Direct Current

Two new battery electric cars. Two vastly different visual offers. Any real difference? 

Hyundai IONIQ 5. (c) Hyundai UK

Electrification brooks no resistance. Legislative mandates have made it so, and as successive national governments fall into step, the current is running in one direction only. Nevertheless, for those of us who view the motorcar as a source for common good, we can perhaps witness this once in a lifetime paradigm shift with genuine interest, enthusiasm even. Well we might, if the fare being offered was served in more appetising packaging.

Because in purely aesthetic terms, and with one or two notable exceptions, a majority of cars thus constituted have eschewed the concept of either genuine surprise or delight.

Recently, we have been presented with two new BEV entrants from the Hyundai Motor Group, that mighty South Korean automotive and industrial powerhouse. Both sit at opposing ends of the current EV design spectrum, epitomising the dichotomy facing established car manufacturers as they struggle to establish a robust template for the electrified motor car.

What we appear to be offered at present is a predominantly binary visual proposition. On one hand a reassuring approximation of retro-futurism, and on the other a more dystopian, sterile, product design solution.[1]

IONIQ 5 will accommodate lifestyles without limits,[2] proactively caring for customers’ needs throughout their journey.” Thomas Schemera – Executive Vice President and Global Chief Marketing Officer.

First out of the blocks and espousing the former visual envelope is Hyundai themselves with their back to the future IONIQ 5 – a name which rolls beautifully off the tongue in all corners of the English speaking world. Clearly named by the same marketing team who wrote Hyundai’s impenetrable press release, so if facts and figures are your wont, I’m afraid you’re on your own.

Claimed by its makers to stylistically evoke the original 1975 Hyundai Pony – designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Ital Design consultancy – the IONIQ 5 carries a vague suggestion of this, a soupçon of that, and if one really concentrates, a tiny screed of the legacy car and its fabled carrozzeria may perhaps be discerned. One has to wonder how many will notice, nor care for that matter?

Being a Hyundai (these days the more visually expressive brand within the stable), the otherwise quite calm looking IONIQ 5 comes with an unnecessary complement of Z-shaped slashes along its flanks, not to mention a cornucopia of fussy, over-mannered detailing. But without them, what would be left?

The Opposites United design philosophy makes its debut on EV6, and will inform the design of all future Kia models. The philosophy is based on five key design pillars: ‘Bold for Nature’, ‘Joy for Reason’, ‘Power to Progress’, ‘Technology for Life’, and ‘Tension for Serenity’.” Kia Corporation

KIA EV6. Image:

On the other side of the HMG visual spectrum lies KIA Motors, where not a scintilla of retrospective shoegazing can be found – the equation KIA seeing fit to pursue being an entirely rational, product design-led one.

New car, new design philosophy. New(ish) Design Director too, in the shape of former BMW Chief Designer, Karim Habib – a man who’s imprint remains indelibly upon the current generation of Veirzylinder products – not that it’s in evidence here.[3]

KIA’s EV6 (another memorable name), while sharing HMG’s dedicated EV architecture, or Electric-Global Modular Platform (E-GMP) to the uninitiated, appears more overt crossover-based in appearance and layout, but beyond that, all external similarities with its Hyundai-branded stablemate cease.

In marked contrast to Hyundai’s offering, the EV6’s flanks offer clean, unadorned, voluptuous surfaces, a rising beltline and while the body section is both quite pleasing, and well resolved in the modern idiom, the visual extremities leave this observer’s bell unrung.

At the nose, the dictates of aerodynamics and the necessity to do away with a traditional grille motif has left a bland, featureless visage which suggests a composite for advertising purposes, rather than the bold new face for the brand. After all, having spent years and countless millions establishing KIA’s so-called Tiger face, why simply discard it and leave this in its place?

The rear is discordant for similar reasons, yet while it also plays the minimalist card, it over-eggs matters with a now de rigueur light-bar. Furthermore, neither front nor rear really speak to one another, the whole ensemble resembling a less than comfortable melding of three disparate designs – or possibly one which was tinkered with quite late in the process.

Cabin-wise, both cars again offer quite different, if broadly similar solutions. Both are dominated by large slab-like screens, a lack of haptic knobs and controllers and a broadly soulless environment, devoid of warmth. The IONIQ 5 at least makes a virtue of its layout by eschewing a space robbing centre console, making a feature of its uninterrupted footwells. Ironically, it is the KIA’s interior which looks the more normal of the pair, choice it seems, being the HMG leitmotif.

