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Hyundai tweaks i45
Hyundai Australia meets media criticism of new i45 inside six months
11 Oct 2010
By JOHN WRIGHT
HYUNDAI Motor Company of Australia (HMCA) proclaims a ‘philosophy of continuous improvement’ and has now backed this rhetoric with action by releasing an upgraded MY11 version of the i45 medium sedan it released less than five months ago.
HMCA has long claimed Australia is a key market for HMC (which also owns Kia) and its haste to respond to criticism by “half a dozen motoring journalists” of the MY10 i45 shows how effectively the local management team can convince head office about the need to make its cars right for Australian conditions.
At the launch of the i45 in May this year Hyundai said the car’s suspension had been optimised for local roads, but at the time probably rather more than half a dozen – among them some of the most seasoned testers in Australia – observed that the steering was lacking in feel and weight and that the car’s dynamics at higher speed were disappointing.
The swiftness of HMCA’s response may have been influenced by the policy of sibling company Kia to optimise all new models for Australian conditions before launching them. Unfavourable comparisons between Hyundais and those of the company’s wholly owned subsidiary, which operates independently in Australia, would be unwelcome.
As we reported on July 19, HMCA chief executive Edward Lee had asked the company’s head office to improve the steering and ride of the i45 despite the fact that the 20 or so customers who had already taken delivery of their new mid-size Hyundai sedans were delighted with their cars and had no criticism to make of its dynamics.
This amounts to a recognition of the importance of journalistic opinion in the success of HMCA in the market, a fact which marketing boss Oliver Mann, who is comparatively rare among marketing experts for having his first university degree in mechanical engineering, is ready to concede.
It will be some weeks before GoAuto has an opportunity to test the improved i45 but, on paper, the changes look good.
HMCA’s first step was to institute an internal benchmarking review. The team assembled rivals including the impressive Suzuki Kizashi (launched the same week as the i45 and perhaps contributing to the negative view formed by some of the media), plus the Mazda6, Subaru Liberty, Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord in both Thai-built and Euro variants.
The aim, said Mr Mann, was to make the upgraded i45 ‘spectacularly good across all aspects’, despite research and real life experience which showed that buyers of medium-sized cars were extremely conservative and those who had already bought an i45 had no complaints about the steering, ride or handling. Besides, the i45 was never meant to be a ‘sports car’.
“We reviewed very carefully concerns expressed by that minority of journalists,” said Mr Mann. “We took the decision to move the i45 a little across the spectrum towards sportiness” to “sharpen up steering response and improve handling under hard driving but preserve or…even improve ride quality.”
Hyundai says it found the answer in damping and sway bars. The switchable Amplitude Selective Damping (ASD) system already standard on the Premium variants are now fitted to the entry-level Active and mid-range Elite.
They have been recalibrated, a process which Mr Mann said was not available to HMCA at the time of the i45’s release. Fifteen per cent firmer front and six per cent firmer rear springs are fitted and anti-roll bars are thicker by one millimetre at the front (up from 22 to 23) and three at the rear (15 to 18mm), while low-speed rebound damping has also been made firmer to make the ride is softer at low speeds and firmer at high speeds.
HMCA product planning manager Roland Rivero claims the consequences are “less pitch and dive, and flatter, enhanced handling”. Mr Rivero says the handling is “more neutral” and that there is a “positive effect on the feel and weight of the steering”.
The steering itself was not the subject of changes. “We tried different set-ups,” Mr Mann told GoAuto, “but our feeling was that the suspension changes and particularly the stiffer roll bar improved the response and weight of the steering to the extent that no further changes… were necessary.”
Along with the chassis upgrade, Hyundai’s MY11 i45 range has also been bolstered by the standard addition of satellite-navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and heated front seats for the range-topping Premium model, which increases in price by $1000.
MY11 i45 prices increase by $100 for all other models and, while metallic/mica paint remains a $450 option for all i45s, sat-nav and Bluetooth are now packaged together as a $1000 option on downstream i45 models. There are no changes to the i45’s 2.4-litre GDI petrol engine or six-speed automatic transmission – standard on all but the base Active model.
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