Hyundai’s transition from purveyor of soulless econoboxes to manufacturer of desirable automobiles is gathering steam globally, and its latest push is borrowed right from the playbook of Hyundai Australia (HMCA).
A report in industry paper Automotive News says that the South Korean automaker will now focus on improving the ride and handling of its passenger car range by tightening up suspension tunes, improving steering feel and enhancing roadholding.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because Hyundai’s local operation has been doing exactly that for the past five years, fettling the suspension of every new model (except the iMax/iLoad) to adapt them for Australia’s uniquely challenging road conditions.
According to Automotive News, Hyundai has copped criticism in North America and Europe for sloppy handling and unengaging steering, and the company is keen to correct that perception.
In fact, it was similar complaints directed at the i45 in 2010 that spurred HMCA to embark on its own suspension localisation programme for Australia.
For the past three years Hyundai has been feverishly working on better-performing chassis technology at its High Performance Vehicle Development Centre at Namyang in South Korea, with some of that knowledge going into concepts like the wild RM15 mid-engined Veloster.
The rest of the Centre's efforts will go towards chassis improvements for Hyundai's regular road vehicles.
But while it’s not clear whether Hyundai’s top brass tapped into Hyundai Australia’s wealth of knowledge for its suspension shake-up, the specific targeting of ride, handling and steering effectively echoes HMCA’s strategy.
N follows M
Hyundai’s new drive on improving vehicle dynamics is also the opening salvo in a broader effort to establish itself as a performance car marque.
Last year Hyundai poached former BMW M division vice president of engineering Albert Biermann to become head of vehicle testing and high performance development, with the German executive officially starting work at Hyundai in April this year.
Biermann’s main task is to impart some European dynamic nous into Hyundai’s platforms, and the rollout of Hyundai’s yet-to-be-confirmed “N” performance car range also falls under his jurisdiction.
A lot of his time is expected to be spent at the Nurburgring test track in Germany, in Hyundai’s recently-acquired vehicle test centre "(below).
Track time at the Nurburgring doesn’t come cheap, and Hyundai’s commitment to testing cars there is indicative of its seriousness.
Further work will take place at Namyang, on Hyundai's own sprawling test track facility.
It’s rumoured that the engineering team at the High Performance Vehicle Development Centre has access to a wide range of performance cars for benchmarking purposes - including a brace of mid-engined supercars.
Does that mean we can expect a mid-engined performance car from humble Hyundai? The 2014 PassoCorto concept certainly provides an appealing template for such a car.
It’s certainly feasible, and the RM15 concept (which was no show pony, but a running, driving, drifting vehicle) proves the company has the know-how to pull it off. As a rival to the Alfa Romeo 4C, a productionised RM15 could work.
But for now, the company is keeping that information under its hat. Even the i20-based N Performance hot hatch has yet to be officially confirmed for production.
Hyundai Australia has been conducting experiments of its own though, tuning the Veloster Turbo’s 1.6 litre engine to 195kW and developing a bespoke suspension and driveline to create the Veloster Raptor (above).
Alas, the Raptor remains a one-off exercise.
However one thing is for certain: right now, the best-handling Hyundais are sold in Australia. The rest of Hyundai’s global empire is only just starting to catch up.
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