By on March 19, 2013

Dan writes:

Hey Sajeev,

Since you’re a (failed-SM) auto designer, I was curious about your opinion on something I’ve noticed. I (like a lot of people, apparently) like Kia’s current styling and design language, especially on the Optima. It’s got a presence that reminds me of older Pontiacs, a kind of aggression that is lacking in a lot of cars today. What’s your opinion on Kia’s grille treatment?

Specifically, compare the Optima (and the upcoming redesigned Forte) to the Sportage or their other SUVs. The Optima’s grille feels like it’s carved into the front end, those central opposing “notches” being the glue that holds the whole conceit of the “tiger nose” or whatever the marketing guys call it. Without that subtle pinch defined by the body paint, it would lose a lot of its distinction and just blend in. I believe it’s a major component to what makes the Optima look good.

Since the Optima was introduced, Kia’s started moving that design language across their other cars. When they put the new grille into their existing lineup, it was sort of just… “pasted on” to the existing cars. Look at the pre-2013 Forte or Rio, older Sportage, and Sorento and you’d see that the existing hole for the old grille was filled in and the tiger-nose just pasted on top with no double-notches to let the body paint in. It always came across as very cheap and lazy to me, and without the pinches to let the body paint sneak in to break up the two “sides” of the grille, the front end loses a lot of its distinction and the car much less aggressive as a result.

At first I thought this was just temporary, that Kia would redesign their front ends to eliminate this, and they did with the Forte and Rio. But they seem to be making a clear distinction between the SUVs and the cars. The cars are getting the Optima-style nose, while the SUVs aren’t. The refreshed Sportage and Sorento still have that “filled in and pasted on” grille look. It looks better than before, given that the grille is more prominent, but it’s still not the same as the cars.

What do you think? Does the car version look better? Or am I just being picky?

Sajeev answers:

Oh yes!  The latest Kia designs are stunning…not Ferrari stunning, but close enough considering the price point. Apparently a dude named Peter Schreyer is behind this product renaissance, no doubt his team’s accomplishments are pretty fantastic. And the “Tiger Nose” grille is a big part of that.

 

But your question is a slippery, slippery slope: items that become part of a brand identity must elegantly translate across the full range of products AND be honest to the design’s original intent. Put simply, you gotta learn how to Rock ‘n Roll around the world, without forgetting what makes good music: be Elvis, not David Hasselhoff. Not that there’s anything especially wrong with The Hoff…but I digress.

I am totally-mostly fine with the Tiger blood Nose grilles on all Kia products, even the afterthought redesign on the 2010 Optima: it fit, it flowed nicely and added a touch of originality in a sea of undefined, boring Billy Big Mouth Bass grilles from Korea, Japan and even the USA.

And the CUVs are fine for what they are.  If you try to get frou-frou fancy (technical term, don’t try this at home) with grilles on CUVs, you run the risk of being the next Subaru B9 Tribeca. That Subie CUV put this website on the map, proving that styling is a huuuuuge part of the car biz.

SUVs came from trucks, which were a worldwide success since the dawn of the automobile.  CUVs came from SUVs. All of this must be respected on Vellum.

People want truck-like authority from their CUVs. And there’s a lot of frontal area on a CUV, so you better go bold…or go home. And quite honestly, KIA’s tiger nose grilles are neither brash nor obnoxious.  Kia nailed the execution on this canvas. I think you are a bit too picky, like you said.

To reiterate: a brand’s face needs to elegantly transition across the entire fleet. The Tiger Nose performs some kind of magic, working well on every application. What say you, Best and Brightest?

Final Note: there’s gotta be a Panther Love joke in here, but I still can’t find it.

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33 Comments on “Vellum Venom Vignette: Kia’s Magical Tiger Nose...”


  • avatar
    rudiger

    While it’s not particularly noteworthy, Kia’s ‘Tiger Nose’ does a good job of establishing an identity without offending. The same cannot be said of Mazda’s leering ‘Joker Grin’.

    I doubt Kia lost any sales due to the easily identifiable grille. I’m not so sure about Mazda.

    • 0 avatar
      galanwilliams

      I only wish the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee didn’t like that Mazda Joker Grin so much — exacerbated by the use of chrome to highlight it! The spy shots from a couple years ago with the new grill sans the bling at least gave me hope. But putting the Vegas touch to the design went about a mile too far.

  • avatar

    I say that I suspect Peter Schreyer spent a lot of time looking carefully at Ian Callum’s Astons before putting virtual pen to virtual paper for Kia. It’s not just the grill — how many Kias have Aston-like front quarter vents now?

