Grand Horizons

A further lesson in design from Hyundai.

Image: (c)

It has been stated with considerably greater authority[1] than mine that the current automotive design centre of gravity no longer resides in Europe, the US, nor indeed (as yet at least), China. Car design’s True North now points inexorably towards South Korea. Several factors have contributed to this enviable state of affairs, not least an influx of senior European design talent to the Hyundai group over recent decades, but the end results are entirely their own and can now speak for themselves in the most eloquent fashion.

Image: (c)

A couple of weeks ago, Hyundai unveiled the design of its forthcoming domestic flagship, the seventh-generation Grandeur saloon, replacing the outgoing model which has been on sale since 2016. The very first Grandeur model, itself a hasty makeover of the contemporary Mitsubishi Debonair saloon was first introduced as the Hyundai flagship in 1986, and over the intervening years, the nameplate has proven an upmarket Korean and South-East Asian staple[2]. Over that time, it has cleaved largely to a broadly conservative three-volume silhouette and style, but for its seventh iteration, Hyundai’s designers appear to have gone back to first principles.

Taking some design inspiration from the original 1986 car, as well as from aspects of the outgoing model[3], the 2023 Grandeur is probably as confident a piece of retro-futurist product design as one is likely to see this year – or next. In keeping with the Korean carmaker’s more recent design touchpoints, the new Grandeur is characterised by spare, clean lines, a tall, relatively glassy canopy treatment and a highly discipled treatment of surface and graphic elements. In terms of shut line management, it is also something of a masterclass.

While the canopy, and especially the strongly defined three-quarter light treatment represents the most obviously retrospective aspect of the design, it is the treatment of the car’s extremities which are by far the most striking and it must be said the most future facing. The frontal aspect is dominated by what the carmaker describes as a parametric jewel grill (sic) which spans the width of the car and incorporates the headlamp units[4]. Above this lies a Seamless Horizon Lamp unit which Hyundai’s PR inform us is inspired by “the first light of dawn”. This DRL lends the car a certain Knight Rider aesthetic – one which may or may not have been intentional on Hyundai’s part, but it certainly is distinctive[5].

This Horizon Lamp motif is reflected once more at the tail, with its distinctive up-kick at the boot lid’s trailing edge, a feature which is tidily carried through by the bumper shut line. The thin strip of the tail lamp unit harmonises masterfully with this confluence of lines, surfaces and graphics. There is elegance and discord here, yet everything has been handled with such care and strict discipline that it elevates the design to something more akin to the sublime.

Image: (c)

Chintzy has been a derogative the motor press used to enjoy flinging at Far-Eastern car interiors in the not-so-distant past. In their predominantly binary worldview only two luxury interior design tropes carried any weight – Germanic rectitude[6] or Downton Abbey. The 2023 Grandeur’s cabin design by sharp contrast is clean-lined and elegant in the modernist widescreen idiom and certainly appears to give certain European ‘prestige’ carmakers a few lessons on less equalling more.

Following on from the warmly received Ioniq 5 and 6 EV designs, which emerged as faithful recreations of their conceptual antecedents, there is little reason to imagine that what we see here is anything but production ready; Hyundai themselves confirm that the design as seen here is what will enter production. What has not been announced at this juncture however is what powertrains are intended for the car, but it would not be wild speculation to suggest that a variety of petrol-combustion, hybrid (and perhaps a full-EV model) are likely contenders.

Image: (c)

What is more apparent however is that the Grandeur, when it does go on sale next year will not be offered outside of Korean and selected Far Eastern markets. The more upmarket Genesis brand is now the Hyundai Group’s figurehead at the ‘prestige’ end of the car market across European and North American territories, so no Grandeur for the likes of us. On the basis of these pre-launch images, that is entirely our loss.

[1] We recommend Christopher Butt’s insightful examination of 2022 design culture here.

[2] Earlier versions of the Grandeur were exported to Europe and the US. More latterly the model has been badged Azera in markets outside of South Korea.

[3] It was heavily facelifted in 2019, foretelling this redesign to some extent.

[4] Note to BMW, this is how the split headlamp motif is done.

