Hyundai Blazes The Trail In The Premium Performance Market With Its N Programme
As South Korea’s leading automotive manufacturer, Hyundai Motor Company has long been the purveyor of stately cars. However, things are rapidly changing. As early as 2006, it has taken a clear change in direction by welcoming into its fold some of the top European engineering and executive-level talents in the industry, in a bid to overtake the Japanese and plausibly, the Europeans.
It is thus no surprise that the current fleet of Hyundai cars has taken on a distinctive European flavour in its design. This can be attributed to German automotive designer Peter Schreyer, formerly of Audi Design, who was president and chief design officer at Hyundai’s parent company, Hyundai Motor Group, from 2013 to 2018. He was responsible for the conglomerate’s long‑term design vision and differentiation, and also took charge of building upon Hyundai’s successful design philosophy of “Fluidic Sculpture”, which focuses on melding graceful, organic silhouettes with high levels of craftsmanship.
Last year, Schreyer became the president of Hyundai/Kia Design Management, vacating his design chief seat for Luc Donckerwolke, a former Volkswagen Group designer who was executive design vice president for Hyundai and its more upmarket sister, Genesis.
THE NEXT FRONTIER
However, Hyundai wants to do more with its cars than just European styling. It wants to ensure that these cars boast a handling with class-leading European demeanour and dynamics as well. To this end, the marque decided to step up its game and launched the N programme, a line of high‑performance road-ready cars inspired by its motorsport technology, in 2015.
Officially, the “N” here stands for Namyang, an area in the city of Hwaseong in South Korea where Hyundai’s main R&D centre is located. But the letter could very well stand for Nürburgring, too, after Hyundai opened a vehicle testing facility at the famous German circuit in 2013. With the test centre, the marque has been able to better and more frequently evaluate and develop the durability and driving dynamics of its cars.
The N programme is the brainchild of Albert Biermann, president and head of the research and development division at Hyundai and its affiliate Kia Motors, who joined the team in 2015 after leaving his role as vice president of BMW M Performance cars. Hyundai knew the man could inject some European spunk to go with the new look of its cars, and put him in charge of reinvigorating all future Hyundai models.
“We are forging our own path and creating respectable sporting cars by using the resources we already have available at Hyundai,” he said at the launch of the N programme in 2018.
To bring the N programme into the future, Biermann is joined by two other engineering experts—fellow former BMW executive, Thomas Schemera, who now heads Hyundai’s high-performance vehicle and motorsport division, and Klaus Koster, who brings his wealth of experience from Mercedes-AMG to his role as director of high‑performance vehicle development at Hyundai.
To start off, the N programme strategically uses premium parts that already exist within Hyundai, and the marque has birthed high‑performance versions of its hatchbacks—the i30N, Veloster N and i30 Fastback N—that offer thrilling driving experiences.
The i30N, in particular, relies on a powerful four-cylinder, 2.0L Turbo-GDi turbo engine that produces 250hp (or 275hp with the Performance Package) and 353Nm of torque. However, it is not just about fitting in a powerful engine and bolting on a firmer suspension, it is also about getting the entire package to work synergistically.
Hence, Biermann and his team have also ensured that the i30N has excellent handling, which would allow it to take on both the Nürburgring circuit and the city roads with the same confidence. The car’s other sporty features include five different drive modes such as an N Custom mode, high-performance tyres and launch control, in addition to sport seats, a dual muffler exhaust and an exterior colour in Performance Blue that pays tribute to Hyundai Motorsport. Essentially, the i30N does not require the skill of an expert driver to take it to its full potential, but it will still entertain the experienced driver.
The pinnacle of the Hyundai N programme thus far has been its wins at the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup. The 2018 race season, which was the international championship’s inaugural edition held in Macau, ended with Italian veteran race driver Gabriele Tarquini finishing first for Hyundai in the drivers’ championship. The YMR team won the teams’ title with a pair of i30N TCRs, the touring car version of the hatchback.
Effectively, with a dream team in place, Hyundai wants the world to sit up and realise that it deserves to be viewed as a serious contender in the premium performance segment, as it continues to push itself into the realm of the sportiest of cars with its N programme.
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