    But whatever, he’s hardly the only one. And clearly, it has worked out well for Kia.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Like Aston has been the only to use front-quarter vents – BMW, Cadillac, Maserati, etc. – heck, even BUICK.

      And even so, it’s not like Callum hasn’t “borrowed” himself – the basic design of the greenhouse of the XJ is nothing more than a stretched version of the Sonata’s greenhouse which is a more sleek/rakish version of the greenhouse of the A6.

      Add to that Hyundai XG350 taillamps.

      And the grill on the XF and XJ are basically Bentley grills.

  • avatar
    oldowl

    The bumps top and bottom remind me of baby teeth pushing through chrome gums.

  • avatar
    julkinen

    Totally looks like Batman.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I like Kia’s grille identity.

    I wish Chevy could have pulled that off as successfully in recent history. Their newer look works much better.

    Ford’s Billy Bass grille kind of works, but it’s a bit extreme, and thus comes off as somewhat comical.

    Mazda? ‘Nuff said already – they’re changing, thankfully, to tone the grin down.

    Yes, thus far, Kia is the overall winner.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      Kia’s grilles are some of the best of the recent designs, I agree. But I also agree with Dan that the implementation on the cars works better. But it’s hard to translate the same look to both cars and SUVs, as Sajeev says, and this is definitely a credible job.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        Not necessarily.

        The “tigernose” grill on the SX trim of the Sorento is one of the better applications.

        The tigernose grill on the outgoing Forte is bland as can be and on the new Forte is pretty awful (awkward lines/shape).

    • 0 avatar
      Easton

      I think Kia and Ford have done the best jobs with their recent car designs. I agree, Chevy needs to do a lot better than the recent WWE Chamionship Belt grilles and the more recent, very boring, horizontal lines.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of a car maker rolling at the exact same look on all of their products (BMW). Imagine if a ford F-150 had the same grill and headlights of the Fiesta?

    But, with that being said, I think the Kia Rio is the best looking cheap small car on the market right now. I don’t know if I like the rest of it to go out and buy one. They look far better then they did just a few years ago, but are the important bits any better? I’ll let others come to that conclusion.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      You wouldn’t want the exact same look on a Fiesta and an F-150. But Ford, in particular, has very little brand identity in its designs. That’s not to say they are bad designs, some of them are quite good, but there is precious little beyond the blue badge that says “hey, I’m a Ford!”

      For cars, the Fiesta, Focus and C-Max show the European family face. Fusion is quite different, and so are the Taurus and Mustang.

      On the truck side, the Kuga, err, Escape, has the common European look again. Edge and Explorer have the chrome look with uplifted headlights, and the Flex is something completely different again.

      The Transit Connect shares the European look again (gee, wonder why), the F-series has the Edge/Explorer headlights but a completely different grille. The new Transit has a grille vague reminiscent of the Taurus but completely different from the other trucks (and yet different from the European Transit).

      Overall, a bit of a mish-mash rather than a cohesive design DNA such as the one that Peter Schreyer has defined at Kia.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      While the “tigernose” shape is the basis, it can be quite different in shape/design.

      The design for the Optima is quite different than for the cee’d/pro-cee’d which is quite diff. than for the Soul or Rio – which is quite diff. from the new Forte.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Kia has gotten it completely right, and I think they’ve even outdone Cousin Hyundai in the sum total of their design language. One minor exception might be the Soul’s nose; it’s hard to get that blunt face right.

    • 0 avatar
      Jellodyne

      I don’t mind the Soul’s nose, it’s the taillights that bother me.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Agreed. Hyundai’s are bit over done and their grills are all over the place. However Kia’s front ends look great.

      Personally I like the common / corporate face style front grill, basically what BMW does. It makes your ride immediately recognizable. When it comes to branding you should be able to identify the brand with OUT the logo. Apple is a good example of this – in fact they downplay their logo as much as possible and instead use their industrial design as their calling card: brushed aluminum & black framed glass.

      Ford seems to do this with their truck line but their vehicle/SUV line is all over the map. Chevy has always been a mess with its front end treatment, the lone stand out (ironically) was Pontiac. Nissan and Lexus have tried to morph all their products to have the same corporate look / face with mixed results. On the other hand VW seems to focus on the rear tail lights more as their major common point.

  • avatar
    chrishs2000

    Really like it. Just compare the Optima to the Sonata – the Optima is much cleaner and timeless yet at the same time much more aggressive and appealing.

    Why couldnt Acura find a designer like this? A simple, purposeful grille is all that’s needed – not a beak shield!

