Vellum Venom Vignette: Kia's Magical Tiger Nose

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
vellum venom vignette kia s magical tiger nose

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 [s]blood[/s] 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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2 of 33 comments
  • Dudefromthenorth Dudefromthenorth on Mar 19, 2013

    "Tiger Nose"? Looks more like a "Rodent Mouth" to me...

  • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on May 08, 2013

    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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