Hyundai let us drive its experimental mid-engine Veloster.
In case you weren't aware, Hyundai builds performance cars. Albert Biermann, the former head of BMW M development is now head of R&D at Hyundai. His roster of performance cars goes back to the E30 M3 and now includes the Kia Stinger, Genesis G70, and Hyundai Veloster N.
Most recently, he's been floating the idea of a mid-engined Hyundai Veloster based on the successful TCR touring car that's been picking up race wins and championships of late.
Starting with the RM14, the RM19 is one in a line of prototype development vehicles that hopes to make it to production. After debuting at the 2019 LA Motor Show, Hyundai invited us out to its testing facility in the California desert to put it through its paces under the watchful eye of Bierman himself.
If the RM19 gets greenlit for production we expect its race car roots to shine through. Being mid-engined, the weight distribution of the chassis has been changed, so the aerodynamics have had to change with it. Although there's a massive great wing on the back, the aerodynamics at the front have been concentrated on to compensate for the lack of engine weight. Also, as the engine is not in the back and the upgraded Brembo brakes need cooling, air scoops and intakes are built into the bodywork.
Although the changes in effect are big, it's not too hard to imagine the RM19 out on the road. It's not as cartoony as the Honda Civic R Type, and it's still clearly a Veloster, albeit one that looks like it's going to be an even bigger thrill than the N version.
We were assured that while the engine is from the TCR race car, the internals of the Veloster's 2.0-liter turbocharged engine haven't been upgraded for the huge dose of extra power and boost that's been added to make the RM19. The engine's compression has been changed, and the head gasket upgraded to take the extra boost from the monstrous turbo.
Hyundai was cagey on the available power, saying it's capable of 390+ but tuned to 360 horsepower for us to drive on the test track. Putting that power to the wheels on the prototype is the six-speed sequential transmission from the TCR car that shifts ridiculously fast and with a massive punch. It would most likely be replaced by the Veloster's WET dual-clutch transmission on the production variant.
In its current state, and even tuned down to 360 horsepower, the engine is deliciously torquey as it screams, pops, and bangs its way around the test track. The 0-60 time of 4.0 seconds is completely believable, but then the boost comes on strong at the 3500-4000 rpm mark and there's a whole new world of power that comes with it. It also goes straight to the rear wheels rather than the front like the regular Veloster. The boost would have to be smoothed out for the road, as the sudden shove to the back wheels could easily catch out the unwary driver exiting a turn. Indeed, it did with one journalist out on the track ahead of us and resulted in an RM19 being stuck backward in the dirt. According to Hyundai, the RM19 is limited to 155 mph, but we didn't quit get to that on the straights before having to hang on the brakes.
The RM19 isn't as pure a race car on the inside as the outside suggests. Racing seats and harnesses secure the driver and passenger, but the dashboard is mostly stock. A set of carbon fiber paddles sit behind the racing prepped wheel, and the transmission selector is a working placeholder.
For the production version, we would expect it to look much the same, but without the five-point harnesses. It'll also likely be missing the clutch pedal needed to get the racing transmission into first gear and then to get it back into neutral again. The lack of rear seats would remain as the relocated engine replaces them.
A mid-engined version of the RM19 would not be a practical vehicle. Not only is the space for passengers gone, but the engine takes up the cargo area as well. The RM19 is as close as you can get to being all engine. That doesn't mean there would be a front trunk either, as the RM19 in its current form fills that space with a massive air intake, the battery, and other things necessary to maintain the engine.
Hyundai didn't put us on a racetrack. Instead, we were shown the facility's road car testing track. The road surface isn't ideal and coated in rubber, and it features undulations and a variety of curves as well as straights. It was a show of confidence in the car's ability - if you ignored the fact there was nothing to crash into if a driver ran out of talent.
We climbed into the seat and took a lap to get the feel of things, and the first thing that showed itself was the aggressive snap of the racing transmission changing gear, followed by a wallop of boost around the 3500 rpm mark. The way the boost comes on is late and hard, like the old school turbo cars from the 90s and just as thrilling. Your job after that is to keep it there so the power is all on tap.
We pushed it through a few corners, and immediately the difference in the chassis showed itself. The change in balance is as obvious as expected, and the sheer amount of grip encouraged us to go faster for the next lap. That's where the crazy amount of boost makes itself felt, suddenly shoving your body back in the seat and forcing you to consider the braking point for the next corner carefully.
Braking is another extreme experience in the RM19. It's not the jarring sensation of full-blooded racing brakes, but a smooth transition into feeling your eyeballs start to bulge. Both under hard acceleration and heavy braking, the car wasn't in the slightest bit squirrelly, and the suspension remained absolutely assured of itself. In large part, that was due to the man sitting next to us who had spent a lot of time developing it. Into the corners, whether a long fast one or the tricky decreasing radius corner in the middle, the grip was sensational. The tires have a lot to do with it, but the sheer consistency of the space-frame chassis and gas-pressure damped suspension is what impressed us. Between that and the overall balance of the chassis, another lap had us starting to push hard.
Unfortunately, the car in front pushed a little too hard, and we had to take a break while it was pulled out of the dirt. No real damage was done and we were soon out again, pushing as hard as we dared. Even pushing the pace on the low, hard suspension, it was weird being in what is essentially a race car and not being pummeled from underneath by every small bump.
Talking to Albert Bierman, it's clear he would like to see the RM19 make it onto the road. Just as clearly, Hyundai is looking for feedback and weighing up the business case. Bierman was cautious about its future when talking to us, though, saying it's too early for production and the Hyundai N is still building a fan base. It would need to have more mass production parts as well, such as the turbo, to be feasible. It also would be a limited production car, and we got the impression it would serve as a halo vehicle.
In that way, the RM19 makes a considerable amount of sense to us. Rather than building a more traditional supercar, a mid-engined hot hatch would grab a lot of attention. It's something that America hasn't really seen before, and is a rarity in Europe. Those European mid-engined hatchbacks like the Renault 5 Turbo and Renaultsport Clio V6 are the stuff of legend now.
If Hyundai is looking for encouragement to develop the RM19 into a road-going racer, it has it. The team working on it is just as enthusiastic. "Please tell your readers how much you like it," our passenger said, "We want to make this."