What's Influencing Hyundai Design These Days, Anyway?

Jo Borras
by Jo Borras

There’s a great scene in The Commitments where Jimmy Rabbitte, the main kid, puts an ad in his local paper to recruit talent for his band. If you’ve never seen the movie, it’s definitely worth the two-hour – a er, commitment (sorry), but that’s off-topic. Rabbitte puts out this ad, and would-be musicians knock on his door. When he opens the door, he asks them one question: Who are your influences?

It’s a great question, isn’t it? It cuts through lots of the usual interview BS and small-talk and hand-wringing and gets right to the meat. In The Commitments, the right answers were Al Green, Wilson Pickett, and Otis Redding. Over at Hyundai/Kia, however, it seems like the right answers were Lancia Delta, Lancia Stratos, and Porsche 959.

What the heck is Jo talking about this time? I’m glad you asked.

ALL THE NEW HYUNDAI/KIA EVS LOOK LIKE OLD SUPERCARS

Looking at the latest batch of Hyundai and Kia “concept cars” – a group that has already spawned the production Hyundai Ioniq 5 – I can’t help but feel like I’ve seen some of these design themes and elements before.

In the case of the Hyundai Ioniq 5, I see an awful lot of the Giorgetto Giugiaro-penned Lancia Delta. While not a commonly known car in the US, the Delta (especially in Martini colors) has been an enthusiast icon for decades, and the new Hyundai EV has a similarly purposeful stance. The most famous Deltas had roof-mounted spoilers and box fender flares, of course, but there’s a visual echo of those flares in the sharp body crease of the Ioniq, which creates the illusion of flares with its visual trickery.

Over at the sister brand, Kia, there’s a similar story. This time, it’s the work of another iconic 1970s Italian car designer I see: Marcello Gandini and the Lancia Stratos.

Looking at the Kia EV6 GT, the window/beltline looks unmistakably Stratos to me – even at the extreme rear of the vehicle, there’s a … I wouldn’t call it a wing or a spoiler, but there’s a visual kickup that looks every bit like a modern interpretation of the Stratos’ rear. The whole thing looks so much like a crossover Stratos, I’d bet that if you showed a design student pictures of a 2019 Mustang GT and a 2021 Mustang Mach-E, then a 1975 Lancia Stratos, and then asked them to give the Stratos a similar makeover, what you’d get would look an awful lot like the production Kia EV6 GT.

Going back to Hyundai’s upcoming electric portfolio now that I’m on a rant, I’m struck – more than before, even – at how Porsche-y the Prophecy Concept really is. I can’t look at that big rear … would you call it a vent? Whatever you’d call it, it gives me the same feeling as the rear of the Porsche 959. Not a regular 959, mind – but the Paris Dakar 959. The angrier, more intimidating twin brother to the road-going cars and source of the original lightning that guys like Singer and Gemballa are still trying to bottle, more than thirty-five years later.

Don’t get me wrong – these aren’t complaints. If anything, that weird sort of Porsche-istic vibe is one of the Hyundai Prophecy’s selling points. There’s a little bit of original Boxster Concept in the fenders, some Taycan in the headlights, and maybe even some 930 in the whale-tail spoiler at the rear. This is a great-looking car, IMO, and I might even say it does a better job of looking like a Porsche than a few of the actual Porsches you can buy on a dealer’s lot today.

So, not a list of grievances, then – what is this post supposed to be?

It’s a thank-you card.

Talk of the then-new 2011 Hyundai Sonata being “the first Hyundai that doesn’t look like something else” was a real thing, a decade ago. Back then, the Kia Amati was criticized for looking too much like a Bentley Continental, the Hyundai Tiburon was accused of trying to look like either a Celica or an Integra, depending on who you asked, and the Sorento was dismissed as a knock-off Lexus RX350. Kia and Hyundai were a long way from being seen as premium brands at the turn of the 21st century, and a lot of people thought their derivative designs were a part of that.

Fast forward to now, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t look at a Kia or Hyundai product as a serious contender in any class. Kia Telluride? People have been paying stupid dealer markups on those since well before stupid dealer markups went mainstream.

Hyundai and Kia stepped away from derivative styling and built themselves up on the quality of their products. Maybe the quality had always been there, but the “Generic level 3” styling kept us from seeing it, and maybe not, but it took real balls for someone over there to roll the dice on their successful march upscale and put out something that – maybe it’s not derivative of some of my favorite motorsports icons, but something that’s definitely influenced by them.

Here’s hoping they keep these designers for a while … and that they follow through and come out with something like the Kia GT4 Stinger concept from a few years back. I always did like the Opel GT in Rallye Gold, and I’d love to have a modern one.

PS

I know that Hyundai claims its Ioniq 5 is supposed to look like the Hyundai Pony, but follow through. That car made its debut in Turin, Italy, built under contract by Italdesign. The designer’s name? Giorgetto Giugiaro – the same guy who would design the production Delta a few years later. And, come on, there’s no way the person who drew up the Ioniq 5 had a Pony poster on their wall, no matter how they pitched it to corporate. It’s a Delta.

[Images: Hyundai, Stellantis/Lancia, Porsche]

Jo Borras
Jo Borras

I've been in and around the auto industry since 1997, and have written for a number of well-known outlets like Cleantechnica, the Truth About Cars, Popular Mechanics, and more. You can also find me talking EVs with Matt Teske and Chris DeMorro on the Electrify Expo Podcast, writing about Swedish cars on my Volvo fan site, or chasing my kids around Oak Park.

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  • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Aug 19, 2021

    PCP

  • Scott25 Scott25 on Aug 20, 2021

    Hyundai had a design resurgence 5-10 years ago, lately they’ve just been going back to their old ways. The Palisade was designed with the same attititude and restraint as the XG350, and the Sonata defines “only looks good in pictures”, and it looks like a beauty compared to the Elantra, definitely in the top 5 ugliest car designs of the last 30 years. The Genesis range looks like a mishmash of Bentley and Mercedes cues, with Infiniti thrown in for the G70. Also the 2011 Sonata was a blatant Mercedes CLS clone at the height of the “4 door coupe” craze.

  • EBFlex At the summer property putting boats in the water, leveling boat lifts, cleaning the lots for summer, etc. Typical cabin stuff in the most beautiful place on the planet
  • Lou_BC I've I spent the past few days in what we refer to as "the lower mainland". I see Tesla's everywhere and virtually every other brand of EV. I was in downtown Vancouver along side a Rivian R1T. A Rivian R1S came off as side street and was following it. I saw one other R1S. 18% of new vehicles in BC are EV'S. It tends to match what I saw out my windshield. I only saw 2 fullsized pickups. One was a cool '91 3/4 ton regular cab. I ran across 2 Tacoma's. Not many Jeeps. There were plenty of Porches, Mercedes, and BMW's. I saw 2 Aston Martin DBX707's. It's been fun car watching other than the stress of driving in big city urban traffic. I'd rather dodge 146,000 pound 9 axle logging trucks on one lane roads.
  • IBx1 Never got the appeal of these; it looks like there was a Soviet mandate to create a car with two doors and a roof that could be configured in different ways.
  • CAMeyer Considering how many voters will be voting for Trump because they remember that gas prices were low in 2020–never mind the pandemic—this seems like a wise move.
  • The Oracle Been out on the boat on Lake James (NC) and cooking up some hella good food here with friends at the lake place.
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