A Car Designer’s Opinion On The Hyundai N Vision 74 That’s Currently Breaking The Internet

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It was only a matter of time. Someone was going to absolutely nail the current fascination for all things eighties and cyberpunk on a concept car that spoke to enthusiasts in a way we haven’t seen for quite a while. Except who would have thought it would be Hyundai? In hindsight, it shouldn’t come as a galloping shock to any of us. The N Vision 74 has hit automotive fandom right square in the in the squishy feels. Influencers and internet design experts alike are losing their collective minds, so allow me to cast my designers eye over what’s going on.

Let’s Talk About The N Vision 74’s Design Inspiration

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The first car Hyundai designed and engineered themselves was the 1975 Pony (shown above), designed by Giugiaro. His initial designs, like the Alfa Romeo Guilia Sprint GT were classically curved with delicate proportions and detailing, but by the early 1970s he was exploring more angular wedge shaped forms with straight lines and sharp transitions between flatter surfaces. The BMW M1 and original Lotus Esprit are prime examples of this look:

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BMW M1
Lotus Esprit S1 White 2
Lotus Espirit

It wasn’t an aesthetic that was limited to sports cars. He successfully used these ideas on the MK1 Golf, giving it an air of solidity with just enough flair to counteract its ruthless German efficiency. Although the Pony wasn’t the last word in sex appeal, it looked solid, sensible and modern compared to European family cars which at the time were still heavily influenced by America.

Volkswagen Golf Erste Generation
VW Golf MK1

Young mainstream brands like Hyundai don’t have a long line of classic and fondly remembered vehicles to draw on when it comes to influencing their current designs, so they have to start from scratch. Mass market brands tend to follow each other, so we end up with a load of cars that are similarly styled, or they go for sheer untethered lunacy to stand out with individual models (hello Nissan Juke, Fiat Multipla). That’s why the current range of Hyundais have angry faces with squinty light graphics and body sides with so many nonsensical creases they look like they’ve been head butted by a charging rhino. They’re all very overdone, because that’s where the vogue is currently.

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2020 Prophecy Concept
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2021 Heritage Series Grandeur Concept

Which is what makes their recent run of concept cars somewhat refreshing. The 2020 Prophecy Concept (shown above), a slinky black four-door with minimal detailing and slightly too much droop in the tail previewed the recently released Ioniq 6, Hyundai’s second dedicated EV sedan. Then came the video game gangster chic of the 2021 Heritage Series Grandeur Concept (shown above), all cigar drawers and red velvet, based on the 1986 Grandeur. After that, Hyundai paid tribute to the original 1975 Pony by raiding the drawer labelled obsolete electronics and giving the 2021 Pony Concept nixie-tube-style instrumentation. Somewhere in this deluge there was an electric SUV, the 2021 Seven Concept.

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2021 Pony Concept
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2021 Seven Concept.

And of course, we can’t forget that the Ioniq 5 made it production as well:

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Image: Hyundai Ionic 5 (Image by Hyundai)

And we’ve not even got to the N Vision 74 yet. This all represents a staggering amount of design work and expense in a short space of time. Remember concepts cost millions of dollars and take at least a year or more to go from sketch to showable model. Here is a company finding its design confidence, and — awash with cash — looking to show that EVs needn’t be boring appliance like cars. Eye catching design is important for sales, but you need to be careful. One of the reasons efficiency mobiles like the Honda Insight, Clarity and the BMW i3 & i8 failed to catch on with the mainstream is they were probably styled a step too far, looking like space cars of the future which alienated people. Say what you will about Tesla, but they were smart in making their cars blandly handsome so as not to offend.

Hyundai are slightly hedging their bets then, here. Both the Pony and Grandeur Concepts prove that good proportions – the car’s silhouette – are universal. It’s the graphical features, wheels, lighting and interiors that drag them into the world of the future. The Ioniq 6 sedan and the Seven Concept SUV shown above have new ideas for proportions, and clean, modern surfacing, but what all these cars have in common is their leaning into a retro-tech-future-past vibe that pushes a lot of nostalgia buttons. This helps ease people past the fact these are bleeding edge electric vehicles.

My Notes On The N Vision 74

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With the N Vision 74 (not very catchy), Hyundai have seemingly gone for internet death or glory. Let’s check off the eighties touchpoints shall we? Turbofan wheels. Pixelated lighting. Box arches. Rear window louvres. Lots of labels and graphics. Classic Japanese rear-wheel drive proportions (Nissan S13, AE86, A60/A70 Supra). Let’s chuck a hint of Delorean in there as well, just to make sure the message hits home. Hyundai even mentioned this themselves, which feels a bit shameless [Editor’s Note: That 1974 Hyundai Pony is said to have inspired the DeLorean DMC-12 and this new Hyundai concept, so I feel like it’s not TOO shameless. -DT]. Although the original Pony Coupe show car is from 1974, Hyundai have ignored the brown and headed straight for the neon. This car is laser focused on hitting enthusiasts right in the Radwood-shaped pleasure center. The fact that it’s powered by electricity and a hydrogen fuel cell is getting a bit lost in all the hype around its appearance.

