Climb behind the wheel of a hydrogen fuel cell muscle car

  • The N Vision 74 hydrogen fuel cell car has 670hp, rear-wheel drive and a claimed range of 370 miles.
  • The design was inspired by the car that Giugiaro transformed into Delorean DMC-12, the Hyundai Pony Coupe concept.
  • Unfortunately, the automaker has no plans to put the N Vision 74 into production.

    The era of the electric battery is already coming, but a big question remains about what will come next. A significant percentage of the auto industry argues that BEVs will be the long-term answer. They are, in essence, betting that the issues of range, cost, finding battery materials – and the challenge of recycling old cells – will all be answered in time.

    Yet others believe that battery-powered electric vehicles will only be an interim solution, eventually to be supplemented by hydrogen powered by fuel cells.

    It’s not outer edge stuff. Two of the world’s largest automakers, Toyota and Hyundai, have embarked on hugely expensive fuel cell programs, and both have already put hydrogen-powered vehicles into limited production. But these cars, the Mirai and the Nexo respectively, are worthy and uninspiring, certainly from anything but a technical point of view. Now meet one that isn’t.

    In truth, Hyundai’s spectacular N Vision 74 concept isn’t so much a pure hydrogen car as it is a hydrogen-assisted electric vehicle. There are also no plans to put it into production with any type of powertrain. But it looks great, delivers up to 690bhp on its rear axle and is quite capable of smoking its rear tires while moving sideways. There’s also a real reason why it looks a bit like a Delorean DMC-12 – and Autoweek drove it.

    The N Vision 74 received huge praise online when it was first unveiled earlier this year, but the muscular coupe isn’t just a pretty show concept. Indeed, beneath its bodywork hides a hard-working powertrain prototype, one that was created long before the idea of ​​making it into a sleek coupe was born.

    The basic structure is not a Hyundai; it’s more of a Kia Stinger. This is what Albert Biermann, former head of the group’s R&D and instigator of its N performance division, asserts. Today, he’s semi-retired and carries the title “Executive Technical Advisor,” which gives him the ability to go into more behind-the-scenes detail than the company’s PR team probably wants.

    According to Biermann, four Stingers were modified to create what Hyundai calls “mecha-protos”, those built on an existing car, to test a new high-efficiency system that combines a 62.4 kWh battery and a fuel cell. of 85kW. These send power to a pair of 335 horsepower electric motors in the rear, one turning each rear wheel. The main objective of the project was actually to help develop the system that regulates the relationship between the two electric motors instead of any mechanical connection through the axle.

    The N 74’s technology suggests there will be some serious high-performance models in Hyundai’s future.

    “We developed a ‘virtual differential’ via software control,” says Biermann, “and that was a huge challenge for our engineers. But at some point, we might consider [using] for a special car that needs more power than our modular system can provide with one motor at each axle.

    Given that the current most powerful EV architecture of the bunch delivers 577bhp using separate motors for front and rear, that suggests there will be some very capable models in Hyundai’s future.

    The N Vision 74 coupe’s muscular bodywork came later and is the work of a team under Hyundai’s executive vice president of design, Lee SangYup. Lee knows a lot about making great sports cars; before joining Hyundai, he worked for GM, Volkswagen and Bentley, with previous credits including the Cadillac Sixteen concept, the fifth-generation Chevrolet Camaro and the spectacular Bentley EXP 10 Speed ​​6.

    The Hyundai Pony Coupé concept, designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro.


    The inspiration for the N Vision 74 came from the very beginning of Hyundai’s history as an independent manufacturer. Graduated from building Ford under license in the mid-1970s, the company’s first car was the Pony sedan. Although designed to provide low-cost transportation in South Korea, and later in some export markets, it was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro of ItalDesign.

    Wanting something more exciting for the stands at auto shows, Hyundai also commissioned the legendary designer to create a concept Pony Coupe sitting on the same platform. Unsurprisingly, this featured the staggered proportions of some of Giugiaro’s most famous cars of the era, this list including the Lotus Esprit and Alfa Romeo Alsasud Sprint.

