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Will Australia embrace a new look Hyundai? Or is the 2021 Tucson, i30 Sedan and Sonata styling too out there?

Hyundai's next Tucson is take a big leap in styling with sharp angles and a bold front grille.

Hyundai isn’t afraid to gamble. After years of steady growth, the South Korean brand is about to embark on its most ambitious run of new models yet.

Having well and truly thrown off its former image as an entry-level brand, Hyundai has moved into the mainstream in the last decade. But, to overtake Mazda and close in on Toyota for market leadership, Hyundai needs to take some risks.

That will come in the form of some important new models that feature revolutionary styling that could either make or break its sales growth in 2021 and beyond.

It began late in 2020 with the all-new i30 Sedan, the first model to adopt the ‘Sensuous Sportiness’ design language the brand previewed with the Le Fil Rouge concept back in 2018. This year will see the arrival of the wildly-styled new Tucson and Sonata, which features a more complex grille design and new look interior that is a major departure from the models they replace.

Design is a tricky tightrope for car companies to walk. Play it safe and you risk missing sales because people aren’t paying attention, but push too far and you risk polarising your audience.

Bye Elantra, hello i30 Sedan

The new i30 Sedan arrived late in 2020, introducing this bold new-look as this new nameplate replaces the Elantra badge. While the name change is driven in large part by a desire to have the sedan sales figures combined with the hatch (as per its key rivals the Toyota Corolla and Kia Cerato), it comes at an opportune time.

The i30 Sedan shares little in common with the outgoing Elantra and connection to the Le Fil Rouge is obvious, with the four-door sporting a similar grille and far more complex and detailed styling across its surfaces than anything that has come before.

Ultimately though, the market for small sedans is too small to have a major impact on the sales charts, but it’s already helped lay the groundwork for this new look era for the brand.

New Tucson holds the key to growth

Hyundai suffered significant decline in 2020, dropping more than 20,000 sales and losing market share. The biggest missing piece was the Accent, with the former entry-level model accounting for nearly half those lost sales.

Fortunately, there’s an obvious means to recover lost ground – the all-new Tucson. The brand has thrown everything it has at the mid-size SUV to help it pinch sales from the likes of the Toyota RAV4 and Mazda CX-5.

There will be a variety of powertrains, and crucially that includes a hybrid to counter the RAV4 Hybrid’s runaway success, as well as sporty N-Line variant.

But all will be wrapped up in a bold-looking body that features the same complex and angular styling as the i30 Sedan and Le Fil Rouge, or “parametric dynamics” as the brand calls it.

Inside the cabin is a major departure from anything else in the range, featuring a four-spoke steering wheel, digital instrument cluster and large multimedia screen (at least in the high-grade models).

It undoubtedly makes the Tucson look more premium that the model it replaces, but whether it immediately appeals to customers remains to be seen. If they embrace it, then there’s potential for Hyundai to cash in on the older CX-5 and snatch sales off its rival.

Kona evolves

Hyundai is no stranger to pushing styling boundaries in recent years. The best example is arguably the Kona, which sported what the company called “armour” with plastic wheel arches that wrapped around the front corners to help give the baby SUV a tougher look, but wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

After a slow start, the Kona has become a strong performer for the brand and 2021 will see an updated model join the range. It features an evolution of the styling, ditching the more polarising elements for a look that’s more cohesive but also incorporates the new ‘Sensuous Sportiness’ cues.

Hyundai will be hoping this new look Kona will help correct the sales drop of 2020 and maintain the small SUVs steady success.

Sporty Sonata

Family sedans are a dying market, but Hyundai believes there are still sales to be had with its new Sonata. But instead of chasing quantity, the brand will be after quality sales opting to only offer the Sonata in sporty N-Line form.

It will be the most powerful Sonata offered locally to date, with a 213kW 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine. It will be housed within a stylish new four-door body that features elements from the Le Fil Rouge as well as the ‘four-door coupe’ styling of premium models like the Mercedes-Benz CLS and Audi A5 Sportback.

Santa Fe and Palisade offer growth potential

Hyundai finished 2020 with the launch of two models that offer big potential for 2021, the new Santa Fe and the all-new Palisade SUVs, which give the brand new metal in the crucial large SUV markets.

The Santa Fe features a range of upgrades over the outgoing (but only two-year old) model, including promise the arrival of a hybrid powertrain in the near future. That helps sharpen Hyundai’s arsenal against the likes of the Toyota Kluger (which will also be new in 2021), Mazda CX-9 and Kia Sorento.

The Palisade gives the brand a larger, eight-seater SUV to finally do battle with the popular Toyota Prado. It’s likely to add incremental growth to the brand’s sales tally, and while unlikely to compensate for the loss of the Accent, it should help repair some of the damage done in 2020.