Examining the influence of N boss Albert Biermann

– SN

1998c c ur bo -4, FWD, 202k W/353N m, 1429k g $39,990

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.

– SN