Be­ware the Veloster

Fast fours, pres­tige sedans ... What’s go­ing on at Hyundai?

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive - PAUL GOVER CHIEF REPORTER

A SIN­IS­TER flat-black Veloster Turbo is carv­ing the coun­try’s best driv­ing roads as Hyundai pushes for the fi­nal break­through in Aus­tralia.

It’s chas­ing the in­gre­di­ent that will el­e­vate the Korean brand be­yond the main­stream and into the space where cars sell be­cause they are good, not just good value.

The stealthy Veloster — dubbed “Veloster Rap­tor” in­ter­nally — is pow­ered by the dreams of the Aus­tralian engineering crew and the skill of World Rally Cham­pi­onship driver Chris Atkin­son.

But the Veloster project could be over­taken, and blown away, as Hyundai gets se­ri­ous about be­com­ing more than just the “$990 car com­pany” across the globe.

Af­ter nearly two decades with cars that put value above any­thing, and in­vari­ably tout a Tar­get-style pric­etage with the num­bers 990 at the end of the show­room sticker, Hyundai wants to be taken se­ri­ously.

As a state­ment of in­tent, it’s about to con­firm a Ge­n­e­sis lux­ury flag­ship for Aus­tralia, it is tack­ling the World Rally Cham­pi­onship from Jan­uary and is an­nounc­ing an all-new per­for­mance di­vi­sion called N.

The N de­vel­op­ment shows the great­est prom­ise.

Hyundai knows that it needs a high-per­for­mance halo to shine on its shop­ping trol­leys, a la AMG at Mercedes-Benz, M at BMW, ST and RS at Ford and even S and RS at Audi.

Here it could be as im­por­tant as the Holden Spe­cial Ve­hi­cles wand for the Com­modore or the Re­nault­Sport badge, which has be­come the call­ing card for the whole French brand.

“N is a step-change for our brand,” Hyundai spokesman Bill Thomas tells Carsguide. “This is a se­ri­ous engineering op­er­a­tion pro­duc­ing cars for driv­ing en­thu­si­asts.”

Hyundai guys joke that “N is one bet­ter than M”. How­ever, it stands for Namyang, the site of Hyundai’s re­search-and­de­vel­op­ment HQ. I first vis­ited Namyang in the early 1990s, when the Ex­cel was noth­ing more than a throw­away car, and was stag­gered by the num­ber of si­mul­ta­ne­ous pro­grams and engineering fa­cil­i­ties.

It took a long time for Namyang to ad­vance be­yond ba­sic engineering — the likes of fuel econ­omy and quiet trans­mis­sions — but in the past five years it has been re­spon­si­ble for the road-up im­prove­ments that have been driv­ing Hyundai and baby brother Kia.

The real proof of the Namyang work comes in 2014 with the Ge­n­e­sis, a 3.8-litre V6 pres­tige sedan that that’s clos­est in con­cept to a Holden Calais. Hyundai has flopped with pre­vi­ous at­tempts to go up­mar­ket — typ­i­fied by the dis­mal Terracan SUV and the chintzy Gran­deur sedan — but we ex­pect con­fir­ma­tion of re­lease de­tails at next month’s Detroit mo­tor show with prices in the high $50,000 range.

On the N front, few de­tails have emerged since the an­nounce­ment of the new di­vi­sion at the un­veil­ing of the WRC con­tender last week.

But the short speech of Ed­ward Lee, the for­mer head of Hyundai in Aus­tralia and now the com­pany’s global vi­cepres­i­dent of in­ter­na­tional sales, un­der­scores the com­pany’s

Namyang style: The N per­for­mance di­vi­sion seeks to be Hyundai’s halo badge

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