Hyundai Kona Previews Future Designs, But Don't Expect Russian Dolls

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
hyundai kona previews future designs but don t expect russian dolls

“Each model will have its own identity.” – Luc Donckerwolke,

senior vice president, head of Hyundai Motor Design Center

Finally, long after the Nissan Juke, Subaru Crosstrek, Chevrolet Trax, Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V, and Mazda CX-3, Hyundai is ready to launch the Kona subcompact crossover, at least in moderate volumes.

The Hyundai Kona is hardly a Tucson Lite; not remotely an Accent Allroad. An unusual face and bizarre use of cladding are all the more obvious because of the Kona’s tidy dimensions.

But while the 2018 Kona showcases a new Hyundai utility vehicle design language, Hyundai’s design leadership promises that future models won’t merely be enlargements of the same.

Luc Donckerwolke, formerly a designer at Peugeot, Audi, Skoda, Lamborghini, and Bentley, apparently doesn’t want Hyundai to follow the trend of many premium brands, which apply the same face and profile to models of varying sizes: X1, X3, X5, for example, at BMW.

It’s been obvious at Hyundai that the Tucson, Santa Fe Sport, and larger Santa Fe are close relations, but as Hyundai becomes a more well-known entity, emphasizing the genetic similarities becomes less necessary. “The family look was necessary because Hyundai’s brand recognition was not really strong 10 years ago, let’s face it,” says SangYup Lee, Hyundai’s vice president of styling.

The Hyundai of 2017, though struggling to reproduce the sales growth to which the company became accustomed, is not the Hyundai of 2007, however. As the company’s utility vehicle lineup grows (albeit later than it should have) with a crossover smaller than the Kona and a larger replacement for the Santa Fe, Donckerwolke wants each model to be recognizable as Hyundais, but uniquely identifiable.

“It’s a bit different from what has been done so far,” Donckerwolke told Automotive News. “For me, it is more fascinating than having to adapt a design to another model,” the Hyundai design boss says, speaking of simply upsizing the Kona’s themes. “That is boring. That is something I don’t want to do.”

As Hyundai gradually fills in the gaps and replaces existing models, one goal is to distinguish the Tucson and Santa Fe Sport not only with design but also in size. The third-generation Santa Fe Sport is now in its fifth model year.

Hyundai has proven a laggard in the move away from passenger cars to crossovers. While the overwhelming majority of new vehicle buyers now reject cars, Hyundai still relies on the Accent, Elantra, Sonata, and their few cohorts for two-thirds of its U.S. volume. Sales of the Santa Fe lineup and the rapidly-growing Tucson are both on the rise in the U.S., but so sharp is the decline in Hyundai car sales that brand-wide volume is down 10 percent this year.

A design flourish, following the recent conservative redesigns of the Elantra and Sonata, could be just what the Donckerwolke ordered.

[Images: Hyundai]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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2 of 9 comments
  • Bd2 Bd2 on Jul 21, 2017

    The Kona is alright-looking, the worst part is that atrocious cladding which is integrated into the headlight casing. More problematic is Hyundai not adequately supplying the US market. Could easily sell more Tucsons, but limited supply. Hyundai is only allocating 40k Konas for the US market (out of a total capacity of 200k/yr) - the Jeep Renagade sold over 100k last year and the HR-V is on pace to sell over 90k. Hyundai needs to supply around 60k Konas for the US market - esp. as Kia's subcompact CUV for the US market (won't be the Stonic) is a couple of years away.

  • RHD RHD on Jul 22, 2017

    With 11 horizontal lines in the corner, that styling is WAY too busy! And those razor-thin headlights have got to go. Somehow once the Juke sold a few thousand copies, automakers decided that ugly is the new beautiful, and the computer-aided designers just went nuts. From the A pillar back the Kona is not bad (we can't see the rear end), but the front needs a re-do. Oy vey!

  • Akear The Prius outsells all GM EVs combined, which is really not saying much.
  • Akear The sad truth is the only vehicle FCA sold that broke the 200,000 sales barrier was the 200. I rented one and found it impressive. It is certainly better than the Renegade. At this point I would buy a used 200 over a Renegade. Who in their right mind would buy a Renegade?
  • Akear I just realized 80% of these EV vehicles producers are going to be liquidated within the next five years. It is not possible to survive by selling only 3000 vehicles a year. This reminds me of the bust of the late 90s and early 2000s. Those who don't learn from history repeat it.
  • 3SpeedAutomatic I drove a rental Renegade a few years back. Felt the engine (TIgerShark) was ready was ready to pop out from under the hood. Very crude!! Sole purpose was CAFE offsets. Also drove a V6 Cherokee which was very nice and currently out of production. Should be able to scoop up one at a fair deal.🚗🚗🚗