By Design

Hyundai HCD-14

By Design

This is the thirteenth concept car produced by Hyundai’s California Design studio. Thus, that three-letter acronym and accompanying number actually mean something—besides the fact that the folks at Hyundai are superstitious and skipped number thirteen, that is. This counters the trendy random collection of letters beloved by automotive marketers and applied liberally to all sorts of cars and SUVs in the hope that some Teutonic precision will rub off on their cheaper models. This time, Hyundai has conjured up one of the best-proportioned sedans in a very long time yet managed to throw away all those proportional advantages with one of the ugliest, bluntest front ends to appear in public in many years.

Consider the side-view photo. The top profile is graceful, the plain flanks are beautifully sculpted, the wheelbase is long, the overhangs short, headlamps and taillights interestingly shaped, and wheels—if generic Cuisinart in style—are big and fill their round openings nicely. One might find the windowsills too high, but in the era of Chrysler’s gangster-car look, this chopped top is OK because it flows so well. But then there’s the chain-saw-cut flat front with its pretentious full-frame grille, intended no doubt to evoke Audi. It doesn’t. Then there are those bright white sphincters on all four corners of the car, each of them expressing a carbon-fiber mass outward. If it reminds you of a dog just starting to do its business in the gutter, well . . .

Despite its elegant profile, for whatever incomprehensible reason the front of the HCD-14 is a vertical cliff, as unpleasant to think about as the politician’s metaphorical “fiscal cliff” and potentially as destructive to Hyundai’s future. I was so shocked by the front that I impolitely told Chris Chapman, an exceptionally talented designer who headed this project after nearly two decades with BMW, that he ought to be ashamed of himself. That wasn’t fair, because even the most brilliant designers are often obliged to accommodate the desires of higher-ranking executives, and it is I who need apologize.

What seems to be an innovation is the shape of the backlight, which carries a lot of transverse curvature allowing its intersection with the deck lid to reach a central point, making the upper structure resemble a teardrop in plan view. There can be no doubt that Hyundai wants to move into the luxury arena, and this initial three-dimensional sketch is a useful way to explore public reactions. The first and last six inches of its length—the blunt vertical sections—need some rethinking, but the rest of the concept shows real promise, and some intense refinement could put the company into a position to mount a serious challenge.


1 Intersection of hood and front face is brutally abrupt, almost a right angle between the purely vertical face and the nearly flat fender profile.

2 Small chrome accents on the edges of the hood are subtle decorations, in sharp contrast to the over-the-top grille.

3 Even from the front, the large red plastic mass of the taillight assembly is visible, good for safety but not necessarily flattering to the overall look.

4 The sill tucks under nicely behind the front wheel and then slowly flares outward as it approaches the rear wheelhouse—a very nice twisted surface based on a straight line that then carries around both front and rear ends.

5 Bold linear headlamp covers surmount negative spaces beneath them and cut into the cliff face.

6 Front corner sphincter breaks at its inboard end to allow passage of the perimeter chrome blade.

7 Chrome frame of the huge grille is itself elegantly thin, slightly inset at its lower edge.

8 The four transverse grille bars, on the other hand, are not at all elegant floating ahead of the textured areas behind them. It’s all very Ford truck–like, whereas designers were probably thinking Rolls-Royce.

9 Perimeter chrome strip around the bottom of the body is beautifully slim. It appears to be the bumper strike face, too low to be legal and too thin to be anything but vulnerable.


10 Rearview cameras in place of side mirrors have been proposed for more than fifty years. Will Hyundai be the one to finally execute the idea?

11 Upper portion of the taillight is a rigorous linear form like the headlamps, but beneath it is an amorphous mass that looks a bit molten.

12 This spread-wing eagle must be some executive’s idea of “class,” because a designer probably wouldn’t do this.

13 The plane that curves down from the “caves” under the taillights is a current design cliché, but it is nicely handled here.

14 Black buttress mass extruding through the white ring is carbon fiber with its weave visible.

15 Chrome band across the tail joining the rear lamps is a nice punctuation of the tall vertical rear cliff face.

16 Well-controlled skin surfaces swell out of the sides and ends to provide a base plane for the sphincter rings.

17 From this angle, the carefully controlled sill twist shows to advantage. Above it is the perimeter band, straight on the sides.

18 Door cutlines describe the body-side surfaces clearly, showing that what seems simple is instead a very complex and subtle sculpture.


19 Not even Citroën in its absolute heyday ever produced an instrument panel as convoluted as this.

20 Steering wheel has rather strange masses at ten and two o’clock, presumably intended as handgrips. They seem too big to be agreeable.

21 There’s an awful lot going on in the door panels. Why?

22 Very nice use of wood on the central spine separates driver and passenger, but why design something that looks like a civil-engineering project to keep people apart?

23 Seats are admirably plain, executed in quality materials. And they look extremely comfortable.

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