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Hyundai RM20e prototype quick drive review: The future is exciting

Hyundai's N division wants to build an electric sports car, and if it's even half as fun as this RM20e prototype, holy moly, are we in for a treat.

The RM20e shares its body with the Veloster ETCR race car.

Hyundai

By time I enter Turn 6, I'm already lit up with laughter. Half a lap of Sonoma Raceway in Hyundai's little RM20e electric prototype is enough to have me positively cackling, partly because of the insane acceleration and grip, but mostly because the whole experience is accompanied by an electric whirr that sounds like an Alvin and the Chipmunks record spun at warp speed.

The RM20e is the latest iteration of what Hyundai calls its "rolling lab" test bed, where the company uses its race car know-how to hone its road car development. You might remember the 390-horsepower RM19 prototype I drove in 2019, or the RM16, RM15 and RM14 that came before. The RM20e builds on what Hyundai learned from those projects while also incorporating a hugely important element: electrification.

You can think of the RM20e as a modified version of Hyundai's electric Veloster ETCR race car. Total output is a staggering 810 horsepower and 708 pound-feet of torque. For my lap around Sonoma, as well as two runs around an autocross course in a parking lot, Hyundai capped the engine at 650 hp. But I promise, even with a 160-hp penalty, this car's buzz is hardly killed.

Electric power works well on a track.

Hyundai

With full power, Hyundai claims the RM20e can accelerate to 60 mph in under 3 seconds, and it'll hit 124 mph in under 10. That instantaneous electric torque delivery means forward thrust slams into you right away -- less like the car is pulling itself forward and more like you got rear-ended by a Mack truck doing 100 mph.

There are no gears to work through, what with the electric powertrain, so I don't have to think about shifting as I connect the dots between the many technical turns of Sonoma Raceway. The hardest part about going fast in a car like this is learning to modulate the throttle with that much power available immediately. Especially in a slower-speed autocross, it's easy to get into the power too early, screwing up your composure midturn.

While most EVs have a low center of gravity due to the placement of the battery packs in the floor between the wheels, the RM20e uses a more traditional form of ballast. The big, heavy battery packs are stacked behind the front seats, just ahead of the rear axle. Yet the RM20e still stays flat as a pancake through corners, and having all that weight pushing down on the rear wheels means oversteer doesn't rear its nasty head -- unless you go way too hot while coming out of a corner.

No exhaust pipes here, but you will find a honkin' big diffuser.

Hyundai

In all respects, the RM20e feels like a proper race car. The steering is sharp and the RM20e rewards smooth inputs with fluid reflexes. The race suspension is obviously tuned to be hella stiff for maximum track prowess, but there's enough rebound built in that you don't slam over small pavement irregularities, upsetting chassis balance.

Obviously, the RM20e has no chance of seeing production as is. But again, Hyundai's RM projects are never frivolous efforts. In 2019, I interviewed Albert Biermann, head of Hyundai's research and development team, and he said the hardest part of developing an EV sports car for the N brand was "how to transfer the craziness of N into electrification." N cars are known for being wild, rambunctious little things. An EV version needs to keep that ethos intact.

Judging by the copious laughter echoing in the RM20e's hollow cabin after a couple laps at Sonoma, I'd say Hyundai has the crazy factor nailed down. If the company can keep some of that excitement alive in way-toned-down production form, the brand's future EV sports car ought to be as good as any other N -- if not better.

Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.