The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway

Surprisingly, yet inevitably, the most original interpretation of modern luxury doesn’t come from Germany – but South Korea: The rather stupendous Genesis Mint.

Aspirational flair is not a matter of size. Photo (c) The Verge

Creating a ‘premium’ car brand is no walk in the park. It takes decades, unique flair, racing success (Jaguar), billions and a great many wise product decisions (BMW, Audi) to achieve this. Anything less than boundless commitment to the cause is bound to fail (Infiniti, Acura). It was therefore a brave/reckless choice, courtesy of Hyundai, to try and establish a luxury brand nobody had asked for with Genesis.

Originally just a model name, the Hyundai Genesis evolved into a dedicated brand only two years ago. Back then, ‘to Infiniti and beyond’ may have been one of the more approving reactions to a move most would consider utterly superfluous. For why should the South Koreans succeed where the Japanese (Lexus excepted) so unreservedly failed?

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The first string of concept cars shown after the marque had been established reinforced the suspicion that Hyundai hadn’t learned the lessons taught by the failed Japanese luxury marques. The large coupé, large sports saloon and SUV designs unveiled at either Pebble Beach or the New York Auto Show (hence suggesting which market they were primarily aimed at) all turned out as expected, in that they sported slightly too ‘expressive’, big-grilled designs that very much adhere to the current standard styling idiom, and obviously belong to categories of cars in which the established (European) ‘premium’ brands traditionally excelled. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

It wasn’t until the Genesis Essentia concept car was unveiled last year that one could get the impression that Hyundai’s noblest brand wouldn’t simply repeat what has come (and gone) before. For while the category of car it represents – that of the luxurious GT – obviously is a luxury automobile staple, the execution of its design was surprisingly fresh and stimulating.

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Juxtaposing traditional elements like the cab-rearward profile and dihedral doors with cutting edge features like the thin, bulb-free light units or air channels where one would’ve expected a big internal combustion engine a few years ago, the Essentia was very much a traditional sports car on the surface that rewarded closer inspection, upon which its original elements could be discovered.

One year later, and still under the impression of the Essentia, the teaser photo published by Genesis prior to the 2019 New York International Auto Show suggested that the South Koreans would have another interpretation of the performance car in store.

Consider us teased. Photo (c) CNet

Given this context, the Genesis Mint turned out to be very refreshing indeed. For not only is it by far the most radical deviation from the ‘premium’ brand establishment formula so far, but also the most interesting, original take on a truly modern ‘premium’ car since Jaguar’s fabulous R-D6 concept car from 2003.

Created at Genesis’ Frankfurt studio, the Mint explores sophisticated motoring beyond Nürburgring lap times or plutocratic luxury. Just like BMW’s New Mini tried to define how a small car could be aspirational (and, of course, expensive) in 2001, the Mint tentatively answers the questions regarding the future of privileged short-range personal mobility in an age of inner city combustion engine bans and ever denser traffic.

So while its footprint may be small, its accoutrements are anything but barren – as with a traditional luxury vehicle, Mint’s cabin features plenty of leather and metal. Even its colour scheme – green exterior and tan cabin – is as classical as it could possibly be. And yet the Genesis exudes a very modern minimalism at the same time, featuring just one display (rather than a home cinema’s worth of flatscreens), bench-like seating (instead of the token/superfluous bucket seats) and a calm, rather than busy overall ambience.

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Some might still be unconvinced by the Mint’s qualities as a small car, given it’s not particularly space efficient or as practical as it could be (the dehidral openings of the rear luggage compartment being obviously there for show purposes, rather than everyday usability). Yet unpretentious utility is decidedly not what this Genesis is about, but luxury and drama on a small scale. On that front, it’s an unmitigated success.

Going beyond the Genesis brand and its chances in the marketplace, it is exactly this kind of lateral thinking the automotive industry in general and car design in particular badly need right now. Orthodox approaches have resulted in bloated ranges of bloated cars, with true differentiation becoming increasingly difficult to achieve in a risk-averse environment that rewards conservatism, no matter how counterproductive the result.

While the mainstream shorthands for sophistication and luxury in car design remain constrained to the likes of a big grille, stitched leather or vast infotainment screens, Genesis have dared create something truly novel – and truly in keeping with the times.

Now here’s to hoping that Genesis’ South Korean custodians dare to be bold in the way Jaguar’s management wasn’t a-decade-and-a-half ago. After all, true originality always means providing an answer to a question that hasn’t been posed yet.

