Hyundai’s test and development centre at the Nürburgring is one year old this month.
When the facility, which cost more than £5m, was first announced I’m sure I wasn’t alone in raising a quizzical eye and wondering why a manufacturer that mainly sells family oriented cars feels the need to hammer its test mules around the Nordschleife.
It's one thing to use the Green Hell to hone the dynamics of a performance car, but it’s unlikely that a family holiday is going to include a white-knuckle lap of a track with two kids in the back and a bootful of luggage.
So why do car makers feel the need to hone their cars on the world’s most grueling circuit?
Yesterday, at the unveiling of the second-generation Hyundai i20 in Germany, I got the chance to put that question to Martin Bott. As the senior engineer for vehicle testing and development at Hyundai Motor Europe, his role involves flitting between Hyundai’s European headquarters in Russelsheim and the new facility at the Nürburgring.
“The test centre is our extended workbench,” he says. “We have some test tracks near our headquarters in Russelsheim, but they are not really usable for durability and reliability tests or for aspects such as suspension turning.
“Inside, the test centre has the same technology that we have for testing our scale models at Russelsheim and the same tools.”
Nordschleife lappery is not always about chasing a fast lap time. Indeed, many of the laps aren’t even carried out right on the ragged edge, but to a consistent target time.
“We employ professional drivers who are there every day and do around 20 laps per day,” says Bott. “It gives us a lot of feedback right away because we have several cars running at the same time.
The Nordschleife enables manufacturers to condense real-life testing into a more realistic time frame. Replicating the surface changes and undulations of the circuit would mean time-consuming travel to several real-world test locations. It’s a varied database, with many surface changes – smooth new asphalt, gnarly old bumpy bits and extremely slippery sections.
“We do around 485 laps per test vehicle, which is 10,000km (6256 miles) on the track but equivalent to between 150,000 and 180,000 test kilometres on public roads. In six months you can recreate the whole life cycle of a car, which is really important for us.”
Bott simply grinned when I asked him whether the Nürburgring test centre is proving to be a useful tool for honing the cooking i20 road car that is expected to be the first fruits of Hyundai’s new ‘N’ performance sub-brand. But when you’ve got the world’s best test track in your back garden, it’d be rude not to make good use of it.