| 1:59 PM EST

Engineering the 2012 Hyundai Veloster

Sure, it looks like nothing else on the road. Yes, there is a cleverly hidden third door. There’s plenty of tech on the inside. It drives like something a couple segments above. And the MSRP is incredible. Go figure.
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David Dutko, senior engineer, Vehicle Development, Chassis & Brake, Hyundai-Kia Design & Technical Center (Irvine, CA), grew up in southeastern Michigan. Not surprisingly, he comes from a family with years spent in the auto industry, a family tree with roots in places like Chrysler and General Motors. And in Dutko’s case, he started at Ford. And, again, no surprise, for a guy growing up in that environment, an interest in fast cars grew. In Dutko’s case, that interest developed into more than a casual one in racing: he actually drove in various series; before he landed at Ford, he was working for a series of racing teams and builders.


For those teams Dutko worked on engines.


Yet now he’s intimately involved in developing the ride and handling setups for Hyundais. The reason is as understandable as it is clever: when he was at Ford, it was recognized that someone who was a race car driver would have a thorough and intimate understanding of what it takes to have a vehicle that rides well, that is able to not only accelerate but corner. So he ended up undertaking those development challenges.


He acknowledges that while his primary focus today at Hyundai is on chassis, he gets to participate in some engine development programs, such as a supercharged Genesis that was developed for SEMA. “Hyundai reminds me of a racing team,” Dutko says, talking about the developmental cross-functionality that occurs (e.g., a chassis guy working on a blown engine).


Dutko’s most recent production car project is the Veloster, the car that was conceived in the U.S. for the youth market, yet which was designed by Goo Lee, design manager, Hyundai Namyang Design Center (South Korea); engineered in the Hyundai Namyang Technology Research Center; and is being manufactured at the massive Ulsan, South Korea, complex, which is said to be the largest manufacturing plant in the world.


So how does a guy based in Irvine, CA, have an effect on something that happened (and is happening) about 5,800 miles away?


Dutko answers that it is by a lot of trial-and-error development. A lot of bootstrap engineering. And a significant amount of working with other engineers in a manner that respects what they have done yet which helps advance the state of the product for all parties.


Case in point on the Veloster is in the rear suspension.


The car is described by Mike O’Brien, vice president, Product and Corporate Planning, Hyundai Motor America, as “eco-sport.” We’ll get to the eco part shortly, when discussing the powertrain. But the sport part for this three-door coupe (yes, three, with the third being a somewhat truncated access panel for the rear seat on the passenger’s side, cleverly designed such that it isn’t readily visible) is where the body and suspension come into play.


A fundamental of the car is that it has high torsional body rigidity. The benchmark for the Veloster is the Volkswagen Scirocco, which comes in at 23.1 Hz. They bested that with the Veloster: 32.8 Hz. There is the extensive use of high-strength steel (HSS) in the body structure. (O’Brien notes that within Hyundai Corporation there is Hyundai Steel, so not only is there steel production but also steel R&D specifically oriented toward vehicle manufacture.) The Veloster body has 42% HSS and 23% ultra HSS.


Another point about the use of HSS: it helps reduce the overall weight of the car. The Veloster with an automatic transmission (it is actually a dual-clutch transmission) has a curb weight of 2,657 lb. And here are the figures for its competitive set, also with automatics:


• Honda CR-Z: 2,690 lb.

• MINI Clubman: 2,800 lb.

• Scion tC: 3,102 lb.

• VW Beetle: 2,983 lb.


Which provides benefits with regard to fuel efficiency (less mass means less to move) and performance.


The front suspension uses MacPherson struts, gas-changed hydraulic shock absorbers, and a 24-mm stabilizer bar. It is in the rear where Dutko and his colleagues came up with a means to make the car stiffer and to control body roll. There is a torsion axle design. Mono-tube gas-charged shocks are used. The torsion beam is V-shaped. Essentially a stamping. And if you think about it, a “V” has an open section, which reduces its rigidity. So in order to increase the stiffness, Dutko says that they deployed a 23-mm integrated torsion bar.


Note that this approach is a means by which there was a complementing of the engineering that had been done in Namyang, not a substitution. (And having had the opportunity to put the Veloster through some serious twists and turns around the Columbia River Valley, I can attest to the stiffness achieved.)


Now to the “Eco” part.


The Veloster uses an all-new, all-aluminum, 1.6-liter four cylinder engine, which is the smallest engine Hyundai has developed that uses gasoline direct injection. It produces 138 hp @ 6,300 rpm and 123 lb-ft of torque @ 4,850 rpm. (The horsepower number and displacement size translates to a specific output of 86.3 hp/liter, which is best in class, with the class consisting of the vehicle listed above.) The engine features dual continuously variable valve timing (i.e., on both camshafts), which provides increased volumetric efficiency versus use on a single camshaft, reduced pumping losses for improved fuel economy, and a reduction in emissions. There is electronic timing control. Hydraulic engine mounts. There were several efforts to reduce friction, including positioning the crankshaft slightly offset in order to reduce the drag on the pistons during the stroke and using a diamond-like coating on the tappets. There is a chromium nitride (CrN) coating applied to the piston compression rings with physical vapor deposition.


All of this contributes to fuel efficiency numbers of 28 mpg city and 40 mpg highway when the Veloster has a six-speed manual transmission (O’Brien says they expect the take rate for the manual to be as high as 30%); with the dual-clutch transmission (DCT) the numbers are 29/38 mpg.


The six-speed DCT used in the Veloster is called the “EcoShift.” Hyundai didn’t source this DCT. It developed it. A major difference between this one and the DCTs available in some other vehicles is that it is a dry-clutch style, not wet clutch. This means that it is lighter than the others because there are no accumulator, valve body and pump; actuation is via electric motors. There is one clutch for gears one, three and five and another clutch for the remaining gears. This means that there is uninterrupted torque transfer during shifts; there are none of the losses associated with a torque converter.


Being for the youth market, it isn’t all about body stiffness, steel, and clutches. Technology plays a big role—as in info-tainment technology. So in this regard, the Veloster comes standard with a 7-in. LG LCD touch screen. It has standard Bluetooth with voice recognition. It offers Hyundai’s Blue Link safety, service, and infotainment package, with subscription packages that range from basic crash notification and similar SOS functionality to full-blown, turn-by-turn navigation. There is Pandora Internet radio and Gracenote voice-recognition media management capability.


And so there it is, a car with an aggressive stance, wrap-around headlights with LED accents, black A-pillars, integrated rear spoiler, massive glass hatch, dual exhaust pipes, standard 17-in. alloys, an extensive use of the Hyundai “Fluidic Sculpture” design language, an interior design that echoes the exterior and materials that haven’t been thrifted . . . a car that pretty much looks like nothing else on the road, competitive class included.


Yet the starting price is $17,300. O’Brien says it is a “reverse halo” approach. That is, “halo cars” are usually high-priced, low-volume vehicles that people would like to have, but which few can afford so they buy something else in the showroom. In the case of the Veloster, the objective is to attract a new kind of customer into the Hyundai franchise, one that is looking for a car that is tech-heavy but price-light.


It all comes down to clever design and engineering.