Opinion: The Overstyling Of Hyundai/Kia Vehicles May Be Coming To A Head
I’ve seen the new Kia Sportage in person. I’ve also seen the new Hyundai Tucson up close. Both show the companies’ latest take in a series of outrageous designs that are meant to win over consumers.
And the plan is a success. Except when the two companies decide to do it all over again instead of perfecting an already good thing. Suddenly, consumers are unfamiliar with the latest models before realizing, “oh, that’s a Sportage.”
In the interest of full disclosure, the author sells cars for a competing brand. His opinion, however, is sincere and unrelated to his sales role.
The Hyundai Sonata that debuted in 2010 was a stepping stone that showed the company had more to offer than a ten-year warranty on the powertrain. Kia was hot on Hyundai’s heels with the sleek looking Optima. Suddenly, the two were seeing sales jump and nipping at the heels of the competition, especially from the Japanese makes.
And it continued for virtually every car to come out of South Korea. Optimas, Sportages, Fortes, Elantras, Velosters, Souls, the Stinger, and of course, the Genesis brand. It was almost like the two companies discovered the ability to style cars to the point of no return.
But it is not all about looks. Although Hyundai and Kia continue to rank at the top in initial quality testing, they fall subpar when it comes to years-long ownership. Apparently, faults appear the longer you use the cars.
This is obviously anecdotal, I can count in double digits how many five-year-old Hyundai Sonatas and Elantras are on the road without working brake lights. Often enough, whenever I look up a Hyundai or KIafor sale, there are paint chips, peeling steering wheels, and engine rebuilds noted in vehicle history reports despite having only 80-90k miles.
To be fair, both Kia and Hyundai are capable of delivering an interior that will contend with BMW. Where they continue to falter is the inability to keep up their first impressions. There’s still the Kia stereotype that no matter how good the car is, someone will say, “It’s still a Kia.”
That’s why even today, I’m skeptical of cars such as the award-winning Kia Telluride. The number of accolades it has won mixed with the level of demand in today’s car market is astonishing for the Telluride. Used examples are appreciating for almost double their original MSRP.
Kia still offers the ten-year warranty with the Telluride, which is enough to set off a mental alarm bell. Does it not have enough faith in the Telluride to last long term? After all, it is a family SUV that will spend a lot of time contending with carloads full of children and cheerios. Parents won’t be happy if they’re suddenly stranded with a breakdown. At that moment, the number of awards won is moot.
On the other hand, Kia could have faith, while acknowledging a long warranty is a powerful selling point.
It’s important to style a car correctly. It’s also important to make sure that the car won’t break on you less than a year after purchase. When American vehicle loan debt is in the trillions of dollars, the last thing you want is more financial trouble. Perhaps that’s why in spite of the new car demand, the average age of an owned car in the United States is now 13 years old.
Kia and Hyundai getting the style of automobiles right; it’s the substance that needs further refinement. But the tide may be turning for the better.
In the ever-growing market of EVs, the Kia EV6 and Hyundai Ioniq 5 are just two of the most appealing options if you’re turned off by high gas prices. Critics have lauded both models for going toe to toe with Tesla’s take on an affordable EV.
More so, the Kia Telluride is the most successful Kia product launch in the United States. In addition to the high volume, it’s getting high marks for reliability now that it’s been around for a few years. Maybe because Kia has taken the opposite approach in vehicle development; less focus on style, more on substance. It remains to be seen if the electrical issues plaguing previous models will affect this one.
And I say again, the level of commitment to interior design and technology is astonishing, especially today. I mean, this is a modern Kia interior:
One complaint that remains common is that most Kias and Hyundais aren’t all that exciting to drive. Nonetheless, the most recent models show promise, especially if improved reliability can match improved styling.
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