 

The author of this piece runs his own motoring website, which you are welcome to visit at 

 www.auto-didakt.com

Author: Christopher Butt

car design enthusiast // the mind behind www.auto-didakt.com // contributor to The Road Rat magazine //

19 thoughts on “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”

  1. I view this Genesis through quite different eyes, I’m afraid.

    Any mechanical engineering student will know about rotational inertia, and how it increases with the object’s radius squared, requiring additional energy to speed up (and absorption to slow down) beyond its simple mass would lead your average citizen to believe.

    Yet here I see beyond-hope-bad-design tractor-sized wheels added to a car. Not only do these wheels steal interior space, they waste energy, ruin the ride with excessive unsprung mass and hamper the handling, not least because of gyroscopic effect.

    I cannot take seriously a design that flouts such basic knowledge, and have to dismiss it out of hand. Styling design wonderfulness be darned; this Mint travesty does not pass the smell test of practicality. Surely one would expect some modicum of engineering reality to seep into the minds of stylist/designers? Apparently not. It’s all for show.

    https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2019/03/19/avoidable-contact-addicted-to-big-wheels

    I’m afraid I feel car designers have given up – if they were any good they’d produce a pleasing design on normal sized wheels instead of relying on the crutch of the wow factor from those agricultural rims. Did a 1960 Lotus 14 Elite require 24 inch rims?

    1. Fair enough.

      I wouldn’t have named the Elite as the Mint’s antithesis though – after all, Chapman’s cavalier attitude towards occupant safety wouldn’t get very far these days. Against that backdrop, today’s impressively small, light and safe (!) Mazda MX-5 would appear to be a more appropriate weapon of choice to club the Mint to death with.
      You’re welcome!

    2. Bill, I agree completely. (good article by Baruth, btw)

      It’s amazing how quickly the tire and wheel weights increase, as the wheel diameter goes up. No only that, when the wheel gets big, then the brake rotors (especially the rear rotors) look “too small”. So the OEMs are now installing brake rotors which are oversized for the application in order to “look cool”.

      When they start increasing the diameter of the rotors in addition to tires and wheels, that’s when the unsprung weight really goes up.

      This is insanity !

      For some of these heaps, the rear unsprung weight is getting so high that it is almost equal to a solid rear axle with sensible tires and wheels.

    3. Bill/Angel: I feel impelled (for the avoidance of misconception) to point out that here at DTW, we have been banging this particular drum for some considerable time. So while I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments as expressed, I would question the context as regards the above article.

      I recall being told by the lead chassis and dynamics engineer for the McLaren F1 programme that in his (and Michelin’s) view, the largest feasible road wheel/tyre diameter was 19″. Anything larger was more trouble than it was worth unless vast brake discs and callipers were required – (for racing etc).

      Car designers have always been in thrall to the visual benefits of big wheels. Engineers used to enjoy sufficient influence to counter this. It’s abundantly obvious that the Genesis Mint as shown above, were it to enter production unaltered, would have virtually zero suspension travel, given the massive wheel/tyre combination it is sporting. But it is after all, a concept.

      In Christopher’s defence, his piece was centred upon the design merits of the Genesis concept and what it might mean for car design trends in the coming years. So while I entirely sympathise with the argument, I do feel it might have been directed at a more deserving target.

    4. Eoin, I get that this is a design study, but it previews what we will see in the future.

      Design studies and concept cars of 15 years ago had what were considered idiotically huge wheels then – and those wheel/tire/brake sizes are now OEM on the standard models !

      All of these concept cars look stupid with normal sized tires and wheels, so if this previews future design, ever larger wheels are guaranteed.

      The wheel/tire/brakes are already larger and heavier than required for engineering purposes. But current concept cars for future vehicles are forecasting that they will get bigger still !

      This is like 1950’s tail fins. They were bogus to begin with, and they just kept making them bigger and bigger.

    5. Angel, before I continue, let me just say that we are all more or less on the same wavelength here. It’s high time the automotive press spoke truth to power and called the carmaker’s bluff on this – a matter some journalists understand well. There are very slight signs that this is beginning to occur, but the profession as a whole has a hell of a lot of ground to make up in this area.

      However, while cars continue to be built ever taller, the stylistic imperative for them to be equipped with larger diameter wheels seems likely to continue. The impending rise of EVs with underfloor battery packs will only exacerbate this trend – until a more compact power source is devised at least or until such time as issues of excess weight and drag lead manufacturers to adopt other solutions.