    The Pony Coupe did not make production. As it would have used a 1.6-litre 80hp Mitsubishi engine and a solid rear axle, it was not a great loss to the performance car world. But with the efficiency of all great designers, Giugiaro recycled much of it into another new project he started soon after: the Delorean DMC-12, albeit with the addition of gullwing doors. That’s why it’s completely understandable that you’re looking at the N Vision 74 and humming Huey Lewis. power of love.

    Although its inspiration dates back almost 50 years, the N Vision 74 is not a retro pastiche. The basic shape owes a lot to the past, including the abrupt transition between roof and rear screen, but futuristic details abound, the most impressive up close being the pixelated lights front and rear.

    The N Vision 74’s fuel cell is taken directly from a production Hyundai Nexo, and its relatively low output, equivalent to 113 hp, is not enough to fully power the rear motors on its own. Instead, it sits upstream of the battery, effectively acting as a range extender. With the combination of a fully juiced battery and the 4.2kg of hydrogen gas it can carry in its two rear tanks, Hyundai claims the 74 can go up to 370 miles.

    My driving took place on the Bilster Berg track in Germany, one of those ‘driving resort’ tracks for rich men, although probably the only one in the world built on the site of a former munitions depot in the British army. My lap was brief, but enough to prove the N Vision 74 feels wildly fast. For the most part, the 74 rode like an electric vehicle, with instantaneous throttle responses and the absence of the mechanical inertia of even the most powerful combustion engines. But the concept also lacked the power drain feel common to pure fuel cell vehicles, when the power unit can only maintain full power for limited periods of time. Hyundai claims the car has a 0-60mph time of less than 4 seconds, and from the cockpit it certainly looks quick as well.

    Although its inspiration dates back almost 50 years, the N Vision 74 is not a retro pastiche. The basic shape owes a lot to the past, but futuristic details abound.

    Under braking it’s less accomplished – the development team estimates the concept to weigh around 4400 pounds, and it seemed obvious when asked to slow down at the end of the longer Bilster Berg straights, pedal at touch wood bringing less slowdown than what I expected. There wasn’t much aural drama either, the soundtrack being one of rushing wind, roaring tires and the sound of cooling fans working flat out to control powertrain temperatures.

    Still, traction was incredibly sure for something putting nearly 700bhp to its rear wheels, with minimal drama in slower, tighter corners. Much of this is no doubt due to the clever algorithms controlling the distribution of torque to the rear axle. Biermann admits that the first version of the virtual differential was “scary, to be honest”, but the system struck me as a conventional mechanical system.

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    And while the clever side-to-side torque vectoring undoubtedly helped the N Vision 74 turn, its contribution seemed invisible, even when the traction control was loosened enough to allow me to push all the way to the rear escape point. (With the system completely de-energized, one of Hyundai’s development engineers also proved that the car can produce large drift angles, too.)

    Unfortunately, it seems highly unlikely that the N Vision 74 will spawn a production car, despite the overwhelmingly positive reaction it has received. The advanced E-GMP architecture found under EVs from Hyundai and Kia uses an underfloor battery best suited to crossovers and SUVs, which would likely ruin the 74’s clean lines. on the Stinger platform wouldn’t really be in line with future-facing technology either.

    The role of the N Vision 74 is proof of Hyundai’s commitment to a hydrogen-powered future, which will develop alongside the advanced electric vehicles the company is already bringing to market.

    “EV is not an interim technology, it will stay there. Clearly for cars, EV is hard to beat,” says Biermann. “But my line of thinking is simple: if we want the world to become carbon neutral, we’re going to need millions of tons of hydrogen in all aspects of society and if you do that, then it’s okay to put that in cars or trucks or buses I think that Mr Putin gives us a very good lesson not to depend too much on an individual source of energy.

    “What is the best synergy with grid electricity? Hydrogen is clear,” he adds. “You can put it away, you can use it when you need it, you can take it anywhere. It’s like milk and cheese, milk is like grid electricity: you use it or it goes out. Hydrogen is like cheese, stored energy that lasts. It will be part of the future, it is inevitable.

    For now, the N Vision 74 is the kind of future we can all follow.

    Share your thoughts on the future of fuel cell technology and Hyundai’s continued interest in the technology in the comments below.