Both are likely to be fully resolved products and given HMG’s track record, are likely to prove excellent consumer durables. But like so many of the current BEV breed, it seems so very hard to feel even the remotest level of enthusiasm.

Admittedly, it’s early in the transition, but it does appear, from this safe distance that the industry remains at a collective loss as how to visually address the BEV design issue. Like any Klondike rush towards a new frontier, it all appears a bit scattergun – and will probably remain so until somebody successfully codifies the template.

Certainly, the Hyundai Motor Group are being quite astute in offering similar products in different wrappings – after all, should one not appeal, perhaps the other will be more to madam’s liking. But meanwhile, the wait for a genuinely new, truly desirable BEV just got that little bit longer.

[1] What exactly is a lifestyle without limits?
[2] A slightly half hearted middle ground also exists.
[3] Given the timelines, it’s unlikely he lent much significant input to the design of the EV6. Habib joined KIA in October 2019.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

28 thoughts on “Direct Current”

  1. Thank you very much, Eóin. You have written a very apt summary.
    Your criticisms hit the nail on the head – and the products described are still the “nicer” representatives of their kind.

    The sloping line (crease) in the side of the IONIQ is a silly repetition of a old SEAT design.
    In the first pictures of the KIA I spontaneously found the rear quite nice, which on the other hand only means that the enthusiasm will die down quite quickly and you will probably find it boring very soon.

    The interiors of modern cars – and especially BEVs are outstanding – with all their screens look like you’re in a mediocre sci-fi film with Tom Cruise.

    Not my cup of tea at all.
    But no disadvantage without an advantage: I am too old to have to go through all this anymore.

  2. Good morning Eóin and thanks for sharing your thoughts on the new South Korean EVs. The Ioniq 5 is, I think, an example of a design where the designer should really have put down their pen earlier:

    The basic shape is nicely geometric (if you like that sort of thing, which I do) but the overlaid details are just too fussy: the eyebrows over the wheelarches (complete with eyelashes!) and that diagonal slash across the door skins spoil it for me. That said, the Ionic 5 does feature the best interpretation yet of Opel/Vauxhall’s new ‘visor’ front end!

    The EV6 has a nice centre section and DLO, eschewing the current rising waistline orthodoxy in favour of something more horizontal.

    The front end is bland, but maybe authentic for an EV? It looks like it has been lifted from the VW ID.3 I don’t like the way it connects to the wheelarches. Likewise, the back end treatment was a nice idea but the execution is too fussy for my tastes.

    Finally, a ‘lifestyle without limits’ would involve calorie-free biscuits. 😁

    1. Oh my God, the eyelashes! I was so dazzled by the Z-line that I didn’t even notice them yet.
      Do they come as an extra in black like the after-market lashes for the Twingo?

    2. A couple of days ago I had the opportunity to look at an ID.3 and ID.4 in the forecourt of my local VAG dealer. These cars have equally silly wheelarch treatments and they are the result of their architecture.
      These cars have tons and cubic metres of batteries in their floor and the cabin sits onm top of that.
      Therefore you’d end with acres of metal in the sides or you have to use those black rims to the wheelarch cut outs to make them look more normal. Otherwise these cars would look like a Golf Cross Country,onerror=redirect,width=1920,height=1920,fit=scale-down/

  3. “the wait for a genuinely new, truly desirable BEV ”
    OXYMORON noun a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction.

  4. A well observed and thought through piece, which in itself I found thought-provoking. I am completely with your observations on both cars.

    I wish Hyundai had been more brave with the Ioniq 5 and removed the visual fluff from the flanks, the wheel-arches and some of the other details. True, there is a risk that it would leave not a lot, but that in itself would have been a feature, and rather refreshing. Also, having really liked the Ioniq 5 on first seeing it, I am already thinking it looks quite dated, and it’s the Z-feature-line, etc. which does that for me.

    On the EV6, again, it does look a little like a car of two halves that don’t really interrelate. The front reminded me of that much-referred to Car Magazine cover that went ‘who will put an end to same-again design’ (or words to that effect), and it’s almost a facsimile of the recently defunct Golf 7. Whilst I don’t like dummy-grilles on EVs, surely there is some degree of wit somewhere in these highly paid and feted designers where the marques ‘face’ can be represented in a subtle yet notable way? Overall, for some reason the KIA made me think of the last-gen Lancia Delta, in that it looks long and large and the KV6’s rear brings both that car and the Maserati 3200GT to mind.