[5] Shades here too perhaps of Tesla’s Cybertruck.

[6] Now a fond and distant memory.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

44 thoughts on “Grand Horizons”

  1. This is much nicer than the Genesis cars. I would suggest this would sell better – perhaps appealing to disaffected Audi owners. Only the ripples around the wheel arches jar slightly. The rest is very lovely indeed. The grille makes a statement without making a mess. I like the way the designers have made something of the bothersome 45 degree cut between rear bumper and body – referring to the most excellent EV6, one of today´s most striking and Citroen-esque offerings. What do they think in Citroen´s studio of the artless tat they churn out in comparison with Hyundai? That they are the sole heirs to Bertoni and Opron? I think DS is populated by cynics steering a team of under-27s who have been chosen for their ignorance of design history. These days the most desirable and sufficiently luxurious saloons are made by Volvo and Hyundai.

  2. This is brilliant. I’d like one of those. Likely they’ll be a bargain. Let’s wait and see what the mechanicals are like (the expectation is they’ll be good, but let’s wait and see first).

    This excellent design effort brings up the obvious question. Aside from Mercedes and BMW, what has happened to Jaguar?

    Oh dear.

    The next obvious question. What happens when China gets talented designers trained up, well educated, properly set-up, resourced, practiced and producing? Or Russia? Or India? Or Mexico? Or Brasil? The CoG has indeed moved. It isn’t returning soon.

    Richard writes, “What do they think in Citroen´s studio of the artless tat they churn out in comparison with Hyundai? That they are the sole heirs to Bertoni and Opron? I think DS is populated by cynics steering a team of under-27s who have been chosen for their ignorance of design history.”

    Likely true. Likely they are not talented to start with. All fake, the lot of them, but highly edumacated fakes they be- well and truly edumakated. Note this doesn’t apply solely to Citroen either.

    1. They can certainly draw shapes. However, the shapes they draw aren´t all that good. European car design has ended up in a similar place to American car design in the mid 1970s.

    2. Richard: The parallels are there, and with Japanese car design circa 2010 too. Perhaps a common factor being a collision between the defining features of the nation’s car industry and global events, resulting in a crisis of identity.

      “Our cars were defined by big V8s and heavy luxury trimmings, but there’s a fuel crisis… what do we do now?”

      “Our cars were defined by expensive advanced technology and very expensive quality control but the asset bubble burst and we’ve been in recession for 20 years… what do we do now?”

      “Our cars were defined by light weight, great handling, good internal combustion engines and heritage, but there is a shift to heavier cars with more safety features, driving assist technology, electric power and cars don’t need grilles any more… what do we do now?”

  3. Fantastic. Hyundai Design is in a very good place right now. The Ioniq 5, Ionic 6, Staria and now the Grandeur are all different but are connected by a bold minimalism and, as you say, fastidious shutline treatment. I like it when the shutlines (subtly) help to define the look of a vehicle.

    It takes guts to A) stay the course when developing a design like this without adding anything superfluous and B) as a company, allow something so pure through to production without getting cold feet or being swayed by focus groups.

    To me the recent tendency of BMW, Citroen etc to fill every last bit of bodywork with unnecessary flicks, blips and brightwork not only make good shutline treatment impossible, but also shouts of a nervousness and lack of direction. I think directors can often run scared of large unadorned expanses on a vehicle.

  4. My only reservation is the inset rear-quarter window, which looks somewhat dissonant on first acquaintance, but it is a very strong and confident design with lovely detailing. Just compare it with the dismal new BMW 7 Series we discussed recently.

    “German rectitude or Downton Abbey” has to be DTW’s phrase of the week (and maybe the year)! It might require some explanation for our overseas readers: Downton Abbey is a soapy British period drama set in an English stately home in the Edwardian era.

    1. +1 about the inset rear-quarter window. But this detail, just like the blackened-out C-pillar section in the 2010 Jaguar XJ, will disappear in black cars.

      The tags for this post mention the 2003 XG 350, a design I really like, too. Clean lines, frameless windows and no front badge (!!!). Sadly, the drab grey interior can be compared to 1990s Dodges.

