Having turned the mass motoring sector on its head with a range of mid-market cars that make most of Europe’s established offerings look like cheap knock-offs when it comes to quality and reliability, Kia and Hyundai are now embarking on a series of new performance cars that plan to do to the Golf GTI what the Ceed did to the Focus. What’s more, they are being developed by BMW M’s former vice president of engineering, Albert Biermann (pictured above).
Biermann doesn’t pull any punches on his former employers. ‘At Kia and Hyundai I spend more time actually driving and discussing cars with engineers than I did at BMW M. There it was all meetings and arguing about money with accountants,’ he says. But he’s equally tough on his new paymasters, who have tasked him with developing Kia’s current GT line of models, bringing a new sports saloon to market in 2017 (previewed in 2011 with the GT Concept, pictured above) and delivering Hyundai’s N Performance models to market. ‘When I joined Kia I was given an Optima to drive to a meeting in Germany,’ he says. ‘It was about the future of the GT-brand models, to hear about the strategy. They told me that the car I had driven to the meeting was an Optima GT, I said: “No it isn’t!”’
This view delayed the Optima GT’s launch until Biermann was satisfied the company had an acceptable base to start from. A more powerful engine and some badges didn’t make a GT in Biermann’s eyes, so what does?
‘For every Kia the handling has to be precise, but for the GT customer they know what they are buying and expect better response from the chassis and engines. The [Kia] GT models are going to be focused on road driving, they can’t be too harsh or noisy, but with [Hyundai] N Performance we can clearly focus in a way that works better on track.’
Kia’s European models receive special chassis tuning compared with models destined for the American and Asian markets – Kia/Hyundai has a test centre at the Nürburgring – but Biermann wants to take this further for the performance brands: ‘We’re doing a large amount of chassis tuning in Europe, and are spending some time in the UK, too, but maybe not enough.’
So what are Biermann and his team working on? There’s Kia’s first dedicated performance car, due early in 2017; they are also working on a high-power all-wheel-drive car (‘but only for research purposes’), and unrelated to any existing Hyundai model will be the new range of N Performance cars (much promoted with concepts such as the N 2025 Vision Gran Turismo, pictured below).
With Kia and Hyundai having successfully taken on and beaten Europe’s established volume manufacturers, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t turn the performance sector on its head, too.