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Hyundai is crushing it with its new designs, even more than Kia and Genesis | Opinion

It’s all subjective, but Hyundai is taking style risks and coming out on top.

It seems like, just a couple of years ago, we reached peak homogeneity in car design - at least that’s what you’d think if you spent any time reading comments sections under articles about new cars or on YouTube.

But with the increase in interest in electric cars, and perhaps generally in response to the complaints about ‘boring’ designs, car brands have been getting a little more adventurous when breaking out the crayons.

But one brand in particular seems to be taking a ‘high risk, high reward’ strategy, and it’s paying off. Hyundai is kicking goals.

The company has been gradually improving its designs over the last couple of decades - when I was in my first year of university my then-girlfriend bought a 2004 Elantra and I did not hide my feelings about how it looked - but it feels like Hyundai is hitting a golden age and coming up with some seriously modern classic designs.

Take the Ioniq 5, not a brand-new design but perhaps one that heralded what was to come.

Not only does it look at home in 2023, but it looks like it could have been designed with 2038 in mind, or even (to some extent, bear with me) 1974.

The Hyundai 45 concept, the precursor to the Ioniq 5, was very heavily influenced by the Hyundai Pony Coupe concept of 1974, and the lineage is obvious without being clumsy.

The Ioniq 6's balance between aerodynamic function and striking visual design is impressive.

It stands out in a crowded street, but it’s not obnoxious. It’s just that little bit more daring than its Kia cousin, the (still good-looking) EV6, which plays it safe as a ‘sleek EV’ or even the upmarket Genesis GV60, which looks a little more like the designers went for ‘quirky’.

Even the next Ioniq, the 6, despite its apparently divisive nature, takes just the right amount of risk. Even though it was the example brought up as a counter argument by a few colleagues when I suggested writing this opinion piece, I think the balance between aerodynamic function and striking visual design is impressive.

It’s not ‘pretty’, but it’s ‘cool’. And it’s certainly not boring to look at, like some popular long-range electric sedans. Hyundai didn’t shy away from incorporating elements of the concept version, called the Prophecy, just as it didn’t with the Ioniq 5 and the 45 Concept.

These two Ioniq models aren’t alone in Hyundai’s new era of design, though - everything else in its range is getting the ‘retro-futuristic’ treatment.

The Hyundai 45 concept was the precursor to the Ioniq 5.

In fact, possibly the most surprising indicator that Hyundai was beginning to look away from the traditional design elements we’re so used to seeing was its van, the Staria, which was so regularly described as ‘spaceship-looking’ that it feels a little hack to use the phrase now.

Its LED daytime running light, a thin bar across the front of the van’s rounded nose, plus its glasshouse-like design for the people-mover, and its lack of a plastic black trimmed grille make it look somewhat luxurious from the outside - even if it’s an electrician's van.

There’s still more on the way, too. The new Kona and the incoming i30 Sedan both continue this trend of some calculated design risk-taking - albeit perhaps more aggressively. They adopt the LED DRL light strip, while they add some sharp crease lines - and in the Kona’s case, body cladding - that typify modern city cars.

It’s perhaps the incoming Kona Electric that best represents the more ‘everyday’ version of what I mean - no cladding, no big grilles, and much less unnecessary lines or trim that usually gets added to ‘break up’ big continuous surfaces on SUVs.

The Hyundai 45 concept was very heavily influenced by the Hyundai Pony Coupe concept of 1974.

Even the tail-light is a narrow strip across the rear, and the bodywork is pretty much only paint coloured above the bottom of the doors.

Of course, all this didn’t happen accidentally - it almost certainly comes down to one of the world’s most renowned modern car designers joining the Hyundai group less than a decade ago, and having since worked his way to become President and Chief Creative Officer for the company.

Luc Donckerwolke, formerly of the Volkswagen Group and Audi where he designed cars from the original Skoda Fabia to the Lamborghini Murciélago to the Bentley Flying Spur, has led Hyundai’s design direction for a few years, and was given his President role at the end of 2022.

In addition, he was named 2022 World Car Person of the Year by the World Car Awards jury panel for his contributions to modern automotive design. Maybe more impressively, he apparently speaks as many as seven languages.

The new Kona adopts the LED DRL light strip and body cladding - that typify modern city cars.

If you need any further evidence that Donckerwolke is taking the brand in the right direction, consider that it now seems quite realistic that Hyundai could build a limited-run production of its N Vision 74 sports car concept.

In fact, this column has probably done enough sweet-talking in terms of praise for his design direction, so if you’re reading this, Luc: build the N Vision… pretty please?

Chris Thompson
Racing video games, car-spotting on road trips, and helping wash the family VL Calais Turbo as a kid were all early indicators that an interest in cars would stay present in...
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