Now, you might think this sounds a bit cynical of me, and maybe on some level it is. At the risk of sounding like an old man yelling at a cloud, let me explain. I was born in 1973, so although I was a bit young to experience cocaine and unregulated share-dealing, and wasn’t cool enough to pull off neon leisure wear, I clearly remember the looming Armageddon that permeated every aspect of our daily lives. Something that has seemingly been forgotten. Recently in the UK ,Renault had a TV ad for the Zoe EV that was soundtracked by a cover of Alphaville’s “Forever Young,” a 1984 synth pop classic about nuclear war. They couldn’t have missed the point more if they’d used ‘Two Tribes” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

Now to be fair, none of this is Hyundai’s fault. As a society we’ve been reveling in post-modernism since the early nineties (although as an artistic movement its roots lay in the late sixties). Concept cars used to only be seen at major motor shows, and then in the pages of magazines. As methods of delivering an idea or a message, both these mediums are essentially dead. With the advent of the instant information and criticism age, you live or die by the online discourse. You need a more efficient way of cutting through the noise and standing out.

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But for all that high-minded designer wanker opinion, there is no doubt the N Vision is very well executed indeed. It’s long at 195”, and wide at 78″, but cleverly chief designer Sangyup Lee (who has form for this sort of retro redo, making his name with the 2009 Camaro Concept) has resisted the temptation to exaggerate the car, keeping it reasonably plausible with a height of 53”. It looks like a well done restomod of something that never existed. Every line, angle and shape fits in neatly to the overall theme. Notice how the angled line of the corner of the door window is replicated in the bottom line of the side air intake, the strakes on the lower bodyside molding and the front spoiler. This sort of attention to detail is insanely hard to get right.

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There’s a nice curved profile to the bodyside which helps minimize it from looking too boxy and bulky, and clever use of dark trim breaks up the sheet metal and adds visual interest that is logical and makes aesthetic sense, without it looking fussy and over-designed. Like all the best designs, at first glance in seems simple, but is incredibly well resolved and actually quite complex.

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Taking a long look at this car though you could imagine stripping away all the tuner parts and flared bodywork and it would still work as a solidly handsome large-ish GT. Which, if it ever heads to production is probably where it will land. The quick ballpoint sketches appear to be dated 2016, which if true suggests Hyundai have been thinking about doing something like this for a long while.

Which is fitting, because Hyundai and Kia realized some time ago you can’t sell forever on value and 10 year warranties. Customers have to desire your cars on an emotional level as well. Hopefully some of the restraint of their concepts will begin to find its way into the vehicles you can actually buy.

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37 Responses

  1. I don’t get it, but 05LGT did. It’s a Mitsubishi Starion. A Hyundai employee must have restored it in a shed. Then a Hyundai executive, inspired by the success of such throwback vehicles as the Chevy SSR (ug) and the Chrysler PT Cruiser, which actually sold 1.35 million units, said Capital Idea! Let’s badge it as a Hyundai!

    Next day the Internet broke and here we are!

    I like old cars, but prefer new cars to look new. I think most people do too, but were `1.35 million PT Cruiser buyers wrong?

    1. That’s the thing about this, it’s not especially ground breaking or forward looking, but it’s well executed. The drive train is the revolutionary part of this car, but as I tried to point out, you need to lead customers into the future by the hand.

  2. Spectacular analysis – I’m of a similar vintage as Adrian, so his cultural references totally resonate with me, but I’ve also read a bunch of content on this concept and this has by far been the most insightful.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. Design doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and when talking about it it’s important to consider the external factors and context, which is what a lot of internet experts don’t understand. They just talk about the visual stuff, but in reality there’s so much more to it than that.

  3. Adrian, it is awesome that you don’t just drop articles and cut bait. Your responses to our comments and questions make these into much more meaningful conversations. One of the best features of the Autopian.

    1. No problem! I enjoy it and try to get stuck in whenever I can. People always have follow ups, or an opinion, or a correction and the whole point is to try and get people involved and further their understanding of car design, as it’s such a misunderstood subject.

  4. I would actually love to see it without all the boy-racer bric-a-brac. Historically, I prefer the base models of sporty coupes, the versions without all the tacked-on ground effects and spoilers.

