Don’t like the look of the brand-new Hyundai Kona subcompact crossover? Too bad, because elements of its design will begin proliferating throughout the company’s lineup.
Hyundai stylists say they are going to execute this shift in an interesting way. They’re aiming to craft a unique look for the brand and not a family resemblance like other automakers.
Rather than offering the same sausage in different lengths, to paraphrase a German automotive executive’s famous quip, Hyundai designers are striving for something different.
“[With] the Kona, we didn’t want to create a small version of the Tucson” or create a “Russian-doll effect,” said Sangyup Lee, vice president of styling at Hyundai Design Center and former design chief at Bentley. His career spans nearly as many brands as it does years, as he’s worked at Volkswagen and GM along with other automakers as well.
Breaking with Hyundai’s current design ethos, one of the Kona’s most controversial features is the location of its daytime-running lights. They’re mounted high on the vehicle’s face, divorced from the main lamp assemblies, just like on the Jeep Cherokee. Many seem to either love or hate this styling flourish.
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“When you look at the car from a long distance coming at you, the first thing you see is the lamp, the DRL… not the grille, or bumper or anything [else],” said Lee. “Composite lamp character, which [is] a very strong part of this car, we [will] carry on to our SUV lineup.”
This element will be featured on the next-generation Santa Fe and an upcoming, unnamed A-segment crossover. Despite the proliferation of this particular lamp design, it will be executed in a “very different way” for each model, though Lee didn’t elaborate on precisely what this means.
Accordingly, the next-generation Tucson, a compact crossover model, will not be a carbon copy of the subcompact Kona. “It will be something else,” said Lee, though he admitted the larger Santa Fe is next in line for a design rework. Conservatively handsome, this popular model is probably due for an update.
Hyundai’s aim was to create its own design DNA with the Kona, not to follow trends set by rival automakers, even if the vehicle’s grille shape and headlamp arrangement are familiar. “This is something that we really want to have, our own iconic character.”
Lee freely admitted that the South Korean automaker’s brand recognition was quite poor just a decade ago, so at the time, they sought to create a strong family resemblance in order to help consumers distinguish Hyundai from rival makes. “Now, it’s actually that we’re taking it to the next level,” he said, “From the [brand] recognition to adding more soul to each vehicle.”
Nothing exists in a vacuum and if the Kona draws inspiration from any rival, perhaps Nissan’s controversial offering in the subcompact crossover segment is its strongest influence. “I never expected the Juke to be so successful in the markets, in Europe particularly,” said Lee. But it’s been a surprising hit.
Along with its high-mounted DRLs, another signature Hyundai styling element found on Kona is the brand’s new cascading grille, which is surrounded by bright metallic trim and filled with a mesh texture. This has already been applied to several of the company’s products and will undoubtedly make its way to more, but not every styling element found here will do the same.
The Kona’s “sharkfin” C-pillar, for instance, will likely not proliferate throughout the lineup. Lee explained it’s part of what makes this vehicle look especially sporty, giving it the appearance of having a fast roofline without diminishing cargo space or headroom for rear-seat passengers. This feature will not be “cut and paste” onto other models.
Going forward, the automaker is working to create a uniquely styled lineup of vehicles and you could argue the 2018 Hyundai Kona is leading this charge.
The new Kona definitely has character, an extroverted look that’s sure to win new converts to the Hyundai brand. How many customers it manages to lure a monthly payment from remains to be seen. The Hyundai Kona is on sale in South Korea right now and will launch in North America in the first quarter of 2018.
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