    2. In the second photograph down in this article, the C and D pillar area has, to my eye, a resemblance to the Ford Sierra.

      On a slight, but loosely related tangent, I’ve found out today (inspired by this article and aided by Wikipedia) that Hyundai used to assemble Ford Cortinas.

  5. This looks far better than anything currently on offer at Mercedes, BMW or Audi.
    The only thing I don’t like is the nose.
    As much as I welcome the return of grille-light combinations this one is too high and set too low.
    For me it would be perfect if they could make grille and lights slimmer and put it where the DLR is and then add a proper bumper below it.

  6. Hyundai is definitely onto a good thing here, as is KIA.
    The inset quarter window creates a distinctive look, and I love the subtle character line along its rearmost edge. The rear end treatment is very nicely done with excellent shutline management all around. The slight hump in the bootlid as well as the inset quarter window did remind me however of two older Lincoln models- the 1990 Town Car for the inset window and the Mark VIII for the hump. Neither of these two however comes close to the finesse of the new Grandeur:

    By the way, the new Hyundai Staria van/people carrier is also quite a looker, when I first saw one on the road I thought it was a concept vehicle.

    1. I looked at the Staria. It´s remarkable. Hyundai have spotted an open goal – everyone else rushed to overstyle leaving the goal of of understatement wide open. I wonder if it will be as finessed as a VW Up. I expect so but will wait until I see one in the metal. If you look at the forms of an Up under strong light you will see that there is a lot of subtle curvature in the design. That´s why it looks so rich yet so simple.

    2. I happened across a Staria the other week. It’s spectacular.

    3. The Staria is lovely – it’s new to me. It’s funny how ‘obvious’ good design seems – it looks like it was easy to do (it’s not, of course). It gives the impression of having been designed by people who really knew what they wanted to do and enjoyed doing it, although the amount of restraint shown in the design is enormous. It looks like this design language will appear on their trucks, too (e.g. the Neptune concept).

      Here’s a short review of the Staria. In addition to all the lovely design, there are things like the performance ‘N’ range, which are highly rated as sports cars. The days of Hyundais selling on price are long gone and rightly so.

    4. I don’t like the Staria.
      Seen from behind it looks like a super size Vaneo.
      The proportion of glass to metal in the flanks combined with the tiny wheels gives the impression that it will topple over in corners at anything above pedestrians speed.
      The front lights look like a basset dog’s face – the lights are set too low in relation to the grille.

  7. So this confident, understated yet distinctive design is going to be sold only in Far Eastern markets. The same markets whose tastes, so we’re told, are the cause of the incoherent bloaters that are now foisted upon us in Europe. Lazy pandering to perceived cultural stereotypes? I think Richard’s explanation of sheer ineptitude on the part of too many Western design studios is a more convincing explanation.

    1. Totally agree. Pure strong design is not the same as derivative aggressive me too rubbish we see coming out of mainstreamers such as most German and Japanese producers.

    2. Agreed. Especially regarding BMW’s latest string of successes (?) coming from their design studio, the common remark is ‘oh, it’s for China, they’ll love it’. If that’s so, then why are Nio or Li Auto approaching a more restrained, Hyundai/Volvo-like attitude towards styling their new models? It seems few are willing to concede that trouble exists just below the surface at BMW and argue instead that the styling mess is all ‘because of market factors’.

  8. I seem to remember Peter Schreyer being voted Designer of the Decade / Century / Millennium / Whatever in Car Magazine many years ago. I suspect that the vote was actually rigged, and I reacted by being suitably outraged and feeling that the accolade was undeserved. I certainly don’t think that now.

  9. Breezy. Calm. Deft. Elegant. Fresh. Mature. Reserved. Sensitive. Sensual. Sublime. Whispers.

    1. Sounds like the tasting notes for the whisky I was sampling last night gooddog….

  10. Really pleased to see this being reviewed here as it struck me straight away when I first laid eyes on it that, surely, this is what BMW should have delivered instead of the i7/ new 7-series. A number of elements are very similar, it’s just that Hyundai’s execution of them is worlds better.

