N-ergetic: We drive Hyundai's first road-going N performance car
Born at Namyang - honed at the Nurburgring. That's the way Hyundai's High Performance Vehicle Division is describing its first N-car, which will be launched on various world markets - including New Zealand - before the end of this year.
Namyang is the Hyundai-Kia group's sprawling research and development centre in South Korea, where at any one time its workforce of 13,000 people are busy developing and testing up to 7000 vehicles. And Nurburgring is the famed German motorsport complex where Hyundai does a lot of its high-performance development work - in fact it claims the design of its stylised "N" logo represents one of the chicanes on the complex' north loop track.
It was on the Nordschleife in May that Hyundai made the motoring world sit up and notice when a pair of pre-production i30N hatchbacks finished well up the order in the ADAC Zurich 24-hour race. The two cars completed 244 laps, which equalled more than 6000km, without any technical problems in a race that rates as maybe the toughest in the world.
Now, two more pre-production i30N hatchbacks were at Namyang for a special preview introduction for the motoring press from the first countries that will get this car. On hand to lead the introduction was a smiling Albert Biermann, the head of the High Performance Division.
"This will be a back-to-basics performance car," the German told journalists. "At launch there will be two versions, both powered by our newly-developed 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. One will be a standard i30N, and the other will have a Performance Pack that will deliver more power and offer further technological features that will enhance its emotional appeal and racetrack capability."
No engine performance figures were being given away - Biermann said they would be provided at the actual global launch of the vehicle.
"But suffice to say the standard model will offer performance figures that will be a little bit more than a Golf GTI - and the Performance Pack version will offer a little bit more than that!
"The most important thing though is that the standard model will be easily good enough to take straight from the showroom to the track. It will have the necessary engine, tyres, brakes and cooling. That's going to be the big strong point about this car. It's going to be all about substance and affordability."
Biermann admitted the i30N will be heavier than the standard Hyundai i30 hatch that is due to be launched in New Zealand next month. But no attempts had been made to lighten the car via the use of any lightweight - and expensive - materials.
"Our mission has been to produce an N car that will be approachable and affordable for the motoring enthusiast. We did not intend interfering with that aim by using fancy lightweight stuff."
We've visited Namyang numerous times over the years to view new Hyundai and Kia vehicles. Such visits have always involved very strictly controlled driving - usually a run down a stretch of tarmac that looks like an airport runway, and maybe a tour round a short circuit.
But for the N event the visiting journalists were allowed access to something different - a full-blown racetrack. I didn't know it even existed. Set in the base of a small hill, the undulating and challenging little track is called "Little Nurburgring" by staff, and we were allowed three-lap squirts on it in a camouflaged Performance Pack i30N to try out its performance capabilities.
As we said, Beirmann and his staff are keeping their powder try on performance figures. But it is known that the turbocharged engine, which is based on the engine aboard the Sonata turbo, develops around 184kW in the standard i30N, and more than 200kW in the Performance Pack version. Torque output is likely to be around 400Nm.
The standard model will have 18-inch wheels and a standard front differential with torque vectoring, while the Performance Pack model will come with 19-inch wheels and will have an electronically controlled limited-slip diff.
The Performance model also has, in addition to Eco, Normal and Sport driving modes, a special N mode which sets up the car for extreme driving by altering such things as the suspension damping, steering, exhaust rev-matching, stability control and the e-LSD.
So we hit the steering wheel-mounted N button, put the close-ratio six-speed manual into first gear, and took off on our hot laps around Little Nurburgring. The impression was immediate - this is a really good hot hatch. Turn-in is great, handling capability is lively, the engine performance is enthusiastic, and the car has an exhaust crackle to die for.
Hyundai New Zealand has confirmed it is going to take the i30N, and it will arrive after the Kiwi launch of the standard i30 range. No prices are yet known, but obviously they will sit above the standard models. And that will present both a challenge and an opportunity - the challenge will be to follow up on Albert Beirmann's promise that the hatch will offer affordable performance motoring for the enthusiast, the opportunity will be to make the prices superior to the likes of VW Golf GTI and Honda Civic Type R.
Importantly, arrival of the i30N is just the start of the career of the Hyundai High Performance Division. While there are no plans for N versions of every Hyundai model, there is more to come - with the next, probably an N version of the next-generation Veloster, due next year.
"We've been looking forward to this time ever since we launched the N brand at the Frankfurt Motor Show two years ago," said Biermann, who was formerly the head of BMW's M division.
"Our aim is to improve Hyundai's strength by developing high-performance road cars that will bring more emotion to the brand. We're confident this new product will easily achieve that."