Why these two test facilities, 6000 miles apart, were crucial to the making of Hyundai’s first N model
For a performance car to be truly accomplished it needs to be put through its paces at a suitably challenging testing facility. Hyundai uses two: Namyang and the Nürburgring
ONCE THE i30 N HAD BEEN HONED AT NAMYANG, IT WAS SENT TO THE RING TO BE TORTURED
LETTERS ON THE BACK OF FAST CARS CAN indicate all kinds of exotic locations and technology. But while the likes of RS and GT are well known, Hyundai’s choice of ‘N’ might at first have seemed odd. But as we now know, the N stands for the two test tracks where the i30 was turned from an everyday hatchback into one of the most accomplished and surprising performance cars we have ever tried.
The first N is little known outside of Hyundai: Namyang, Hyundai Motors’ global R&D centre in South Korea, where the idea for a performance Hyundai was born. It’s a truly massive complex, covering over 3.3 million square metres – about five times the size of Disneyland; and for car fans, it would be more fun than a theme park, too.
The site includes 34 different types of roads for testing. The attention to detail is astonishing, with engineers having accurately recreated roads from around the world all in one place. And yes, there are plenty of British-specification roads in this corner of Korea, and they include potholes and speed bumps that have been measured from the engineers’ favourite UK testing routes and replicated faithfully in Namyang. Perhaps the most interesting, however, is the innocuously named ‘Area C’ – the high-performance test circuit. It is almost exclusively used to test N models and gave its name to the Project C limited-edition i30 N.
The facility as a whole enables testing to be done away from the prying eyes of spy photographers, as security is tighter than at most military bases. Behind the closed doors of Namyang’s buildings, 13,000 engineers beaver away to hone powertrain and aerodynamics to ensure future N products are a step above the company’s regular models. As the i30 N is the fastest road car Hyundai has ever built and is expected to behave predictably even when flat out on an autobahn, special attention was paid to its highspeed stability. Months of testing took place in the wind tunnel to make sure the spoilers, air dams and other surfacing that make the car look muscular aren’t just for show.
Once the i30 N had been honed at Namyang, it was sent to Germany and the Nürburgring – the second N – to be tortured. The 12.9-mile circuit doesn’t only provide the ultimate trackday experience – it’s also the venue of choice for engineers to test the latest models and technology. A core ‘industry pool’ of car and component suppliers use the circuit most weekdays, hammering around with chassis engineers and measuring equipment on board. It’s a track where the dips, cambers, changing surfaces and deceptive corners will quickly catch out a badly set up car. It features a height difference of 300 metres between its highest and lowest points, with uphill gradients of 17 per cent in some places. No other circuit contains such a selection of high- and low-speed corners with every combination of gradient. If a car works on the 73 tortuous twists and turns of the Nordschleife, then it’s pretty certain it will work on any road in the world.
Each Hyundai tested here laps the Nürburgring 420 to 480 times in both dry and wet conditions, simulating more than 110,000 miles of driving in just four weeks, and on days when the circuit isn’t available, test drivers take to the equally challenging roads that surround the circuit to gather even more data, and also head to the nearest autobahn for some high-speed testing. Less than a kilometre from the circuit’s paddock is the home of Hyundai Motors’ own 3600-square-metre testing centre. This glass and steel building opened in 2013 and features four floors of workshops and offices. Operated as a satellite of the company’s Frankfurt-based Hyundai Motor Europe Technical Centre, it is home to a team of professional drivers, many of them ex-racers, who are responsible for every aspect of testing carried out at the Nürburgring.
They need that experience too, as their task is to drive at 90 to 95 per cent of the maximum possible speed for the car while looking for unwanted behaviour from the chassis and powertrain. Driving at nine-tenths on the Nordschleife for lap after lap is hard work enough, but to make it even more of a challenge, computers continually monitor the data from their drive, assessing steering input and suspension movement. The data recorded during the tests is analysed and directly transferred to Namyang, where the requisite changes can be made to improve the quality and characteristics of the car.
This process was key to the development of the i30 N, and it will continue to be the litmus test for all future N products. The objective is not to chase the ultimate lap times: Albert Biermann and his team are more interested in making sure the i30 N is quick and rewarding on the road while being more than capable of handling a trackday.
As such, the i30 N might well trail behind a more extreme rival’s lap times with a pro at the wheel, but it goes a long way to explaining why we hold it in such high regard as a fast road car. Thanks to the skills of the engineers working 6000 miles apart in Namyang and Nürburg, the letter N now represents a badge of honour for performance car connoisseurs.
Above left: Hyundai’s Namyang complex is South Korea is where N cars are born and developed. Left: The Ring is where they are stresstested and fine-tuned