It sounded stupid. When Hyundai announced that the Ioniq 5 N would let drivers pretend it had an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, I thought there was a real chance the company had ruined what could have been the world's first great enthusiast EV. Then I tried the clunkily named "N e-Shift" for our on-track review, and I saw the light. It isn't just a good idea. It's a huge leap forward for performance EVs.

This information is necessary for improving lap times and driver skill. You can access it other ways—with lights, a speedometer or telematics—but your eyes are already overtaxed on track. Feel and sound are better channels. 

Gallery: 2025 Hyundai Ioniq 5 N: First Track Drive

E-shift makes good use of them. The decision to make it sound like the 2.0-liter engine from the Hyundai Elantra N is controversial—nearly any other engine layout sounds better than a turbo four—but it also allows the car to speak in a language I implicitly understand. I've tracked the Elantra N twice, and autocrossed it at the Laguna Seca press launch of the Ioniq 5 N. I know what redline sounds like, and have the muscle memory to shift it at the right moment.

Miss your mark and the Ioniq 5 will cut power in a convincing imitation of a 2.0 banging against fuel cutoff. Try to exit a slow corner in fifth gear and it'll bog.

If your goal is ultimate speed, it's foolish to impose ICE limits on the superior powerband of an electric motor. But it forced me to be aware of my speed. On my first outing, without e-Shift enabled, I was intimidated and slow. I was learning Laguna Seca—a fierce and iconic track—and doing it in a 601-hp SUV with a lot of weight to haul around. I was overloaded, and couldn't keep up with the car. There was no time for checking my speed.

With e-Shift enabled, though, I slowly learned my braking zones, my cornering speeds and my best high-speed lines, all using the reference point of what "gear" I was in and how high the "revs" were. Crucially, you can also leave the DCT in "auto" mode, so you get the feedback and the "kick" of shifting through the gears without power interruption or extra work. 

Hyundai Ioniq 5 N First Track Drive

I kept it in manual mode, though, because there's another advantage to gears. They aren't just a form of communication but a form of control. Engine braking is crucial on the track. EVs can do this, too, with regeneration. Yet one-pedal driving is a tough fit for the race track. I don't want max regen every time I lift, and the accelerator controlling only one mechanism—engine power—is, in my opinion, better for high-speed control. Yet this is Porsche's approach, and having to go to the brake pedal for any regen braking has its own disadvantages. I always liked the old Bolt's regen braking paddle on the steering wheel for this reason, but Hyundai's e-Shift provides that functionality too.

In the long term, this form of fake shifting for engine braking and the sensation of speed will go away. There's almost no chance that the EVs of the 2050s will still be pretending to have DCTs. Yet Hyundai is solving a real problem that exists. Performance vehicles need:

  1. Non-visual means of communicating speed, linked to fixed reference points. 
  2. Clear, optional ways of "punishing" misjudged speeds.
  3. The ability to quickly adjust the car's lift-off and engine braking behavior.

These things have been worked out for gas cars. Gear changes are the fixed reference points, as the redline in second gear is always at the same speed (assuming no speed). The sound of the car moving through the power band is the primary channel of non-visual communication relative to those points. Lugging and fuel cut off punish missed shift, though in DCT and automatic cars this is optional. And where you are in the rev range determines engine braking behavior, so downshifting increases it and upshifting decreases it.

Hyundai Ioniq 5 N First Track Drive

Hyundai's e-Shift uses the same formula. It is not the way of the future, but the way of the past applied to the future. Performance EVs in years to come will find better ways to communicate the drivers, ones less rooted in the past and that better incorporate the advantages and experience of electric driving. E-Shift is the only holistic solution that we've found so far.

You can call it stupid. But if it's stupid and it works, then maybe it ain't so stupid. 

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