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Monday, November 3, 2008

Now we're talking- Supercharged Hyundai Genesis


Hyundai's Ann Arbor, Michigan, development center isn't like most others you'd find in the area. There's no mandate to "drive whatcha build," as there is at some GM, Ford, or Chrysler buildings. No second parking lot on the other side of a thorn bush where you park if you do buy a competing vehicle. The lot here is littered with Mustangs, Camaros, and other American brutes. I say this because I think it has a lot to do with why I'm here today to begin with — a guy driving an Accent doesn't get inspired to slap a supercharger on Hyundai's first V8, just for the sake of terrorizing southeastern Michigan.

Please don't tell Hyundai's engineers I just diluted this project down to slapping something somewhere. This Genesis 4.6, being shown for the first time at the 2008 SEMA show and built in conjunction with RKSport in SoCal, has been in the making for over half a year. Pistons were burned. Seven engines were retired. Various supercharger designs sit forgotten on shelves littered with old parts. This project has been going long enough that as I'm talking to Marcus Oubre, a Hyundai fabricator, he's swapping the entire drivetrain into a new car. The original testbed was an early, non-production mule. Too much has changed in the meantime to show that car to the public.


Marcus is one of the guys responsible for squeezing all the go-fast toys into the space the Genesis can offer. Underneath, he's welded up a set of three-inch pipes to follow the path from the engine back to a set of stock mufflers. Before I interrupt him, he's busy re-wiring the engine compartment. "We had to move the power distribution box just to fit everything under here," he tells me. "We also had to hand-fabricate a supercharger cooler tank and wire in a pump, plus we added a vacuum reservoir for the 'charger." He points it out and then guides me under the raised car. "We added a custom, bigger driveshaft and bigger U-joints at each end, but the axle is stock." Marcus also fabricated the oil cooler hiding behind the grille, plus all the tubing for the new intake system. Dual pipes start at a stock airbox, wrap around each side of the supercharger and enter at the back. Somehow, it all fits under a stock hood.

Part of that squeezing has to do with the supercharger design itself, and just as I start asking questions about that, project manager Mark Shirley joins us in the garage to see how the engine swap is coming along. (Hyundai's garage, by the way, is a car guy's dreamland of tools and lifts, and they apparently benchmark everything — this project Genesis is sitting between a Pontiac Solstice GXP and a Lexus IS-F.) I've been anxiously awaiting Mark's arrival because he's the first guy who can tell me the most important figure of the day — horsepower output. "About 440 at the engine or 385 at the wheels." Mark tells me, though I'm told later by PR guy Dan Bedore that Mark's number was conservative — the official output figure is 460 hp. The dyno run wasn't done at a high boost level out of fear of breaking something this close to SEMA.

I ask Mark how the whole supercharger package squeezes under the hood, and he leads me to a small teardown room to show me. The supercharger is sourced from IHI, the producer of superchargers for past Mercedes AMG models and the current SLR supercar. The one Hyundai is using, lovingly called the "big mouth" supercharger, is the company's most advanced model. The nickname is derived from the larger-than-normal opening for air to be drawn in, and flow through the screw-type charger has been optimized for higher efficiency over earlier Mercedes versions. That's all well and good, but what if it doesn't fit on the engine?

"Because of the narrow width between the heads," Mark explains, "we faced some packaging issues and spent three months finding the right answer. The intake runners are mounted right to the supercharger. It's the first time that has been done." By integrating the runners and the 'charger into one unit, the Hyundai team was able to save valuable millimeters necessary to squeeze all the components in place. In addition, an intercooler and the routing for the air intake snakes under the supercharger, in between the two banks of cylinders. Besides the packaging advantages, Mark says that earlier designs with the intake above the supercharger were subject to a lot of heat bleed.

The Tau 4.6-liter V-8 itself didn't undergo too many modifications to accommodate the force-fed power. Jets tapped into the main galley blast oil at the bottoms of the pistons for cooling purposes, and the pistons themselves have been "optimized," as Mark puts it. That's to say that the design is the same, only beefed up for the extra forces. The rods, too, have been optimized. Mark shoves his spare parts back on a shelf and we head back to the garage where the engine re-wiring is almost done. I look at my watch and see that the day will end before this project is ready for the street. Maybe tomorrow.