    I’m with Daniel about the rear-side window and pillar arrangement, I could do without that, but otherwise, inside and out, it’s really rather nice; I concur with a lot of the words listed by gooddog.

    Thanks for picking it out and providing such an intelligent perspective on it.

    1. Yet, if you take it away, I find the car loses something.

    2. Hi Bristow. As generally a fan of the ‘less is more’ school of automotive design, I like what you’ve done. I’d like to see how it would look without the black rising feature line on the flanks and bumper too

    3. Here it is Daniel, but I’m not really convinced. It might be that I’ve been battered into submission by today’s overstyled clunkers (Oh, Richard, why did you have to remind me of Citroen?) but I think a bit of quirkiness is essential. Can I really trust a car that’s too perfect?

    4. Hi Bristow. My apologies, I missed this in all the upheaval of our moving house. I think your rework is great! Simple, clean and elegant, but not anonymous or derivative.

    5. Because then I’d start on the wheels which don’t spoke from a centre point, meaning that they go different ways on different sides, which I find unpardonable.

    6. @bristowfuller, I do find your first version (with the rising black-line) is an improvement, with the less fussy rear pillar/ DLO arrangement. Nice work.

    7. For me, good design is always a compromise between aesthetics and perceived function. I agree that the continuous DLO is more elegant, yet I still prefer the original version. Why is this? I think that it’s because the isolated C pillar window suggests a separate living area, for a car that is presumably supposed to offer its rear seat passengers an ambience at least as pleasant as front seat passengers.

      If I consider two polarising designs that I personally admire greatly, the original late 90s Fiat Multipla and the Skoda Roomster, one thing I like is that, when I look at them from outside, they look like they would be nice things to travel in. You can tell they have been designed to give their passengers, front and, most importantly, back, a pleasant experience.

    8. I was thinking that this car rather thrives on its little idiosyncracies on the design (like those pillars), but this latest version looks very nice too, Bristow! I do agree on the wheels, though: similar to the wheel arches on the Ionic 5. I suppose they think it’s a feature of their designs now.

      I think you’ve shown that the basis of the car is quite good already, giving Hyundai the freedom to add some quirks. Conversely, the 7 series seems to be all quirks and no base. I’ll refrain from spoiling the mood by posting a picture of it.

  11. Thank you Eóin for today’s article.
    What a beauty.
    Also thanks to all the commentators, there is nothing to add to your statements from my side.
    Unfortunately, the bad-taste-party continues to take place on our (European) streets. A rationale continues to be elusive.
    I may only reluctantly follow Richard’s (presumably accurate) explanation, but presumably it is necessary to look reality in the eye – and simply close one’s eyes in the face of the ever worsening ugliness.

    1. and all the better for it, too. PLQ’s Sierra will never be a bad influence to cite.

  12. Good write up, Eóin. What a joy to behold this car, how sad it’ll be almost Korea-only. How is it possible that Hyundai/KIA is capable of producing such confident, well judged and thoroughly contemplated designs? Surely that is a group process, meaning talented people who work well together, but crucially also good management and a corporate culture that nurtures the kind of contemplation needed to produce such designs. That is: taking the time to let something sink in instead of rushing forward to look “productive”. For me what sets great designers/design leaders/design managers like PlQ apart is not just their intelligence and creativity, but their ability to find the time to let things sink in, contemplate. That way, they make full use of said intelligence and creativity.

    I haven’t seen the Staria in the metal, but it looks just as well resolved. Impact-wise it reminds me a little of the Mitsubishi Grandis. Very different styling theme, but equally disciplined, to my eyes. There was one in my neighbourhood until fairly recently and I never tired of seeing it.

    I have to second the praise on the Christopher Butt article mentioned in footnote 1: very lucid. The only niggle I have with something like the Ioniq 5 is that the styling themes it borrows (in large part from the Lancia Delta) are for a car of a very different size. Size matters. With other recent Hyundai/KIA designs, I have no such compunctions, so maybe the referencing on the Ioniq 5 is just a little too “literal” for me.

