U.S. enthusiasts must wait until next year for their first vehicle from Hyundai’s new N performance subbrand. Patience is required because Hyundai is about to launch the performance division’s first vehicle, the i30 N, in Europe this fall, but the hot hatch will not be sold in the U.S. Instead, the U.S. will only get the conventional i30, which will be sold as the Elantra GT.
Albert Biermann, who was hired in 2015 to create the N division, said American buyers need not wait too long—they will get something with the N logo in 2018, and he promised they will be pleased. A graph shown during a presentation at Hyundai’s R & D Center in Namyang, South Korea, suggests the next launch after the i30 N is slated for the first quarter of 2018.
A candidate is an N variant of the Veloster, the updated sporty hatchback that will launch next year. The Namyang campus has camouflaged Velosters everywhere you look: in engineering and test studios, on the proving grounds, and on the regular roads throughout the complex that employs about 13,000 research engineers.
Biermann said the new Veloster will look similar to the one it replaces but will perform very differently. It will get the 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that is in the new Hyundai Kona subcompact SUV. But the Veloster N will get the 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 in the i30 N, which has a wicked exhaust note. If it follows the lead of the i30 N, it would have a six-speed manual transmission and perhaps also an automatic in the U.S.
Biermann said the U.S. will be happy with the N vehicle it is getting next year. Asked if it is the Veloster, he smiled and said he is not allowed to say. Hyundai Brand Strategy Director Minsoo Kim said the U.S. is an important market for the N brand.
Hyundai first announced the addition of the performance unit in 2015 and tapped Biermann from BMW’s M performance division to install new processes and new ways of looking at vehicle dynamics. The goal: strengthen the Hyundai brand value, bring more emotion, and improve the base cars with the technology and learnings from developing N versions.
It is part of a larger evolution of Hyundai that included a focus on quality in 2000, then on design, and now on performance, Biermann said. It also builds on a sports car tradition that includes the Tiburon in 1995 and the Genesis coupe in 2008. Even models such as the 2017 Elantra Sport were a warm-up to the launch of the N sports car subbrand named after Namyang and the Nürburgring where the track-oriented vehicles are being honed. The N logo is designed to look like a chicane.
And of course there is a racing history: it all started with the i20 WRC and more recently TCR or touring car racing series. Biermann said the i30 N is the first car developed with the technology and experience derived from WRC.
And Hyundai continues to pursue its RM (rear midship) program that started in 2012; he described it as a “rolling lab” to develop future cars. Biermann said a car might never make it to production, but the program continues.
The Korean automaker has a lot of engineers excited about racing, Biermann said. “I hear tires squealing. When I open my window some days it almost sounds like being on the racetrack.”
The greatest demand for high performance vehicles is the compact or C-segment, Biermann said, which is why the i30 hot hatch is the first to bear the N badge. He said he has a roadmap of planned vehicles, which he would not disclose. As an engineer, “I would love to have SUVs, too,” he said, but no decisions have been made. He also envisions hybrids, electric vehicles, and even fuel cells playing a role in the subbrand in the future. When the time comes due to customer demand or regulations “we will do it.”
Not every Hyundai will get an N variant, Biermann said. The performance marker will not extend to the Genesis luxury brand or Kia, which has GT performance vehicles.
Starting with the i30 N, Biermann said Hyundai’s performance vehicles will be track-ready even as base models—they don’t need multiple packages. But he expects a lot of owners will turn to the aftermarket. “I think the tuners will jump on this car like crazy,” he said.
Photo Source: CarPix