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Just northwest of Seoul is a city called Goyang, and among its sprawling industry and monolithic apartment blocks sits a building that could have easily been dropped out of a science fiction film.
It’s called the Hyundai Motorstudio, and, well, it’s hard to say exactly what it is.
Part museum, part showroom, part design showcase and part service centre, it is everything Hyundai in one spot. We went to check it out as the first stop on our Korea discovery tour.
The building itself matches the brand’s philosophy of mating European design with Korean ingenuity. It was penned by an Austrian architecture firm, and if you’re thinking it looks a little like a spaceship, that’s entirely deliberate.
Visitors are encouraged to sample the features of the vehicles on the showroom floor, and multilingual guides mingle to help with any questions.
Upstairs there is a museum that doubles as a design showcase. The displays cover every part of the construction process of the car, you’re allowed to play with actual samples of the raw materials the company uses to construct chassis materials, including Australian steel.
There are demonstrations of the construction process, featuring examples of the same machinery employed in the company’s Ulsan plant.
The safety and sound design experiences of the tour let you interact with parts of the car like airbags and sound filtering materials that you otherwise may not ever really get a chance to touch or feel. Everything you interact will is a real car part that even has a serial number from the factory.
The tour is popular with school groups, with up to 2000 students making their way through on busy days.
Up in the ‘battleship’ part of the structure there is a classy restaurant. “It is well known in this area,” my contact from Hyundai tells me, “the locals often come here to eat international food”. The menu is again by careful European design and is separated into gastro, Italian, Korean and Asian menus.
Another part of the Motorstudio’s offerings is the test drive experience. Unlike Australia, Hyundai can sell directly to customers in Korea, without the need to rely on a dealership network. And the building also features a gigantic service centre in the basement.
A multilingual guide is assigned to you for the test-drive experience, and you are required to book in advance.
There are a choice of courses, including a new vehicle test drive, a ‘blue challenge’ where guests are encouraged to try and extract the best ‘eco score’ from the Kona or Ioniq EVs as well as the ‘prestige experience’ where you can experience being chauffeured in the brand’s flagship Genesis EQ900 (Genesis G90).
We drove the Nexo hydrogen-powered EV. My guide at the Motorstudio recommended it. “It’s one of our newest experiences,” he said. The drive route is a mix of freeways and city streets that takes place over 30 minutes. Adjusting to the road conditions and the funky features of the Nexo made it feel like five.
While the roads aren’t entirely different to ours, Koreans drive on the opposite side, and most of the road markings have slightly different meanings. The locals have a habit of flying up in front of you and changing lanes without signalling. I was more than glad to have the guide with me.
The route took us along the Jayu-ro expressway, which cuts along the Han River. Eerily, old fortifications and heavy-duty barbed wire fences line where the edge of the road meets the river. Just a few kilometres away, this river meets the shores of North Korea, my guide explained.
I asked her if they have many foreign visitors come through the Motorstudio. She conceded it was relatively unusual for individuals or tourists to come through, and it was more common to see visiting delegations of journalists or officials.
During our visit, a Russian delegation arrived to much fanfare and the rollout of a red carpet.
So, if you’re a motoring enthusiast who happens to be in Korea (or maybe you're just auto-curious), the Motorstudio is well worth a visit for a left-of-field automotive experience.
Do you think more manufacturers should have interactive experiences like this? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
This is part of a series on Korean car culture. Read more here:
We were invited to take a rare look into Korean tuning car culture
We investigated the 24hr self-serve carwash phenomenon in Korea
Bimmerwerks is a Korean car club on an unprecedented scale
What we learned spotting cars on the streets of South Korea
The Hyundai Pony: Korea's first home-grown car
While Australia celebrated the Bathurst 1000, I went to see what the Korean equivalent was like