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Hyundai opens Euro centre to media

Track stare: It may be littered with exotic supercars and tyre-shredding powerhouses, but an evening tackling the Nurburgring in Hyundai’s i30 Turbo was a pleasant surprise during an R&D centre visit.

GoAuto hits the Nurburgring at Hyundai’s punishing European development centre

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17 Sep 2015

By DANIEL GARDNER in NURBURG

ALMOST every Hyundai sold in Australia has spent time at the company’s top-secret European research and development centre in Germany and has earned its colours over many hours of punishing tests on one of Europe’s most gruelling circuits – the Nurburgring.

Based trackside on the longest straight of the notorious circuit, Hyundai’s Nurburgring centre is responsible for pushing each new model to extremes through the 21km course, which has earned itself the nickname, the Green Hell.

Only a handful of manufacturers have access to the infamous track for research and development work, and even fewer have premises as close as Hyundai’s, but the work is critical to produce both reliable and enjoyable vehicles, according to the company.

During a visit to the extraordinary facility in Nurburg Germany, Hyundai Motor Company Australia product planning manager Scott Nargar told GoAuto the centre formed part of a global development network that benefits from the various areas of specialisation found in different regions of the world.

“We’ve got a really good centre which is the HATCI centre in California, we’ve got centres throughout Korea – the main one being Namyang, then we have the design and engineering studios throughout Germany,” he said.

“It’s really about picking the best and the cream of the crop of each of the countries and bringing their skills into the Hyundai family.” While the Nurburgring and evaluation centre is primarily focused on durability testing, Mr Nargar explained that the natural European influence of the facility is a quality appreciated by Australian consumers.

“That is the main centre for the testing of durability, especially suspension, drivetrain and cooling systems,” he said.

“It covers a whole range of things looking at NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) of the vehicle and how everything reacts to the strains and pressures of running on that track at such high speeds for such long periods of time.

“We all like what the Europeans do with their sportier cars and the fit and finish of their vehicles. I think Australians like a car that is put together well and that is quiet and comfortable on the road, especially given the distances we drive.” The race-track offers test engineers an unlimited arena to push prototype and pre-production vehicles to their limit in an endurance regime that simulates many miles of use.

Each vehicle undergoes 480 laps of high-speed driving over a five-week testing period, which simulates the equivalent of about 150,000km to 200,000km of day-to day motoring and can highlight durability problems in a fraction of the distance.

The team of professional drivers covers up to 30 laps per day and can replicate lap times to within one second. After each session, the car is taken back into the centre for close analysis and for adjustments if chassis and handling tuning is the focus, for example.

With a shimmering polished stainless steel skin, the closely guarded facility has been a proud monument for the Hyundai brand since it opened in 2013, and has a full development workshop, extensive project team offices and large basement garage for concealing the secret test vehicles.

In addition to the Accelerated Durability Test, the centre is closely involved with the development work carried out by the main R&D hub based in South Korea, but also serves as a brand image booster, leaning heavily on the credibility that the Nurburgring has earned among performance-car communities.

During our visit a hoist-bound hatchback was concealed with a cover but teased a larger rear spoiler suggesting a sportier model was the current focus, while a set of Michelin Pilot Sport tyres (possibly track-focused Cup versions) looked like they may well be destined for a high-powered model.

Development engineers were unable to reveal any details of project work, but we suspect the centre may already be deep into the testing of future N-branded high-performance Hyundais.

The current-generation i30 small hatchback is just one model that received extensive honing at the centre and we were given an opportunity to experience the kind of conditions and extreme forces the Green Hell puts on both vehicles and their occupants alike, with a blast in the i30 Turbo.

Australia may not get the 1.6-litre warmed-up version of the i30 but its cousins – including the SR which is sold locally – all received important chassis and build development work at the European centre.

Conditions for our shot at the track were perfect with the late German summer offering a dry track and mid 20-degree temperatures.

Rolling out of the pit straight and into the first of 73 corners was at first a little intimidating given our company on the track consisted of some seriously modified and thoroughbred hardware.

Before we were even a third into the course, massively powerful machines were bearing down on the little Hyundai, which has just 137kW to contend with. The Nurburgring is a beautiful and imposing circuit, but almost as impressive is the pace at which amateur drivers in road-legal cars can negotiate it.

With so many twists and turns it is easy to see where the track earned its nickname with every kind of camber, gradient and corner you can imagine thrown at drivers relentlessly and exhaustively.

Just when you feel a feint sense of familiarity, the ring throws another blind crest, tightening bend or surprise hairpin at you.

While the i30 Turbo was far from the most powerful vehicle on track, its extensive chassis honing quickly became apparent, and with a bit more confidence we began to familiarise ourselves with each element of the track.

By lap two, the Hyundai started catching other cars and with the right line managed to chalk up a few overtaking moves. As with any track drive, a gentle hand is key and with smooth controls the i30 started getting a few surprised glances.

At one point we even battled a Caterham 7, pulling alongside in the trickier corners but then loosing out to the track-focused car’s power-to-weight ratio. The same was found with a few motorbikes and some hot hatchbacks you might think would be way out of the i30’s league.

Grip from the chassis was surprisingly high and even when asking a lot form the brakes we didn’t detect any fade. At the limit, the i30 can be provoked into a controllable and balanced sideways drift with no preference to either under or oversteer.

The i30 Turbo four-cylinder engine is essentially the same unit found under the bonnet of the Veloster Turbo and Kia Pro_cee’d GT but in a detuned state, which we think is a shame. With a little more poke, we might have embarrassed one or two other more powerful vehicles.

As the kilometres built and the fuel gauge fell we found the i30 getting into its natural rhythm, aggressively diving into Carousel, fighting the urge to lift in Foxhole and ignoring every human instinct at the unofficially named Miss-Hit-Miss.

After an evening on the track we rolled into the pits for the last time and let the brakes and scorching tyres cool off, but while the car was showing no signs of tiring, its occupants were exhausted.

The Nurburgring really is one of the most gruelling circuits we have ever experienced, which makes the capability of what may seem to many as just another sensible hatchback, all the more impressive.

Hyundai’s German research and development centre is not just an effort to earn European kudos, but a finely tuned facility that thrashes its models into submission and then polishes them to perfection.

We are very excited to see the first N-branded models that materialise from the Nurburgring centre, but every time you look at one of Hyundai’s more modest vehicles, remember that it too has a little Green Hell woven into its DNA.

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