    Overall, I find myself wanting to like both of these cars. I think they are each more successful than the efforts so far of, say, VW, BMW, Audi, Mercedes and Lexus. I also appreciate the choice offered within the same organisation – that, to me, shows a bit of strategic thought about the portfolio of marques. Furthermore, the technology platform they share appears more advanced to me than that of the German offerings thus far, but I probably don’t know enough to be a proper judge of that kind of thing.

    In the wings we have the incoming EQS, which certainly has an interesting dashboard in the MBUX Hyperscreen, and also has an interesting profile, but the effect is somewhat spoiled by having too many disruptions to the side DLO. Shame, the concept had real promise.

  5. Oh, and it seems Gordon Wagonner has been running evening classes in marketing twaddle for fellow designers – that stuff from KIA, with all those phony ‘pillars’, is just ‘nails-down-a-blackboard’ cringe-worthy.

    1. Sorry, one too many ‘ns’ crept into the great Gordo’s surname there.

    2. Hi S.V. Perhaps it was a subliminal Freudian reference to the Daimler Chrysler era and you were aiming for ‘Gorden Grand Wagoneer’? (It’s Gorden with an ‘e’ BTW.) 😁

  6. “Ioniq” is an apt name for a car using either battery or hydrogen fuel cell technology. Instinctively I link it to fuel cells first. I guess Hyundai sought this ambivalence, trying to get an early advantage in the future scramble for good FCV names. It might even become its own brand in the future.

    I also like the general shape of the IoniQ. But it makes me miss single-pressing doors.

  7. I agree that the Ionic would be a rather nice clean-looking design if it weren’t for all the guff. How I(r)onic. The front reminds me of the Alfa Romeo SZ. The face of the other one (whatever it was called) reminds me of the Honda Beat.

    Regarding the interiors, it seems the industry is quickly converging around an iPad-left-in-the-white-goods-corner-of-Currys aesthetic*. The unremitting grey and black of the inside of ICE cars is to be replaced with unremitting grey and white. It’s all a bit utilitarian isn’t it. Maybe we’re no longer allowed to feel sexy whilst driving and instead should feel suitably chastised whilst in our electrically propelled conveyance. Also, why can’t I have proper ergonomics with my BEV?

    * Currys is a major British electrical retailer.

  8. Nice piece!
    The Ioniq looks like a 3-door mk2 Audi A2 had an accident with some scissors 🙂
    I would offer more than that but I’m pushed for time today for less pithy commenting.

    1. Hi Huw. What a shame that 127 concept wasn’t picked up by Fiat. It’s so much better looking than most current superminis.

  9. I find the Kia’s Smiling Beluga face rather baffling. While its most recent applications weren’t all that comely, it certainly had become an instantly recognisable strand of (sigh…) Brand DNA.

    Then again, I assume the EV6 is supposed to symbolise the start of a new era not only in engineering terms, but also with regards to styling. Personally, I’d consider the result rather nondescript, and needlessly so – despite that rear light band obviously being of such great importance to Karim Habib that he took it with him when he left Japan and Infiniti for Kia and South Korea:

    The Hyundai I mostly like. The concept car is among the few happy memories I took with me from the last/final Frankfurt Motor Show. I don’t mind a bit of ’80s retro flair if it’s done well, although those eyelashes are admittedly terrible.

    1. Christopher, I greatly respect your work and your opinion, and I wondered too about the sudden change of design direction, but it turns out that many of the design themes expressed in the EV6 seem consistent with those introduced in the 2020 Soul (heralding the demise of the tiger nose).

      But I am talking mostly about graphic elements, not the underlying forms. And in this regard I find it somewhat confusing having been presented with a number of chunky looking Kias (also the Stinger) and fluid looking Hyundais (like the Prophecy concept shown below), yet the parent company chose to flip those impressions 180° with these EVs.

    2. Good spot!

      The Soul still pays lip service to the tiger nouse through the graphics on its giant front air intake, but that nondescript strip connecting the light units is there and present already. Given that front design doesn’t involve any metal parts, it may (or may not) have been altered late in the process, but before production start to help introduce the new front design and Mr Habib’s new styling direction.

      You’re right about Hyundai having previously done little to establish much in the way of a family resemblance. Like Toyota in the past, Hyundai used to design each model separately, without caring much about corporate styling coherence. This seems to have changed now too.