September 19, 2008

It's late on Friday when the whole project finally comes together. The engine is in the car, the upgraded drivetrain components are bolted in place, and the engine fires up with a triumphant purr. The thick air intake tubes, laced together with flexible red rubber joints, wrap around the complicated intake/supercharger combo, the whole package looking more like something built by NASA, not Hyundai. The team is ecstatic, and Marcus pulls a nickel out of his pocket and leans over the engine. After a few failed attempts, he gets the nickel to stand on end with the engine running, balancing on top of the smooth-running supercharger. A job well done.


But there's a second half to this day of reckoning, and Mark Shirley returns to do the duty of driving the car outside for a few test runs. (You've maybe seen evidence of this, as an Autoblog reader with a camera caught the guy getting gas.) We couldn't go along with Mark, but he returns with an impressive 4.9-second 0-60 time with the car running a conservative 11 pounds of boost. Tests with earlier prototypes and more road returned a quarter-mile time of 13.58 seconds at 108 mph. Still, the Hyundai guys aren't satisfied. "Needs summer tires," Dan Bedore tells me. "Plus, we can't push the car hard. Breaking it at this point would be a real bummer." Indeed it would be — call us after the show, Dan.

October 29, 2008

RKSport President Bob "R.K." Smith and his team have been hard at work designing an exterior with the power to match the supercharged Genesis' engine since just a few days after I left Mark, Dan, Marcus, and the rest of the Hyundai crew in Michigan. Technically, they've been working on it before — the hood on the car in Ann Arbor is an early phase of the final product. But today the tone at the shop is more in tune with the easy-going Southern California stereotypes you know. That's because here in Murrieta, the project is wrapping up and the car is just about ready to be shipped to Vegas.

RKSport's Trevor Medina explains to me that the team's goal was to establish "a European look and feel that builds on the strong OE lines and concepts originally presented by Hyundai's designers." We don't think that's a bunch of hot air, either. The changes are nice and subtle; the lower bodywork builds off the existing bumpers and side sills instead of throwing them in the dumpster. The ride height (Eibach springs hide behind the new wheels) is low but not slammed. It holds promise for SEMA as a whole this year. If we have one complaint, it's that the side skirts make the stock strips of chrome along the door seem too prominent, too high up along the bodyside. The hood vents are the most extroverted details on the car, but they're a strong reminder of the work that's taken place under that hood.


I ask the RKSport team where the highlights and struggles have been with the car: "With all new concept builds," Trevor tells me, "there are always challenges. With this particular project, designing issues and finalizing the fitting processes were our main hurdles." What exactly does that mean? "Everything is done by hand from the ground up. After all the designing has been completed, the products are laid up in a clay composite material, then shaved and sculpted to a point where they can be pre-fitted. The molds are also created by hand and several parts are made to ensure a proper it. This was especially tough considering the small window we have prior to SEMA."

What about the best moment? R.K. Smith and Design Director Eliseo Garcia agree that no moment is quite like seeing the car done, to "see all of the hard work and time in building the components come to fruition — from a concept and rendering to visibly seeing them on a car." Smith is also excited about the opportunity to work so closely with a major manufacturer like Hyundai, and is excited about the audience it might draw to his business. The composite hood, polyurethane fascias, side skirts, composite roof, and trunk spoiler will all be offered to anyone willing to pay.

RKSport's Genesis parts will be among the first offered for Hyundai's new game changer, and our early look has us feeling that Hyundai's picked a good place to start. It's a fine looking kit that makes the car look more dynamic and less like a middle manager's transport. But that's the good news. The bad is that Hyundai has no plans to put the supercharged Tau in any product, meaning six months' worth of work will be set on a shelf somewhere in a dark Ann Arbor closet. Isn't that terrible? Here's what you need to do and we'll do the same: go into every Hyundai dealer in your area and tell them you want the supercharged Genesis you saw at SEMA. When they give you a clueless look, throw a fit and storm out. Repeat with each salesman on the staff, spacing your freak-outs about a week apart. Maybe with enough frazzled dealers calling headquarters, we can make this thing happen.