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In detail: Hyundai springs better suspension in Aus

Fine tuned: Hyundai's Australian chassis and suspension team consists of general manager product engineering Hee Loong Wong (right), while world rally identity David Potter (left) is also heavily involved.

Hyundai's Australian chassis and suspension tuning team make big gains with Elantra


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29 Feb 2016

DISCOVERING just how good the Hyundai Australia chassis and suspension tuning team is means pushing the new Elantra small sedan harder than most owners will ever drive it.

But sitting alongside the brand’s chassis consultant David Potter on some of the most demanding roads in Australia, it is clear the South Korean car-maker has come a long way from its debut here three decades ago.

Whereas once the local market received the cars unaltered for Australian conditions, the suspension tuning team is involved earlier in the process, the pay-off being a complaint ride and controlled handling.

The Hyundai Motor Company Australia suspension and chassis team is made up of senior manager product planning Andrew Tuitahi, general manager product engineering Hee Loong Wong, David Potter and team and logistics manager Phillip Rodgers.

The process of gathering information from its Korean parent, on which to base their work, has become easier with positive results, according to Mr Wong.

“It is much easier now because the relationship has been built and there's respect on both sides, they seem to accept our approach of suspension tuning,” he said.

“They are willing and are starting to learn how we do things and they may not completely take our tune but they are looking at how we do things, how is the ride so compliant.

“The dampers have a build code, we all have access to each other's build code,” he said.

The Australian team’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by those in the company’s headquarters or other subsidiaries around the globe, with aspects of their work being adopted by other markets, but it is the ability to get involved earlier that has resulted in better chassis set-ups for Australian-spec models.

Potter’s rally background – he has been involved in championship-winning world rally teams for more than two decades – means he adopts less of a Germanic suspension tune that is more akin to his French region of residence, allowing it to ride and handle well.

“We're too small to have influence across the whole range but in certain design teams we're getting involved earlier,” he said. “That's important and it's advice more than anything else, it does help.

“Cars can be compliant and have cornering power that is so high, it doesn't need to be incredibly stiff.”

Fellow rally enthusiast Mr Wong concurred with Mr Potter's assessment.

“People talk about how well a car handles by how flat it sits – they don't have to sit flat, it’s about controlling the rate of roll rather than eliminating it,” he said.

The demands of both the Australian consumer and the terrain over which the cars are driven is unique to our market and the rally-bred knowledge of damper tuning has played an important role, according to Mr Potter.

“What is unique about Australia's terrain variety, it's quite possible the majority of the cars here at some point in their life will cover all of those terrains, whereas in other parts of the world that's much less likely.

“Car tune in Australia is a valid tune anywhere else in the world, it's going to work pretty well anywhere in the world,” he said.

Mr Wong agreed, recounting a recent tale of amazed Korean engineers watching Elantras doing the state limit on unsealed roads.

“The Korean engineers look at that with amazement, you can bring our suspension to any part of the world and it works,” he said.

The new Elantra program involved getting the Australian team on board earlier and allowed modelling and simulation work to be done on the new set-up, of which the aim was to deliver a more natural feel to the steering and improved ride and handling from the revised rear end.

The stiffer body gave the engineering team a better platform from which to work and has resulted in a more enjoyable drive, according to product planning senior manager Andrew Tuitahi.

“Probably the most noticeable improvement to the driving experience is the sense of response and refinement – the new Elantra feels much more premium,” he said.

The new model delivers less artificial feeling to the steering and improved front-end grip, but it’s the damper set-up on the torsion-beam rear end with upright, longer Mando (part of the Hyundai Group) dampers and repositioned coil springs, that has made a difference.

Originally inclined to reduce tower intrusion in the luggage space, the rear suspension reconfiguration has proven beneficial for the level of control from the dampers.

“While it works well there's less precise damping control … if you can use the whole range of the damper it's more precise,” Mr Potter said.

The end result has impressed the 50-year-old mechanical engineer, who kept a minor change between the team’s end result and the production car to himself but is impressed with the production car.

“It's pretty good. There was one detail between our car and the production car which I had a question about, but I have no reservations now. I'll keep it a secret but it's a small detail, but I'm happy with it.”

The Englishman – who’s thesis, Analysis and Design of Monotone Damper, resulted in a ground-breaking adjustable damper and patent – believes the final result is a good one.“I drove the Elantra production car genuinely for the first time on Saturday, coming up here, I was very pleasantly surprised to find the steering feel was very natural. Some electrics systems have been criticised for artificial loading, it's usually because the suspension isn't doing the job properly.

“Steering has advanced as well, the electronics are now 32-bit, but because we have good loadings there are no inconsistent inputs from the electric steering,” Mr Potter said.

The team has the world of rallying throughout its group and Mr Potter said he believes that’s a critical element in achieving the balance between compliance and control.

“The rallying background is so important, we have control at low speed, but the mid- and high-speed control as well – I drove it quite quickly four-up with plenty of luggage and only once did we hit the bump stops quite hard in the rear. We're now using the bump stops more as part of the suspension.”

The local chassis development team completed 48 tests on the Elantra, assessing 15 different front and 34 sets of rear dampers, as well as three different front spring sets, two different rear springs, two rear torsion beam bushes and two different front stabiliser bars.

“Before we start the tune I would have spent 10 or 15 days on the computer doing modelling simulation. Each damper build is coded on the damper dyne and then it goes back through the simulation, sometimes the damper goes on the vehicle or if it doesn't it gets re-done,” Mr Potter said.

Mr Potter and Mr Wong are also keen to point out that the objective data analysis is accompanied by the subjective feedback from the test drivers to find the best balance.

“It’s a system to really refine the build, the simulation is so good that we can almost accept the simulation build. Andrew is not here but he's a real acoustic specialist, he has great attention to detail, the end result is very good,” Mr Potter said.

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