      However, to further your tailfin analogy, yes they did get ever larger until they fell out of favour rather dramatically – never to be seen again. In a similar manner, I do believe that ultimately, sense will prevail, if only because an engineering-led solution will simply have to be found.

  2. Hello, Christopher. I do agree that there is a niche for something along the lines if the Mint, because my partner and I would be prime candidates to buy one as our day to day driver. We are retired, no (grand)kids to ferry around, so the maximum utilisation of interior space is not that significant a factor for us in a small car. We currently drive an F56 Mini Cooper, which has plenty of front seat space for two tall adults and has enough performance and refinement to be comfortable on a long journey. The rarely used rear seats can be folded in a moment and anything that won’t fit in the enlarged space we can have delivered. The Mini feels like a small BMW in terms of quality, and has enough (expensive optional) extras to feel well specified (certainly not something one can say about the basic model). On the occasions when family visit and need to be transported, we simply rent a larger car.

    So, we want a high quality small car, but not an expensively dressed up version of something more prosaic, such as the Fiesta Vignale. That’s not snobbery on our part: depreciation on cars like this has been heavy and is likely to remain so, which is a major negative factor. The Mini has no direct competitors, apart from, possibly, the Audi A1, which us still just a Polo in a smart(?) suit.

    I do take Bill’s point about over-large wheels but, in part-defence of designers, small cars are no longer small at all, given the demands of safety and expectations about standard equipment, so we’re unlikely ever to see anything like the original Mini’s 10″ wheels again. The current F56 Mini looks badly under-wheeled on the standard 15″ wheels, a consequence of the large black plastic wheel arches, so we specified 17″ items. The potential negative impact on ride quality was mitigated by also specifying non-run-flat tyres and a spacesaver spare wheel as extras. It would be nice to see designers using, say, 15″ wheels on a small car concept, rather than resort to the usual trope.

    1. As the Mint is a concept car, the wheel size doesn’t get my knickers in as much of a twist as Bill’s. Exaggeration is the name of this particular game, after all – and the Mint is clearly aimed at a ‘style conscious’ part of the market, which means one shouldn’t expect original Mini or 2CV levels of efficiency, anyway.

      I probably don’t need to tell you that the Fiesta Vignale I sampled left me rather cold. In addition, I had the opportunity to sample an R56 Mini JCW S convertible last week, which – as much as I’m not keen on admitting as much – is a more characterful machine than the Ford, despite its obvious shortcomings (ride quality, price) and its being a generation older a product. But as BMW/Mini have refused to truly advance the New Mini concept, just as the ‘Aston’ Cygnet was an interesting idea that was spectacularly poorly executed and with EV propulsion likely to be the only option for in-town motoring in the medium term, a new take on the issue at hand is more than welcome. Which is why I find the Mint so praiseworthy.

      Intriguingly, the Mint’s interior comes across like a much more plush take on the cabin of the Mindset, the Murat Günak-designed EV concept of a decade ago. The (not quite so) minimalist dashboard and bench seating certainly appear remotely related.

  3. It’s a concept, right, for an aspiring premium brand. I think it would be hard to expect the Mint’s designers not to have gone with the over-sized bowlies.

    I like the concept – it actually puts me in mind of the Ford Puma with a dose of Honda Insight (MK2) about it.

    I also think it right to credit the South Korean manufacturers for their extraordinary progress and impressive ambition.

    By the way, I’m Rael!

    1. This is indeed conceptually similar to the Honda CRZ, a very likeable machine that didn’t sell well enough for warrant a successor. Mind you, its final execution seemed a bit half-baked – the CRZ had the hard ride and manual gearbox of a sports car, but no Type R version.

      I like this Mint a lot but very much doubt it will progress into production.

  4. I do think that Volvo missed a trick in not replacing the C30 with something along these lines. Small(ish), good quality, not necessarily trying to handle as well as the Mini, but something to give it and the A1 a run for their money.

    1. Yes, that’s definitely a car we would have considered, but it was already out of production when we bought the Mini. Perhaps the C30 was a bit ahead of its time, and poorly understood? It was not a strong seller, but a nice “alternative” choice.

    2. Volvo insisted it was a coupé (in the UK at least). I don’t think that helped people understand it.

    3. I´d agree with that wholeheartedly. The C30 had a lot going for it and I am aware certain DWT readers even own one such car.
      The Mint´s worth a second look so thanks for drawing our attention to it. The vestigial boot and tail-light graphics are very pleasant to behold. I notice the C-pillar treatment which makes me think of the White Hen.

