‘Paddon power’ set to fuel performance push?

A turbocharged edition of the just-landed Elantra compact sedan is a touchpaper to an even more explosive Hyundai coming around March, 2017.


RAMPED up effort to shift some of Hyundai’s World Rally Car shine to its road cars starts in a couple of months with an example of subtle sizzle – though the heat turns right up next year, with a hardened performance model honed in Europe and perhaps finessed by Hayden Paddon.

With Kiwi customer interest in Hyundai being fired through Paddon’s impressive world championship performances, culminating in a maiden victory in Argentina that leaves him team top dog and second in the WRC standings, the New Zealand distributor is seeing increasingly positive spin from adding in some racier product beyond the Veloster coupe.

First off the rank is a version of the compact Elantra sedan that has just launched locally.

As the latest recipient of the brand’s 1.6-litre turbo that also installs in the Veloster SR Turbo and an i30 Turbo sold in Europe, the SR Limited flagship coming around August has a smaller heart but a stronger beat than the mainstream 2.0-litre entry and Elite versions that have just hit the market and might also stand as a smaller brother to the Sonata Turbo.

Whereas the $35,990 entry Elantra and its more swish $4000-dearer alternate run with 112kW and 192Nm, operating through a six-speed automatic, the SR takes a 150kW/265Nm powerhouse reaching the road via a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox.

The SR is just part one of this action story. Part two, a confirmed arrival around March 2017, is a hottie based on the i30 hatch expected to be of the same fiery quality as the VW Golf GTi and Ford Focus ST.

This is the first product of the performance ‘N’ sub-brand that involves all the top ex-BMW and VW Group engineers and designers that Hyundai has recruited – including Albert Biermann, who made his name developing some of BMW’s best M product.

The N i30 has been developed at an engineering base at Germany’s Nurburgring circuit – but the motorsport connection goes further.

It is believed that Hyundai Europe has sought the assistance of its WRC drivers to help with chassis development. It’s likely, therefore, that Paddon could be helping sort the car that – in the absence of a road racer version of the i20 he competes with – is going to stand as the best opportunity to experience at least some of the speed and handling thrill that the Kiwi enjoys.

The Elantra SR also has a WRC connect, in that the NZ-market suspension has been tuned by Hyundai Australia’s Sydney-based suspension tuning team, with diagnostic help from a British suspension guru who is a former World Rally Championship engineer.

Australian media say David Potter played a key role in finalising a bespoke chassis tune, with unique suspension/damper/strut/bushing configurations.

Points of difference between the standard and sporting Elantra go further: The performance-tuned model has an independent rear suspension system in place of the regular model’s rear torsion bar setup. Talk is that the steering is quicker and more direct.

It also upsizes to 18-inch rubber and will have a body kit, sports seats and a flat-bottom steering wheel. Is that enough to provide immediate street respect? From driving the standard Elantra, in Elite tune, on a press preview day this week, the jury s definitely out. The new sedan has an alluring shape, no question: It has the air of a three-quarter scale Sonata and evokes a good sense of dimensional correctness.

However sedans of all sizes are clearly feeling a world of hurt as their traditional support base keeps slipping into crossovers and sports utilities and, as as good looking as it is, the Elantra mightn’t have a strong enough visual pull to stop that retreat. In on-road aspect, too, it’s not exactly out to immediately change perception about its perceived role: From first impression, the SR will have it easy settling in as the sporty choice – that descriptive doesn’t seem to affix instantly to the Elite.

Outside, the Elantra SR will get 18-inch wheels (the tyres to be used are unclear) and a bodykit, while inside you’ll get sports seats and a flat-bottom steering wheel. Expect the regular specification to otherwise mirror the Elantra Elite, meaning a 7.0-inch touchscreen that is the first Hyundai to demand the smartphone-associated Apple CarPlay and Google Maps integration, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert and front and rear park assist among the standard equipment.

Spokesman Cory Gordon says the model is a good flagbearer for Hyundai technology but isn’t expected to achieve more than a modest percentage of the 300 Elantra registrations expected for the remainder of this year, probably matching the Elite.

“The Elantra (in general) will appeal to fleets for a small segment sedan and also recently retired customers who want to downsize, but we think the (SR) Limited will appeal those who consider themselves drivers.”

That’s also been the impetus with the Sonata Turbo, who has so far gained 15 registrations this year; three of the four Veloster editions here are also Turbos, these accounting for 15 of the 20 registrations for the coupe in 2016 to date. Gordon also cites the Tucson Turbo, also with the 1.6-litre and DCT box, as being the other family member. It has achieved 81 sales to date.

While the Elantra SR will be promoted as a special treat, and Hyundai NZ has enjoyed immediate success promoting the Paddon flavour having sold the entire run of 50 Santa Fe special editions dedicated to the driver that launched right before his mainden win in Argentina, Gordon says it is unlikely that the Elantra will also be marketed in similar suit.

“At this stage, in terms of marketing strategy, it’s too early to tell if we will go down that way but at this point we are probably just looking at it as the Elantra turbo variant as we have down at Sonata level.”

However, he agrees the Santa Fe experience has demonstrated the pulling power of the Geraldine driver, who for the past few years has enjoyed increasing financial support from the company and its dealer network.

“My understanding is that all those cars (the Santa Fe models) were pre-sold before they had even arrived in the country.”

Ironically, the one car that ties best to the Kiwi – the new i20 small hatchback – is also the one car that cannot be secured to leverage his appeal. The model is still only produced in Turkey and wholly for Europe. NZ might be able to secure supply when production begins in South Korea, presumably from early 2017.

Even so, the real impetus will come with the N division models; there are several in the pipeline but for now Hyundai has only cited the i30-drawn starter car and will not be drawn on whether it might one day make an i20 hot hatch. One conjecture is that the small rocket is coming – but won’t release until after year’s big changes to WRC effect, with movement to faster, higher tech and more aero product.

“Whether or not the N range is more suitable to tie in with Hayden is something that we are considering … the Turbo edition will probably fit in as the entry to the performance range with the N model being the full-on offer.”

The N i30 is likely to arrive in the first quarter of 2017, at the same time as the new generation of the mainstream i30 lands.

Gordon says he has yet to have a one-to-one discussion with Paddon about the rallyist’s involvement with the N programme. Talk is that the WRC team drivers have been asked to involve in offering opinion and advice on chassis tuning.