Albert Biermann: The man behind Hyundai/Kia’s performance push
As Hyundai Motor Group’s president of performance development and high-performance vehicle development, Albert Biermann has been instrumental is in giving the Kia Stinger, Genesis G70 and Hyundai Veloster N their top-notch handling dynamics. This success shouldn’t come as a surprise. The talented German spent 34 years at BMW as boss of BMW M development, where he developed icons such as the original E30 M3 and M5. KBB caught up with Biermann at Thunderhill Raceway Park in California, at the national press introduction for the 2019 Hyundai Veloster N.
How do you tune the Veloster N to feel great on a racetrack but also be comfortable for everyday driving?
A big part of the secret is the Nürburgring. The Nürburgring is a track with many high-speed corners, very challenging. And then we also have many roads around the Nürburgring, which are very challenging back-country roads. You can achieve many, many things there. Every time we tried something different, we go back to the Nürburgring.
With Veloster N, which carried more importance, comfort or track abilities?
It’s easy to say they’re both the same. We are the new kid on the block, so we have to make our mark. With the i30 N [a European-market Hyundai hatch similar to the Veloster], I said it’s no problem if it’s a little bit too stiff. But everybody has to be clear about what is N. We don’t do this for journalists, we do this for the customers. Our i30 N customers are track-day nuts, and for them the car can’t be stiff enough. We know that. So, if you push the N button on the i30 N, it’s not like on the Veloster. The Veloster you can still drive on the road. But here the roads are more challenging and so we respect that.
You have a history of tuning some classic rear-wheel-drive BMWs. What’s the difference about tuning a front-drive car, such as Veloster?
The physics, basically, are the same. Of course, with rear-wheel drive you have some challenges. Snap oversteer, when it gets wet and slippery and so on. With a front-wheel drive car--I mean, I never worked on front-wheel drive before, intensely--you have to find where the car talks to you and where you want to dance with your car. The throttle-off turn-in is nice and easy. We really worked hard on that one. And this carving feel we have with the electronic limited-slip differential--I never had that in a rear-wheel drive like this. This is very enjoyable.
We also gave it a little bit of torque steer, so you can sense the power you put to the tarmac. That’s a great thing, if it’s not too much. You can’t have that in a rear-wheel-drive car. That sense of how you put the power down is the one area in which we had the most discussions. I said if we get good steering feedback, good steering response, good steering linearity and position, I can easily accept a certain amount of torque steer. We worked hard to find that balance. We developed new functions in the ESC stability control, in the steering and in the limited-slip differential. In the end, I think that the fun factor of a front-wheel-drive car can be on the same level as a rear-wheel-drive car. The good part with this little car: You can enjoy it much more often than a powerful rear-wheel-drive car. In any weather. It is so much more forgiving and the driving experience is more intense. So, I think we can have a lot of fun in the Veloster N, even compared to the most fun-to-drive rear-wheel-drive cars. You don’t have to be an expert to have that.
Does the optional Performance Package have a smaller diameter front anti-roll bar to make the Veloster N understeer less?
Yes, we had a little bit of power understeer, so we managed this by reducing the size of the front anti-roll bar. I checked the tires of all the track cars yesterday, and the tire wear is fantastic. We changed the balance a little bit, front to rear. And dynamically, with the damping, that’s the good part. With dynamic roll support we can independently tune front and rear. So dynamically it works nicely.
What is the Veloster N’s best characteristic?
Driving fun for very affordable money. The way it is balanced to the point of very enjoyable driving. On the road, it’s compliant and acceptable. And on the racetrack it can be your little beast.
Did you have a performance target for the Veloster N?
No. In the beginning, when we started with the first-generation N vehicles, we drove many hatchbacks. But then at some point, that was enough. Then we made a clear idea of what should our car stand for. And then we said, “Okay. We don’t want a numbers car. We are not numbers cars. We make enjoyable cars for normal people. People can grow with this car to a high-performance level.” The fun has to be accessible in the normal driving. You don’t have to go to a racetrack to enjoy this N car. That’s what we tried—we tried to make it at an affordable cost so we avoided Recaros and Brembos and Bilsteins and used our own suppliers.
What would be faster around the Nordschleife: An original BMW E30 M3 or a Veloster N?
Oh, a stock M3? I think the Veloster N would be faster. But a similar amount of fun. I think the original E30 M3 was a very fun car.
Why did you specify drop throttle backfires and pops on the Veloster N?
This is done on purpose. In N mode, when we go off throttle, we inject some fuel to put some energy into the exhaust to keep the turbocharger running. You get this nice popping and crackle noise. It came easily. Everybody loved it. So, we didn’t see any reason to change it. It’s not a full anti-lag system, but it has the same idea to put more energy into the exhaust stream.
With a name like Biermann, do you like beer?
Yes, I do.
German. Pilsner. Warsteiner.
How’s the Korean beer?
Oh, Korean beer. Kloud is pretty good. Kloud is my favorite Korean beer. I had my first one in October 2014 and I keep drinking it.