  5. Does this type of car actually sell? All these models everyone has mentioned (C30, CR-Z, F56 MINI) were abject failures over here. I’ll add i3 to the list, in my opinion a car too beautiful for this world (even beyond the styling, which seems Bangle-esque which I’m aware is only a good thing here at dtw).

    Big wheels aren’t the issue everyone thinks they are, frankly. You gain at most two pounds per inch of wheel diameter, and on modern cars ride quality is never exceptional but also never awful. Given the horrific compromises everyone makes by opting for a tall car, big wheels aren’t really on the to-do list. If anything, I’m more bothered by wide wheels. Grip be damned, they compromise fuel economy, straight line stability and weight- Nissan 370Z is undriveable for this reason. (The solution lies with the i3: 155/70R19 or thereabouts).

    By the way, I wouldn’t recommend comparing anything to the MX-5. Nothing comes close, and there’s a damn good reason most cars aren’t built like that. Given the choice between a robust transmission or fully forged front suspension, Mazda apparently chose the latter. The result is a smoother ride (on racing suspension) than most Mercedes (I just started with them) and a trip to the dealership.

  6. Well said, Lee. If I ever have the privilege to drive an ND MX-5, I’ll go easy on the six speed, thankfully Mazda has implemented fixes under warranty. And you still love it, I can tell.

    1. I am a bit chuffed by overly fragile wheels, at first I thought BMW had pioneered a metallurgical advance, but I assure you they have not.

  7. I won’t even attempt to delve into the ill-chosen direction this thread was accidentally steered into. The topic of tyre/rim sizing and its influence on the plethora of vital automotive parameters is so huge, it deserves an entire realm thereto.

    So, back onto this very (M)interesting Genesis concept.

    Apart from the sheer fresh air it brings into the current mayhem the industry is in (sizing-, styling-, drivetrains- and segmentation- wise), what strikes me most about this undeniably succesful styling exercise, is an aspect that has
    to do purely with the styling as such: it is the risk they’ve taken to elect
    a massively sculpted side profile, in what is a very short wheelbase
    and a generally small-sized car.

    By all means, it shouldn’t work in such a short wheelbase (which is, visually, rendered even shorter, thanks to those misunderstood 20+” wheels
    on the concept…) – yet it does work, to say the least.

    The unabashed slope of the roofline, that rhymes so bravely with the beltline curve, lends a static dynamism to the shape that just makes the narrowing
    of its rear-end so natural, as if sculpted by the motion.

    The palpable, sweet (yet seemingly mysterious) familiarity of the shape – the way it makes your eyes warm to it, is lent by the remote (yet hard to dismiss) similarity of its roofline/C-pillar/”hips” junction to Nissan’s
    seemingly weird Juke *.

    What they apparently did, was, that they actually took Juke’s recipe for visually ‘squatting’ the rear wheels and took it to another, entirely sublime level.

    The truly disconcerting aspect here is that the Mint looks delectable even on the screen/paper. Whereas in the real-world, the strassenbild-effect will probably be a major commercial threat to anyone out there.

    What’s more, once it’s fitted with less absurdly-sized wheels, the visual length of its wheelbase will increase, leaving this indeleteable “first-impression” chunkyness solely in the back of your minds, and it will actually gain
    a ‘relatively-enhanced’ layer of elegance, too. Its side profile
    is sculpted carefully, and will probably see to that.

    Its front wing & hoodline radii has something irresistibly Alpine A110 about it, which is another ‘positive subliminal connection’ that will only help
    the Mint achieve a ’19 Jimny-like ‘footprint of sensationality’,
    to risk such a wording.

    As to the interior proposal : their boldness to offer a simple, plush and unabashedly comfy interior (if it passes safety regs and other possible production obstacles), finishes off the foregone conclusion that,
    if it makes it to production, it’ll probably give birth to
    an entirely new vehicle sub-category.

    As someone said above, they probably nailed the recipe of a truly useful
    premium & posh city/urban cum lifestyle vehicle. Many have failed.

    Consider me firmly in the camp of those who practically
    said ‘Take my money now’.

    * – although never a fan of the Juke by any means, on the contrary :
    as time passes by, I never fail to notice that (even if to me it is still a distasteful vehicle), it becomes hard to argue that they *did* manage to create that
    “400 kg visual downforce over rear wheels” squatty-stancey look,
    that just screams “visual power” – and, obviously, helps sales
    no end. You just cannot argue that they created
    that effect, in spades.

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