    3. Yes – Mistype or bias – I meant A3 (I used to have an A2 so it was probably that)

  10. At last a couple of EVs that don’t look repulsive…. Alright, an unfair generalisation about such devices – but from the above comments you know what I mean. And perhaps we’ll look back at this pair one day find something pleasing about them. It’s perhaps right to expect the likes of Hyundai & Kia to lead the way, considering that they originate in the same part of the world that all our microchips are manufactured in.

    However, our headlong rush to power everything by electricity is sweeping serious issues under the carpet of expediency. Generating the electricity to meet the exponential increase in demand will far exceed the glib assurances of the promoters of renewable energy; the massive increase in the production of highly toxic batteries raises major moral and environmental issues, of how and where those toxic elements are sourced and of their eventual disposal.

    We spent most of the 20th century dealing with the problem of most of our oil coming from an unstable part of the world; we now face the prospect of most of the microprocessors, without which our whole infrastructure cannot function, coming from an equally unstable part of the world.

  11. I have learnt that it is unwise to judge the look of a new model from 2D photographs. I remember thinking the 2nd generation Renault Laguna was a complete mess, but in the metal they quickly became rather attractive. My only feelings on the two cars in question is that the Hyundai is slightly better-looking than the original Ioniq, and the Kia is the better of the two. Since these are both pure battery EVs, and as such a blind alley in the evolution of the automobile, they are not worth spending any time on.
    I see they are planning extreme events for high performance off-road EVs. Since there are unlikely to be off-road charging stations this has to be a very cynical operation.

  12. Are Tension for Serenity a prog-rock band? Where do they find this guff?
    My ambivalence towards both cars stems from such corporate clap-trap .

  13. On first sight the KIA looked more relaxed, but after a 10-minute long consideration I deem Hyundai’s version the winner. Though it is true that is has a lot of unnecesary floppy details, the KIA has even more. It has that massive widening in the rear so popular nowadays (who wants to see that in the mirror all the time?! Maybe in a Porsche 911 or Lamborghini), the new KIA logo doesn’t harmonize with any of their cars and while that upwards tightening window line indeed looked fancy on Lancias and Alfas 10 years ago, it’s also becoming a cliché and causes claustrophobia on the rear seats. True, the KIA’s interior may be more to my taste with its less-techy feel (Hyundai’s large Fahrenheit 451-style screen totally puts me off), but the rear end is decisive – again, the KIA is the bigger mess and it can’t hide the crossover nature of the vehicle. The Hyundai’s shape is a nice throwback to the hatchback fashion of the ’80s, even though these seem to be Jaguar I-Pace size cars.

  14. I really like the Ioniq 5; I think the EV 6 is okay. Both, to me, are better than other manufacturers’ attempts and the 5 reminds me a lot of the mk1 Golf (I can see the Alfa SZ in the front, too). I don’t really see much of the original Pony in it, which I always thought looked a bit like a 4-door Marina coupé.

    I believe that the makers refer to the 5 and 6 as SUVs and that seems a bit strange to me, especially in the Ioniq 5’s case.

    Neils van Roij did an interesting review of the 5 – he seems to like it.

    I believe that we are at the very early stages of EV design and shapes will change as batteries develop and become smaller.

    I see there’s a new, small Tesla coming in a couple of years, which should drive down prices.

  15. my son and his wife have just bought the model previous to the
    Ioniq 5 (a 4? here in australia it’s called the Ioniq Electric), trading
    in their faithful -and quick, thanks to its Gti engine – VW Multivan.
    their house, big furniture-making workshop and sculpture studio
    are powered by their solar panels only. despite the hefty price of the
    Ioniq they’ve done their sums and are confident it will earn its keep.
    they’re aware of the various ethical and environmental arguments
    about electric vehicles and have done the thinking. I had a brief drive
    in the car, it’s not unlike our Civic hatch (9th gen) to look at, quite
    amiable to sit in and drive, the main novelty being the regenerative
    braking, which is adjustable and effective. yes, a bland car, I wonder
    how they will find it in the long term. I like the name, it does allude
    to the much-abused iconic, but also to ironic, without which much
    contemporary discourse and literature would wither on the vine.

  16. Digressing slightly, I’m rather taken with the upcoming Santa Cruz ute – above all it’s a Tucson. Rather different from the customary pick-up fare, and some interesting surfacing games being played.

    Perhaps it’s the Tadao Ando hommage concrete backdrop which does it for me.

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