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I recently got back from a trip and I had the opportunity to rent either an Altima, Mazda6, or Optima. I picked the Optima as the most intriguing since I had stated I’d seriously consider one if I were ever in the market for a good sized FWD sedan.

    My impression overall was good, it was the base model so the styling wasn’t as exciting as the top of the line trims, but it still looked sharp. The interior was nice, even for a base model. It was really roomy and very comfortable while driving.

    However, I’m not sure if it was my specific one or a problem with all Optimas or a problem with all cars with electric power steering, I have never really understood the phrase “disconnected from the road” in relation to steering until 2 weeks ago. My main concern was while cruising on the highway and making the slight adjustments to maintain the center of my lane as the road wandered I found it nearly impossible to stay centered. I was wandering around the lane and my wife asked if I was ok. I would adjust the steering wheel and nothing would happen, adjust it a little more and all of a sudden all that steering input kicked in all at once and the car would require a corrective steer to bring it back. The best I can describe it is like the volume control of a stereo. Some stereos have a knob that let’s you adjust the volume almost infinitely at any level. Other kinds have numbers and as the number goes up, the volume level corresponds with each number change. There is no inbetween. This did not leave me feeling confident and is a deal breaker for me. I cannot recommend this car because of that alone.
    The styling and build quality are there, hopefully this doesn’t become the norm for all cars.

  • avatar
    ant

    “My main concern was while cruising on the highway and making the slight adjustments”

    This is a problem with electric steering. my 12tsx does it too. Sloppy at freeway speeds. I especially notice it cause I drive an old Intrepid, and an old Mazda protege, while the wife drives the new car. The old cars with old school hydraulic powers steering are obviously superior.

    I would rather have no power steering at all than these new crapass systems.

    The electric systems are cheaper to make, smaller, and more efficient.

    Therefore, we cannot even have real steering on sports cars like the manual trans all wheel drive TL.

    The Mazda3 that we test drove doesn’t do this.

  • avatar
    niky

    I’d always thought the pre-2013 Forte was rather a half-hearted application of the tiger-nose. Glad to know I’m not alone.

    The Rio is an absolutely fantastic design. Euro-esque tails, perfectly proportioned grille and lights, and nice, brawny, wide shouldered fenders. A car that looks like it’s worth more than it really is.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      It seemed to flow better on the Forte than it did the pre 2012 Soul. The grill was much to small on the “old” Soul. Glad they made it larger on the new one.

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    Tiger smiger, I see subliminal BMW kidney design cues.

  • avatar
    F-85

    IMO — Kia’s line looks fine. Watching others desperately try to find the right “grill of corporate identity” (eg., Subaru, Ford, others) is interesting to watch. GM seems to be doing a good job (eg, Caddy, Buick). Of course, for Jeep, I suppose it’s easy.

    Oh, and I feel sorry for the tiger in the glass cage. Too small, too hot, probably too noisy.

  • avatar
    300zx_guy

    One advantage of the way they do it on the CUV is that it incorporates the hood cut-line into the design. I mostly like Kia designs, though if I could change one thing on the Optima, I would lose the chrome extension from the top of the doors to the backlight. It’s an interesting idea, but I think it would look better without it.

    As for sister Hyundai, most of their cars look pretty good *except* for the grille. Looks like they are still trying to figure that out. Also, the Sonata, which looked so flashy and new when it came out, didn’t age well. A combination of a fussy design and the competition coming out with better designs soon after.

  • avatar
    bd2

    Overall, the “tigernose” grill design has been a good look for Kia, but like for everything, the success of application of the design as varied from model to model.

    The most successful application of the “tigernose” has been on the SX trim of the Optima and the new cee’d/pro_cee’d.

    Actually looks pretty good on the SX trim of the Sorento as well (the non-SX trim isn’t nearly as nice on either the pre-MCE or revised Sorento).

    A more slim version of the “tigernose” on such models as the Rio and Soul also are done well.

    A poor application of the “tigernose” would be on the outgoing Forte as well as the new Forte (the lines are too busy and awkwardly shaped on the grill of the new Forte).

    The “tigernose” grill is also not particularly shaped well on the K9/Quoris (also would help if the grill on the K9 lost the vertical grill slats); the shape and grill treatment on the refreshed K7/Cadenza, while similar, looks a good bit better.

  • avatar
    pleiter

    Gee, I always called it “Staple-Remover Mouth”.

  • avatar
    dudefromthenorth

    “Tiger Nose”? Looks more like a “Rodent Mouth” to me…

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I’d like to note something in the first picture, the hand drawing.

    From top to bottom, it looks like:

    Kia Optima
    Fiskar Karma
    Mini Paceman

    Such a similar element on all these cars.


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