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Kia tuning adds substance to style

Local input: Like other vehicles before it, the next-generation Kia Cerato will feature suspension tweaked by Australian engineers.

Australia-specific tuning gives Kia range critical chops to match sharp styling

3 Dec 2012

By MIKE COSTELLO in LOS ANGELES

KIA Australia believes introducing specific local suspension tuning has not only made its cars sharper to drive but also added substance to the ephemeral style of its new Euro-inspired body designs.

Like parent company Hyundai, Kia conducts months of pre-production testing on local roads through an engineering team headed by consultant Graeme Gambold, fine-tuning the suspension and steering for local conditions and tastes.

This process has been in place for several years and been applied to vehicles such as the Rio, Optima, Sportage and Sorento – and will also feature on the forthcoming new Cerato that GoAuto viewed last week at the Los Angeles motor show.

According to Kia Australia public relations manager Kevin Hepworth, tweaking the car’s ride and handling locally has been hugely important, not necessarily because buyers notice any dynamic improvement but rather because it gives the perception that the company is more engaged with its customers.

“I don’t know if they (drivers) understand or feel the difference, but what they do know and feel is that Kia cares about what the Australian driver gets, and that’s important,” he said.

 center imageMr Hepworth claims the process also adds crucial engineering depth that will sustain the company’s vehicles once the gloss of the sharp new designs, penned by a department led by ex-Audi staffer Peter Schreyer, fades over time.

“There’s no doubt in the world from our point of view that Schreyer and his team were the best investment they (Kia headquarters) ever made.

“The design direction that Schreyer enshrined in the company was priceless, absolutely priceless. But, it was only going to live alone for a certain time. They had to back it up with better engineering. They had to back it up with better technology.

“I don’t think Kia leads in very many areas as far as technology or engineering are concerned, but they certainly don’t trail. At every turn they are making ground, and so are Hyundai.” Mr Hepworth made no bones about Kia’s goal of matching the dynamic nous of premium European brands and said each new generation of a nameplate would be exponentially more advanced as its local tuning knowledge grew over time.

“Generally, our benchmarks for smaller cars are German vehicles, often Volkswagen. For larger cars, the Kia Sorento was benchmarked against the BMW X5 and, while we’re the first ones to say we didn’t reach X5, we got really close.” The process of tuning a car for local conditions takes around three months.

Pre-production cars arrive here from Korea without any modifications, then the local team tests up to 30 different spring, roll-bar and damper rates, and tweak the steering.

Mr Hepworth said the final challenge was convincing the factory to build the tweaks into all vehicles headed for Australia, helped by the ability of Mr Gambold – a former Toyota vehicle dynamics engineer – to speak in engineering terms, rather than talking about “rally-driver feel”.

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