Sixteen years ago, our correspondents sat in a press conference at the launch of the then new Kia Rio while execs announced Hyundai’s and Kia’s combined ambition to be one of the world’s top- five car makers. Easy enough to scoff at the time. One magazine’s headline ran: ‘Her name is Rio, and she’s crap.’
A decade and a half on, the Hyundai Motor Group is the fourth- biggest manufacturer in the world on numbers of cars sold between its Hyundai, Kia and Genesis brands and, of all the top 10 best-selling car manufacturers, suffered the least worst sales hit from 2020’s pandemic.
The past two decades have seen both Hyundai and Kia shake off their old images but it’s not just recent driver’s machines, like the Kia Stinger and Hyundai i30 N hot hatchback, nor Hyundai’s World Rally Championship entries, that have been largely responsible.
Instead, it has been good old- fashioned product improvement, making better and better vehicles in their conventional everyday line-up, that has done the job, plus identifying growing market segments such as compact SUVs and crossovers and pitching cars into them with not just aggressive pricing but also genuine quality and ability. Only Skoda has managed a similar improvement in perception. As insiders there say: “We’ve changed the brand from hell into one hell of a brand.” Hyundai has done it with two of them.
This, then, is the latest car from Hyundai, but even by its dynamic standards, it arrives looking way more striking than its predecessor. The first-generation Tucson of 2004 felt not-for-us, with heavy plastic cladding, which its replacement, the iX35, traded for weirdness.