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In conversation with Albert Biermann, head, R and D, Hyundai N-division
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In conversation with Albert Biermann, head, R and D, Hyundai N-division

By Sudipto Chaudhury

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In conversation with Albert Biermann, head, R and D, Hyundai N-division

Just as Kia (and now Hyundai) have harnessed the kudos and power of design boss Peter Schreyer over the past decade, so is Albert Biermann, who joined Hyundai’s N division from BMW’s M division at the end of 2014, transforming the Korean brands’ dynamics.

N is Biermann’s baby, through and through – although on the day evo meets him, he’s in the UK to assist with development work on some far more humdrum Hyundais. It’s a sign of how highly the Hyundai rates Biermann, as they promoted him to a president-level post at the start of this year, so that he could bring in another ex-BMW man, Thomas Schemera, to oversee the business and technical cooperation between N and Hyundai’s motorsport team.

So how has Biermann’s tenure in N division gone so far?

On the dynamics front, you suspect that Biermann has forced plenty of engineers’ jaws to hit the floor these past three years. ‘I’m constantly pushing on steering,’ Biermann admits. ‘Every time they give me a new setting, I seem to still want it a bit more direct around the centre. I think we’ve made improvements already on regular Hyundais and there are more to come, I know.’

First and foremost, though, Hyundai hired Biermann to build credibility for them in performance vehicles, so the response to the i30 N has given him pleasure and a not-insignificant amount of relief. ‘We’re actually sold out with the car in some countries,’ he says. ‘In Germany the waiting list is more than 1400 orders; that’s awkward, in a way, but a nice problem to have.

‘It also shows, I think, that we hit a nice balance with our first N car. You always have to think about the mix of power, performance, handling and the fact that this is going to probably be the person’s one car – that they use every day. The reaction shows that we got this right, I think.’ The i30 N is the first of three N models as the sub-brand ramps up. The next should be an N version of the Veloster coupe. Hyundai will not sell in the UK, and then an i30 N Fastback, which will.

So is there any truth in the N-related rumours?

As we talk, Biermann is constantly dipping between what’s theoretically possible and what’s actually happening. He won’t confirm internet speculation that a dual-clutch gearbox version of the i30 N is coming later this year. But at the same time, he suggests that were such a car to exist (ahem), it may need a few more horses to cope with the auto gearbox’s extra bulk.

How about an i30 N Tourer? ‘Possible, but not planned.’ An i20 N? ‘We have to go there, with the WRC programme, but it may not be for a while.’ (The next generation of the car, in 2020, is the smart bet, although Biermann declines to confirm this.)

What we’re not going to see any time soon is an i30 with much more than the current N’s 271bhp. There are technical reasons behind this, he says; the base motor for the car’s 2-litre turbo powerplant isn’t the freshest in the Hyundai line-up. This makes a Civic Type R-rivalling figure out of the question. At the same time, Biermann doesn’t see a need to even go there – for the time being.

‘The reason the i30 N is doing well is because of that balance,’ he says. ‘So what happens if we start to add more power? The character starts to change; you gain a few tenths at the circuit, but you lose some everyday liveability. I’m pretty happy with where that car is right now.’

Outside of N, Biermann has spotted some extra potential in the Kia Stinger. ‘Would you like to see a Stinger with a manual gearbox?’ he asks. ‘A slightly more focused one, with the four-cylinder turbo engine and a bit less weight? There’s a related vehicle in the US [the latest Genesis G70] which has the right components for this.’

Sounds like a Kia Stinger ‘CS’ to us – and that shouldn’t really be a surprise, given Biermann’s CV. And in case you’re wondering, yes, we’ve urged him to get on with developing it.

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