One of the big motoring stories of the moment is that Hyundai Motorsport GmbH, the offshoot of Hyundai Europe that is developing an i20 hatch for the upcoming World Rally Championships, may soon have its own dedicated performance division.
This was confirmed by Hyundai's WRC chief Michael Nanden. Media reports since are speculating that the first performance edition Hyundai that the public can buy will be an i20 when a brand-new model is launched in Europe in 2015.
This will be followed by several other performance models, including hot versions of the Genesis coupe and the smaller Veloster coupe.
The idea behind all of this is to leverage sales off Hyundai's participation in the WRC, says the company. And while that's not new - for example Mitsubishi has done it for years with the Lancer Evo and Subaru has done it with the Impreza - it will be a first for a South Korean manufacturer.
And performance branches of mainstream manufacturers aren't new either. For instance, Nissan has had its Nismo motorsport and performance division since 1984, and this has proved a major success for the Japanese company.
While it now seems a certainty that Hyundai will create a dedicated performance division, what is by no means certain yet is whether New Zealand will be able to import product from the division.
It will be built in Europe, and there will be right-hand drive versions, but no decisions yet about their availability in the southern hemisphere.
But despite this uncertainty, Hyundai New Zealand has begun making early preparations for the possibility the hot Hyundais may get here.
In an exercise designed to test the waters, the company has imported a "warm" i30 hatchback from Australia to evaluate whether the Kiwi new vehicle market would accept the car.
This hatchback is badged SR in Aussie, and it is powered by a direct-injected 2.0-litre petrol engine that develops 129 kilowatts of power and 209 newton metres of torque - about 20 per cent more than that on offer with the standard 1.8-litre petrol engined i30 sold here.
While that level of power and torque doesn't put the i30 SR into hot hatch territory, it performs rather well all the same. It can accelerate to 100kmh in about 7.7 seconds, has 17-inch wheels and tyres, transmissions with longer final drive ratios for longer legs, and specially calibrated suspension settings that allow it to be an excellent performer out on the open road.
Other points of difference are that the car has a two-bar grille and daytime running lights, and nice form-fitting sports seats.
At a media conference in Auckland last week journalists were encouraged to take the SR for spins and to pass on their opinions to the Hyundai people. And these opinions? Despite the event being held in torrential rain, the way the chassis worked came in for the most praise, with the writers opining that it would be more than capable of accepting even more powerful engines.
Hyundai NZ general manager Andy Sinclair said if the 2.0-litre i30 GDI was introduced in New Zealand, it would not be badged SR. Instead it would be marketed, with the satellite navigation, as an Elite and would retail for $43,990 - the same price as the turbodiesel- engine 1.6-litre CRDi Elite now on sale.
"We see little point in introducing the SR branding when the possibility of the high performance division has been announced internally," he said. "We would prefer to wait a little to see what happens with that."
HNZ is also contemplating whether introduction of the 2.0-litre model would complicate the i30 lineup, which is the most popular of the Hyundai fleet in this country. It already comprises standard and Elite versions of the 1.8-litre petrol model, and standard and Elite versions of the diesel.
- © Fairfax NZ News