roadshow

Automotive history isn't exactly cluttered with special skunkworks projects that have seen ordinary front-engined, front-wheel-drive hot hatches turned into fire-breathing, track-shredding, rear-wheel-drive sports cars. Such rare beasts have always been high strung and surprisingly expensive, but they've also almost invariably become the stuff of enthusiast and collector-car dreams. 

Will the Hyundai RM19 seen here inherit that mantle? It's too early to know. This mid-engined, wide-body Veloster has just taken to the stage at the 2019 LA Auto Show on Wednesday, and if it sees production, it might just have the goods to elbow its way into the pantheon alongside legends like the Peugeot 205 Turbo, Renault R5 Turbo and later Clio V6. (Those nameplates were never sold in North America, but trust me: They were fast, rare and all were regarded as livewires and giant killers in their day.) 

Hyundai hasn't confirmed whether it'll offer this Veloster-based RM19 to the public yet. The company considers the car a prototype, but it's hinting heavily that this high-horsepower hatchback may be headed for production, labeling it a "potential brand halo car" and a "development platform for future N brand products."

Based on Hyundai's TCR race cars, which compete in different series such as IMSA's Michelin Pilot Challenge, there's good reason to be excited about this car. And that's not just because the RM19's tuned 2.0-liter turbo engine isn't subjected to Balance of Performance series restrictions like the Veloster N TCR race car. While the factory race car is limited to 350 horsepower, Hyundai estimates the RM19 will develop 390. That power is routed through a paddle-shift, six-speed sequential transmission identical to the one used in TCR-series racers, albeit with unique ratios.

There's also good reason to be optimistic about the RM19's performance, because the Veloster N that's already in dealers is a surprisingly quick and engaging car, thanks in part to Albert Biermann, Hyundai's R&D boss who famously earned his stripes at BMW's M performance division. In fact, it's worth noting the Veloster N recently stunned internet trolls by winning Road & Track's Performance Car of the Year award, besting far costlier cars like the new mid-engined Chevrolet Corvette and Porsche 911.

Hyundai is estimating a 0-to-60-mph time in under 4 seconds for the RM19 -- a quick figure that still somehow manages to feel a skosh underwhelming -- and a top speed limited to 155 mph.

Hyundai isn't just winging it, they're dead serious.

Hyundai

Biermann and Co. have been spotted tuning the RM19 on Germany's legendary Nurburgring Nordschleife, and judging by the serious body kit (just eyeball that front splitter and massive rear diffuser) and wide 20-inch rubber (245/30 up front and 305/30 out back), this thing ought to handle. The company promises "race car-like levels of performance, balance, braking and grip while retaining daily road-going capability." 

That last notion may be slightly generous, if for no other reason than this car is likely to be very loud and very firm. With shell-style racing seats, watchstrap rubber and ultra-low ride height, the RM19 is about as far as one can get from a grocery getter or a daily commuter.

Earlier this month, Hyundai announced plans to roll out a phalanx of electrified models, confirming it will add 13 such cars and SUVs to its lineup by 2022. The going assumption was that all of these new vehicles would be eco-minded models. Naturally, this RM19 clearly won't win the Korean automaker any Sierra Club accolades, especially as is. Interestingly, however, in an official press release, the company notes "potential for electrified variants in the future," and says "... in addition to the gasoline version, state-of-the-art electrified powertrains could provide clean, yet thrilling propulsion for the RM19." In other words, it's possible this car is one of Hyundai's recently promised baker's dozen. 

'Ring leader? We'll have to wait and see.

Hyundai

If you're envisioning a production version of this prototype as a hotter, pricier alternative to a Honda Civic Type R or even something like a C8 Corvette, you're probably not putting this car in the right bucket. The Veloster TCR racecar upon which the RM19 is heavily based, costs over $150,000. If it gets made, a production RM19 figures to be expensive, serious and rare.

Hyundai has been working to get its young N performance sub-brand on the map for a while now, and its Veloster N has certainly cracked the door with enthusiasts. Even at over six figures, if Hyundai does find the chutzpah to green-light this bonkers RM19, that door won't just be cracked -- it may well be kicked off its hinges.