In the beginning there was the econobox, the cheap and cheerful little Pony. But Hyundai rewrote the book when it introduced the big Genesis sedan, winning the coveted North American Car of the Year award and proving that Korean carmaker could actually compete in the luxury market.
With the more recent Equus showing Hyundai’s ambitions to move even more up-market, the maker is providing a very clear “hint” of what’s to come with the new HCD-14 Genesis concept vehicle unveiled at the North American International Auto Show today.
The show car “gives a hint of the design direction we’ll be taking, and an indication of the focus we’re placing on driving dynamics and technology,” explained John Krafcik, CEO of Hyundai Motor America and a former Ford senior engineer.
In its earliest incarnation, Hyundai products were simple, basic and largely forgettable. But in recent years, it has put a premium on styling – as demonstrated by recent models like the midsize Sonata and compact Elantra. The HCD-14 Genesis takes things a step further.
It adapts a coupe-like sedan shape that is more refined than the more mainstream Hyundai entries while still pushing the design boundaries. Credit Chris Chapman, the former BMW designer who is now running advanced design operations for the Korean carmaker – the HCD in the concept car’s name short for Hyundai California Design.
“We instilled HCD-14 Genesis with a premium-sport 4-door coupe road presence,” explained Chapman. “Its sleek and lightweight silhouette does not punish the wind, but uses fluidic precision with dramatic surfacing that conveys natural restraint. Inside, a driver-centric cockpit prioritizes dramatic sculpture over infotainment button overload. Laminated and milled-wood detailing delivers a fresh, topographical map-like visual interest throughout the cabin-length center console.”
Company insiders suggest that the concept vehicle will make a splashy return when Hyundai reveals the next-generation Genesis sedan in the next couple years. And it is likely to influence the bigger Equus, the maker’s even more audacious challenge to the established flagships of the luxury market – the BMW 7-Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Lexus LS.
But a closer look reveals some design details likely to remain with the show car, notably the rear-opening “suicide” doors that stylists love to embrace on the show floor but which have rarely made it into production since the days of the old Lincoln Mark II.
And while electric door releases are out there on a few low-volume models – such as the Chevrolet Corvette – it remains to be seen if Hyundai would find it worthwhile and effective to adapt that technology to something a bit more mainstream.
The HCD-14 serves as a test bed for other new technologies, including an “advanced 3-D gesture-based technology controls.” Might the maker allow a driver to change stations, adjust volume or operate other controls with a simple flick of the wrist – never mind replace the traditional key or keyless fob with optical face recognition? It’s clear the industry, as a whole, is looking for the most effective way to operate today’s increasingly complex infotainment systems while limiting driver distraction.
And Hyundai has shown a willingness to push the edge in order to stand out among mainstream manufacturers as it demonstrates it’s more than just a bargain basement brand.
But what may prove the real measure of the marque’s maturity will be the “driving dynamics” Krafcik referred to. Hyundai may be standing up against the German luxury makers but it still hasn’t quite gotten down the solid and inspiring steering and suspension behavior that draws so many buyers to Teutonic nameplates.
The executive is the first to admit that and says it is perhaps his single biggest focus. Should the HCD-14 show car deliver on the dynamic front it will position Hyundai as a brand the rest of the industry surely will have to respect and even fear.