Hyundai’s KONA deploys design to win new admirers

Red Hyundai KONA
(Image credit: hyundai)

Hyundai’s design renaissance has been widely reported. Not content with steadily improving its reputation for reliability and no-nonsense engineering, the Korean manufacturer, made the bold decision to pitch its models upmarket. To do this, just over a decade ago it deployed the not inconsiderable talents of Peter Schreyer, the German designer who made his name at the Volkswagen Group, helping steer Audi in particular towards its rock-solid image of towering Teutonic design excellence.

Schreyer is now both Chief Designer and a company president, and the company’s fortunes have been transformed. Price-wise, Hyundai tends to aim itself squarely and unashamedly at the middle market; it’s a company that believes in value but is also keen to banish any low-budget implications. Pair the Schreyer design sensibility with a steely resolve to do things more efficiently than its rivals in Europe or Japan, and you get an atypical car company, one that is untrammeled by the demands of brand and image. As a result, its customers tend to have a similar attitude.

This is the new Hyundai KONA. The quirky urban-centric mini SUV vehicle is a mainstay of almost every car maker’s range these days, from high to low end, and it’s taken Hyundai a while to follow suit. It’s also why the KONA has to stand out, and why there is so much busy design in this sector. The energetic surfacing and over-sculpted forms of close rivals like the Nissan Juke and Toyota CH-R have laid a blueprint for the modern compact crossover: it’s a car that makes a statement.

interior view of Hyundai KONA

Hyundai KONA, interior view

(Image credit: hyundai)

The KONA is no different. Visually, there’s a hell of a lot going on here, from the chunky plastic wheel arches that bleed into the front and rear light surrounds, or the kinked C-pillar and ‘floating’ roof, while the car’s flanks are fashionably pinched to make a chamfered, slender mid-section. Hyundai’s fluid design language isn’t as baroque as its rivals, and the emphasis on ‘fluidic sculpture’ is designed to combine organic and artistic influences. The end result is futuristic but also rather more timeless than other manufacturers; there’s no novelty for novelty’s sake. Impressively, the KONA all hangs together (although the insistence on pasting bits of body coloured trim all over the cabin goes a bit far).

The KONA is fundamentally a very likeable car. It’s functional without being bland, carefully styled without being gauche and technically very competent. The high levels of equipment shame many of its rivals and behind the wheel it has that soft, easy drivability that probably appals purists but is a pleasure to deal with 90% of the time.

The auto industry is in the midst of massive upheaval. Hyundai – and its sister company Kia – finds itself very well placed, especially amongst the army of consumers who never much cared for the rigid market pigeonholing practiced by the big brands. With electric and autonomous cars waiting in the wings (and there’s no indication that Hyundai is any different in this respect), the industry is expecting a new generation of consumers with a completely different approach to buying and using cars. Without the baggage of brand and with the benefit of strong design, the company is set to be quietly revolutionary in years to come.

Hyundai Kona interior view

Behind the wheel, high levels of equipment shame many of its rivals, and it has a soft, easy drivability

(Image credit: hyundai)

Side view of Hyundai kona

The vehicle’s flanks are fashionably pinched to make a chamfered, slender mid-section

(Image credit: hyundai)

Hyundai Kona front bumper

The emphasis on ‘fluidic sculpture’ is designed to combine organic and artistic influences

(Image credit: hyundai)

left view of Hyundai Kona front lights

Chunky plastic wheel arches cover the front and rear light surrounds

(Image credit: hyundai)


Hyundai KONA, from £16,195

Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.