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New Kia design language to let cars and SUVs have individual character instead of Russian doll styling

Kia's design boss explains why each of the brand's cars will continue to have a unique look.

Speaking to media at the reveal of its new design language, Kia head of global design Karim Habib has detailed the kinds of guidelines future Kia products will adhere to.

The key theme of the brand’s “new era of design” is “opposites united”, which consists of the core pillars “bold for nature”, “joy for reason”, “power to progress”, “technology for life”, and “tension for serenity”. The upcoming EV6, Kia’s first dedicated EV riding on Hyundai Group’s new e-GMP electric-only architecture, will be the first vehicle to wear the new design.

However, Mr Habib said not to expect the brand to stick to a strict code of styling across the range, explaining that Kia as a brand needs to retain the character of its individual products as it has in the past.

“That’s part of the reason why this new design philosophy is not one thing,” he explained. “Kia is a brand that has the flexibility, that needs the flexibility for its different products, for the character the brand has in different parts of the world.”

This means you can expect Kias to continue their current trend of sharing strong design elements, but not one strict language. Take, for example, the difference between the Kia Stonic and Seltos, compared to the Mazda CX-5 and CX-8.

“The meaning of the brand 'Kia' around the world is based on a core while allowing for that flexibility in individual products,” Mr Habib continued. “Kia has a more robust, SUV-based image, more rugged if you will, in the US. In Europe, Kia has a much more on-road sporty character with cars like the Cee’d. In Korea, where we have some home turf advantage, we just released the K8 which is very elegant and luxurious. So, you see there’s those different characters in different parts of the world.”

One element the Kia won't share with the Ioniq 5 is its mobile centre console. One element the Kia won't share with the Ioniq 5 is its mobile centre console.

While the new design language is said by the brand to be focused on its push toward electrification, Mr Habib said it is important that the brand’s internal-combustion vehicles aren’t left behind.

“This philosophy needs to be on every product we have, the principles are the same whether its EV or ICE. The interior is often where the big differences can happen. [With EVs,] we can push the climate controls into the front of the vehicle, we can have a flat floor, seats with extra levels of comfort, these kinds of things we can play more with. With ICEs, we have a little less room to play with this, but the ideas will be the same, more minimalist designs, […] more integration of technology. We’re working with our engineering colleagues to make sure the ICEs don’t look like they’re from another era.”

Despite a heavy move to screen-based systems and haptic buttons rather than physical ones, Mr Habib assures us the brand’s renowned ergonomics will be preserved when it comes to providing easy-to-reach dials and toggles. “We’ve won awards for this,” he explained, “so we know how important it is.”

While its new design language is quite a departure, Kia says previously successful elements won't be forgotten. While its new design language is quite a departure, Kia says previously successful elements won't be forgotten.

As for the future? We quizzed Mr Habib on some of the “exciting possibilities” Hyundai’s Albert Beirmann alluded to at the reveal of the e-GMP platform. “e-GMP allows us a long wheelbase, short or no overhangs, different formats, proportions, and stance. It’s great what this architecture offers; we can totally change things like where to place the windshield, the overall stance of the car, even the positioning of the driver. They might be by a few centimetres, but they change the typology of the vehicle quite a lot. We can redefine what the sedan can be.”

And the much speculated upon ute? “I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about that,” Mr Habib told us.