TG quizzes Hyundai’s hot hatch mastermind
Ex-BMW M Division boss explains how South Korea will storm the hot hatch battleground
Imagine you’re vice-president of engineering at BMW’s M Division. Well done you. One day, Hyundai comes calling, offering you a job creating a new line of hot hatches. You’d have to be fairly confident you’d get your own way, right? Ditching a world of 500bhp supersaloons for unproven Korean pocket rockets takes quite some conviction.
Albert Biermann did just that in 2014, and two years later, TG.com is catching up with Hyundai’s Head of Vehicle Test & High Performance Development at the Nürburgring. This is the home of the ‘N’ cars.
We’re invited into the tennis court-sized, clinically clean garage of the €6.6million Hyundai R&D centre which overlooks the Nordschleife’s Dottinger Hohe straight. The Tron-spec bulling opened in 2011, as a base for Hyundai to test new cars to breaking point around the 'Ring.
One well-used i30 mule is up on ramps to the left, a heavily disguised new-gen i30 rests next to it. Both have survived the Hyundai torture chamber.
“We test at Nardo, in the Alps, on the road…but the Nürburgring is a big challenge”, explains Biermann. "Our durability test for every new car is 480 laps. That’s 10,000km running at 90 per cent of maximum performance. Ten per cent of the laps are run in wet conditions.” Is that all? At the 'Ring a dry day is rarer than a sober spectator at Brunchen...
So, what are the crucial bits Hyundai has had to change for the new i30 N (not the finalised name, we’re told), due in 2017?
“We want three things: great brakes, great turn-in and high power”, says Albert. “We have our 2.0-litre engine, but it needs a strong clutch as this will be a manual car. The gearbox has been made stronger and more precise. We have a better tyre [a Michelin Pilot Super Sport, as worn by the likes of the Peugeot 308 GTi], and better aero. We need to work on reducing drag – the road car does not need a lot of downforce.”
No Honda Civic Type R-style wings, then. Which begs the question, what exactly is Hyundai benchmarking for the ‘N’ cars?
“It’s not easy to say this car is our target or that car is”, says Biermann. “We are looking at lots of cars – higher horsepower and lower horsepower. Some cars are good for everyday driving but not enough fun to push, others are just too track-focused. We are finding our own way to bring the two worlds together in a complete package.”
Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter. Look out for your regular round-up of news, reviews and offers in your inbox.
Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.
So, more biased for road fun than track antics, we suggest. And does Biermann think you need a lap time record to make a splash in the hot hatch segment?
“The i30 N won’t be the most powerful in its class or have the fastest lap times – it’s all about the driving fun and actually max horsepower is not the key focus for this. We will, however, offer a performance pack for more track-focused enthusiasts.”
Put TG down for one of the performance pack cars, we reckon. But Hyundai isn’t just a hatch-maker these days – crossovers like the Tucson and Santa Fe have scored big sales in Europe. Can Biermann see those 4x4s being treated to the ‘N’ workout? He’s cagey, but rules nothing out.
“The i30 N is the first car and you will see this in 2017. We are looking at what we can do across a number of segments but it is a matter of performance levels, we will not exclude anything but we need to grow from C segment upwards in time with our customers. If Hyundai think we need to do something for our customers, we will just do it…”