    1. I think Boulay’s stint at Mitsubishi is somewhat of an underrated design language. He created a rather cohesive look for the brand and it was expressed especially well on that Grandis and the Z30 Colt. I spotted one of those Grandis’ at the local Walmart last year and had to give it a walk-around; it’s simple and stunningly executed for a rather pedestrian people-mover.

    2. Interesting to see that my conflation of bad parking and vanity plates applies even in New Zealand!

    3. There must be a Venn diagram where “interested in vanity plates”, “interested in premiumness” and “wholly uninterested in driving well*” overlap significantly. Of course, this Mitsubishi is then an outlier for its un-premiumness, but the other two clearly overlap here.

      *in this instance, “driving” includes everything you do with a car: moving, respecting speed limits (more or less rigorously as necessitated by the road conditions and surroundings), indicating direction, parking.

      To me that Colt is a nicely disciplined design as well. As with the well designed 7th and 8th gen Galant, I suspect its sales performance would have been better had it been from a more ‘established’ brand:

      A bit like Fiat and a few others, Mitsubishi has suffered for the inconsistencies in its model policy, even if those were sometimes unavoidable because of financial considerations.

  13. This is good. The front looks like a quick sketch I made a couple of years ago when I was thinking that big grills don’t need to be ugly. For me the design starts to fall apart at the back. The already mentioned rear quarter window, but more so the trunk lid. It looks like this car can’t decide if it wants to be a saloon or a hatchback. Having said that I don’t know how I would have done it differently.

    I also don’t like the way the fuel door (or charging door) sits in the rear wing. Apart from shut lines and door handles, fuel doors are of particular interest to me. These are all necessary elements, but all too often they look like afterthoughts.

    The interior looks good too, I have slight reservations about the steering wheel and there is a little too much screen area for my liking. I hope it comes with a wool upholstery option.

  14. Nice looking car. Am I alone in seeing some Renault Safrane influence in the rear three quarter view? Not a great reference, I’ll admit!

    1. Opinion:

      1 – the design is very clean and disciplined

      2- thus, they apply some ‘noisy features’: the whellarches treatment, the third light on the dlo, some polemic on the front.

      3 – they do it this way having two very different goals in mind:

      4 – the first one is a necessity of design, a defensive move: clear of all these quirky features and you are left with a car which doesn’t catch very much the eye (as the experiences above show), since the basic proportions and stance, although without fault, are not particularly novel or exciting.
      I’m with you Ric Zito on this one: one could argue that a Renault Safrane, visually cleaned 30 years after it’s launch, wouldn’t difer too much.

      5 – An ofensive move sustains the second goal: they are saying to everybody that their design is so ‘right’ and clean, they can play around with a few details.
      ‘Our design is so faultless that we can even mess with it a bit. That’s how superior we are’

      6 – the third Light treatment doesn’t fall exactly in this category: it results from deep thinking about how to give importance to the owner sitting on the back seat, and it succeds. There, on the third Light, is where the important person travels.
      That third Light is, in a way, the deepest ‘raison d’etre’ of this vehicle

    2. Really? I’ve always loved the Safrane, though I guess I could be in the minority there. It modernized the big Renault from the ‘oh-so-’80s’ 25 into a true ’90s product with round lines and clean graphics. I find them especially stunning in pre-facelift form on mesh wheels with the ultra-subtle full width grille slot at the front and rear ‘heckblende’ taillights as David pictured above.

    3. About the Safrane: it´s not what I´d think of first when imagining an exciting design. However, it was written off not because it looked a little bland. Its fault was not conforming to the general stereotype of a prestigious big car. To their credit, BMW and Mercedes came to own the very definition of “prestigious big car” and this phenemenon required not just a great product to defeat but a nation and culture that could underwrite the claims. West Germany 1950-onwards was a powerhouse of industry and ingenuity and pretty much everything it made was damn good. The other countries offering prestigious large car didn´t have that back-up.
      I´ll stop with the essay on the cultural underpinnings of brand values and design status.
      The Safrane´s front is spoiled by the treatment of the air intakes on the front and the way the lamps have triangular inboard forms. Apart from that, it´s just fine and sleek.

  15. Notice GM’s forward thinking in making certain it couldn’t be easily “fixed” with photoshop.

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