Ex­am­in­ing the in­flu­ence of N boss Al­bert Bier­mann

Motor (Australia) - - LONG TERMERS -

AL­BERT BIER­MANN re­lo­cated half way around the world to move next door. Al­pha­bet­i­cally next door, that is. Reg­u­lar read­ers will prob­a­bly be aware that be­fore he be­came Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent for Ve­hi­cle Test­ing and High Per­for­mance De­vel­op­ment at Hyundai and Kia, Bier­mann was a BMW vet­eran of 32 years, climb­ing the cor­po­rate lad­der to the very top rung as head of M Di­vi­sion.

In April 2015, Bier­mann re­lo­cated from Mu­nich to Namyang and sub­se­quently moved from M Di­vi­sion to N Di­vi­sion. Any­one fa­mil­iar with re­cent BMW M prod­ucts will soon no­tice Bier­mann’s fin­ger­prints all over the i30 N. While hun­dreds of en­gi­neers were in­volved with the de­vel­op­ment of Hyundai’s first hot hatch, as project leader Bier­mann had the fi­nal say and it’s clear he’s car­ried cer­tain de­vel­op­ment philoso­phies with him, philoso­phies that were no doubt a large part of the rea­son Hyundai-Kia poached him in the first place.

The i30 N’s USP is its al­most end­less con­fig­ura­bil­ity. Steer­ing weight, damper stiff­ness, en­gine re­sponse, diff ac­tu­a­tion, ex­haust note and more can all be adjusted through ei­ther two or three dif­fer­ent set­tings. I once asked an M en­gi­neer why all th­ese modes were of­fered – surely it would be bet­ter to just of­fer one ‘cor­rect’ mode?

He ex­plained that cus­tomers en­joy them, there’s no ‘cost’ in of­fer­ing them – ie, you don’t have to sac­ri­fice any­thing on the en­gi­neer­ing front – and there’s value in the abil­ity to have, for ex­am­ple, heav­ier steer­ing at au­to­bahn ve­loc­i­ties com­pared to park­ing speeds. Fair point, but the ap­proach only re­ally works if there’s a ‘one-size-fit­sall’ set­ting that suits the ma­jor­ity of driv­ing sce­nar­ios with­out the need to con­stantly al­ter set­tings.

Thank­fully, the i30 N by and large pulls it off. For day-to-day driv­ing my pref­er­ence is to leave ev­ery­thing more or less in its de­fault mode; about the only changes I ever make are oc­ca­sional for­ays into Sport if

I’m feel­ing in­spired or a press of the REV but­ton on the steer­ing wheel if I’m feel­ing lazy and can’t be both­ered blip­ping my own throt­tle on down­changes. Hyundai has suc­cess­fully of­fered the ‘ul­ti­mate’ set­ting that means I can get in and drive with­out the need to hit a bunch of but­tons.

As a quick aside: what does the i30 N have in com­mon with the Porsche

Carrera GT? An anti-stall func­tion. Hav­ing been taken to task by Hyundai’s PR boss for my com­plaint about the ease with which it’s pos­si­ble to stall the i30 N – which is more a func­tion of my lazy driv­ing than any fault of the car – I in­ves­ti­gated the anti-stall sys­tem, which is sep­a­rate from the revmatch­ing func­tion. This brings me back to the Carrera GT.

Upon its re­lease, Porsche’s megabuck hy­per­car was crit­i­cised for the sav­agery of its tiny car­bon-ce­ramic clutch. Whether Porsche for­got to men­tion it or, more likely, journos for­got to lis­ten, the Carrera GT had an in-built anti-stall func­tion that al­lowed for smooth take-offs as long as you didn’t touch the throt­tle, which con­fused the sys­tem and al­lowed the en­gine to die.

Now, anti-stall or not, I’m not sug­gest­ing the i30 N is any­thing like as capri­cious as the Carrera GT, but I think the sys­tems op­er­ate in a sim­i­lar fash­ion. Let the clutch out slowly with no throt­tle and the i30 N smoothly moves from a stand­still; ap­ply a lit­tle bit of throt­tle and the com­puter thinks you’re tak­ing things into your own hands – or, in this case, feet – backs off the as­sis­tance and if you’re sloppy with your in­puts, lets the en­gine die. Re­gard­less, stalling has be­come much less com­mon in re­cent times.

When it’s time to use the i30 N as its maker in­tended there are two op­tions. Ei­ther cy­cle through the drive modes us­ing the but­ton be­low the left-hand spoke of the steer­ing wheel, which shifts all re­spec­tive com­po­nents to Eco, Nor­mal or Sport. The sec­ond op­tion is the che­quered flag but­ton on the other side of the horn. One press ac­ti­vates the max­i­mum at­tack N Mode, but a sec­ond press al­lows you to in­di­vid­u­ally se­lect your favoured com­bi­na­tion of set­tings in an N Cus­tom mode.

Of course, any­one who has driven a BMW M model in the past decade will be fa­mil­iar with the M but­ton, ex­panded with the lat­est gen­er­a­tion of cars with an ‘M1’ and M2’ but­ton, al­low­ing the driver to save two set­ting com­bi­na­tions.

In the Hyundai, the var­i­ous set­tings are se­lected via the cen­tral touch­screen with the menus split into Pow­er­train and Chas­sis. For ref­er­ence, my N Cus­tom se­lec­tions are max­i­mum sporti­ness for ev­ery Pow­er­train set­ting, while on the chas­sis side it’s Nor­mal steer­ing, ESC in Sport and sus­pen­sion in ei­ther Nor­mal or Sport de­pend­ing on the de­mands of the road.

Re­turn­ing to the con­ver­sa­tion with that M en­gi­neer, I sup­pose that’s the ad­van­tage of th­ese myr­iad set­tings – choice. For mine the ex­cep­tion is steer­ing; I can’t imag­ine a sce­nario in which you’d want heav­ier steer­ing than the Nor­mal weight­ing – why in­crease the driv­ing ef­fort?

Next month, we en­gage N Cus­tom mode and test the i30’s abil­i­ties at the race­track. –



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