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


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

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