For more than a decade, Kia Australia has been localising the ride and handling characteristics of its cars. The EV6 is the latest in over 50 models to be tuned for Australian conditions.
For 25 years, I’ve lived every car enthusiast’s dream. I’ve had more than my fair share of supercars, racetracks, helicopters and fancy hotels. But one of the very best things I’ve done in my career is several days embedded with Kia’s local engineering team as they tuned an upcoming and still-secret model for Australian conditions. Lying on a tarp on the side of a road changing springs, dampers and anti-roll bars is about as far from a chopper ride over Monaco as one can get, but for me, this is the car industry at work. And in a world of CAD-sign-off and ‘global spec’ it’s encouraging that Kia Australia continues with its Ride and Handling Programme.
This was nearly a decade ago but the man in charge then is the same chassis engineer and driving god that continues to tweak and tune Kia models for Australian conditions. Graeme Gambold is softly spoken and unassuming, but he also holds the highest driver accreditation one can achieve at the Nurburgring. Whether turning a steering wheel or twirling a spanner, Gambold moves with a deliberate unhurried nature that belies the results – not only can he make a Kia development hatch do otherworldly things on a twisty road, he can whip out a MacPherson strut in minutes.
“Kia Australia’s local tuning programme is an important process for our product range,” explained Kia Australia’s Chief Operating Officer Damien Meredith. “And once again, despite the constraints thrown our way by Covid, our local product team and Graeme Gambold, along with our colleagues in Namyang, have worked together to customise a product to best suit Australian roads and driving styles.”
Testimony to both the fast pace of the industry and Kia’s on-going commitment to the Australian market, Graeme Gambold has localised the ride and handling characteristics of more than 50 Kia models over the last 10 years. According to Roland Rivero, General Manager of Product at Kia Australia, the Local Ride and Handling Programme is now part of Kia customer expectation.
“Our local tuning programme is part of our DNA and a key component to Kia’s success in Australia,” said Rivero. “I believe it’s now an expectation when car buyers are considering Kia products that this has been done and so, despite the unprecedented circumstances of Covid-19, we didn’t give up on the programme and particularly not for our new brand halo, the EV6.
“It certainly helped that we’ve been on this journey with Namyang’s Ride and Handling teams for a long time and we also have an established relationship with the team in ZF Sachs. They have travelled to Australia so many times in the past and have a thorough understanding of our local conditions, so during lockdown our history with them was vital, as it made the process of tuning via correspondence achievable. Otherwise, if it was a case of sight unseen, the process of conveying our desired compressions and rebound forces would be difficult for them to understand, particularly as our tune is unlike any other region.” he added.
But the last word belongs to the man in charge of the local ride and handling programme, Graeme Gambold, who explains why he enjoys the EV6 so much.
“Personally, as a chassis dynamist, I think the biggest part of that enjoyment of driving the EV6 is the width of the battery in the car. A typical ICE vehicle has an engine and a drivetrain that has a high centre of gravity but it’s all in the centre of the vehicle, therefore it works like a moment in roll. But with a dedicated BEV, it has a big flat battery in it, so it has to lift the energy on the inside to actually upset the car, creating a very flat roll dynamic. This makes the EV6 feel very light, nimble and responsive.
“One of the things we are always tuning for in Australia is large body movements on country roads at 100km/h and that is always manifested with a high centre of gravity roll dynamic in conventional cars. Electric cars don’t have as much of that, they have a lot of vertical movement, because of the weight but they don’t have the lateral roll, so we can use that as a bit of a tuning tool.” Graeme explained.
“Best car Kia has ever made,” he concluded.
Read more on the new Kia EV6 in our exclusive special feature.