    And you can’t discuss Giugiaro’s folded-paper era without mentioning the Mk1 Scirocco, the Golf’s sexier older sister.

    1. As someone who is no longer a boy or who was never a racer, I want the boy-racer bric-a-brac.

      It’s what takes it to the next level. The BMW M1 is a nice car. But the BMW M1 Procar with its ground effects and spoilers is existentially beautiful.

      1. The tuner addenda are like everything, they can be done well or badly. The execution here is great, but it was definitely done deliberately. If they’d released this car without all that, I doubt it would have created the same impact.

    2. I agree. As Adrian suggests, I think a lot of the details are going to get ground down in production, and I think I might like that better.

      Can’t really tell here, but I’m not sure I like the arch of the back deck. A little rounded and convex, probably to match the windscreen, but it might be a little soft for the angular bits. The M1 and the Esprit make that shape concave by adding a bit of lip to either top or bottom, the original DBS leaves it most flat.

      https://amsc-prod-cd.azureedge.net/-/media/aston-martin/images/heritage/past-models/jpg-medium-dbs-02.jpg

    3. Yeah, the Mk1 Scirocco was good, but the Golf was much more influential which is why I mentioned it,. VW head of design Herbert Schafer hated it, which is why the Mk2 was done in house and looks totally different.

  5. “This sort of attention to detail is insanely hard to get right.”

    Is it really? I just don’t see what makes it “insanely hard” to look for places to apply consistent elements where they make sense, and then apply them.

    I do agree that it is really rare for designers to actually do the work to get the details right. Probably because it’s uncomfortable to step back far enough from one’s own work to see the details of execution when working under deadlines.

    1. It’s hard to get right because the line has to work everywhere it’s repeated. It’s one of those things that sounds good in your head, but when you actually start applying it is very easy to over do and make it look repetitive.

      It’s never one designer working on a car. One designer may come up with the original sketch or idea, but once it progresses into reviews there’s more senior designers involved. And then the chief designer has the final say. So there’s lots of pairs of eyes on a car to form a consensus on wha works.

      However what makes me tear my hair out with students is when they get precious about their work and don’t want to show it. They don’t want to put stuff up on the board and never come in to the studio, for fear of someone stealing their work. It’s egotistical and they don’t want to listen to constructive criticism from tutors or their peers and it usually shows in their final work. They rarely succeed unless they’re an exceptional talent and then they tend to get found out in a real studio very quickly.

      1. Your observation about students is nearly universal. If some of the other professions made a bigger deal about using a board for posting their work, as well as a studio to work solo and in groups where your contributions have to be visible to your peers… I think we’d see a lot more professional development.

        I’m not sure how much exceptional design talent exists these days. It appears that everyone is so busy working hard to avoid looking like anyone else’s work, trying to be original, that they forget that execution is where the excellence really shines through. Ideas are cheap, execution is genius.

        1. There’s usually one or two students who, in terms of their sketching and rendering skills are head and shoulders above their peers, but it’s worth noting UK universities are much easier to get into than say, Art Center or Pforzheim. My BA cohort at Coventry was 108 students.

          You can very quickly tell who has the requisite aesthetic sensibility and feel for what works and what doesn’t. I’d rather see a weaker or more common idea executed well than a brilliant idea done badly. Very generally though, the stronger students do have pretty good ideas because their understanding of design and what influences it are much better. They’re just a bit more switched on and not in fantasy land.

  6. This concept looks like total crap to me. As a person who grew up 10 years earlier with disco and leisure suits I’m constantly bewildered by younger self designated experts who try to duplicate in honor, retro, or irony older style or usage who clearly have no concept of the original. The ones who do understand are usually successful in design while the young know it all creates a looks like someone spent their Christmas money at Pepboys. I don’t care what anyone thinks this car is copycat of the 70s with pepboys add on that someone saw and thought they must have all been like that. For clarification watch Buck Roger’s in the 25th century. These hideous monstrosities are in the show and the history expert has no concept of what doodads they dig up were used for.

      1. Yep. The biggest we had for production was 23”, but that was for a big SUV. Worth bearin in mind though this is likely very heavy (as EVs are) so will need big brakes, which need a big wheel to cover.

        I would say 20” is probably right for this. It is a big car, something that doesn’t come across in the pictures. It’s 5m long!

    1. I’ve written a bit about BMW elsewhere, but the bottom line is they have learnt all the wrong lessons from the Bangle era. Their brand is carrying them at the moment, and I’m sure the cars are fantastic. But they are very challenging to look at, and I think if they persevere with this design direction it will cost them sales sooner or later.

  7. Now if only the execs could crack the whip on their bottom feeder dealers. That SUV concept just works for me. Same with this. But people who want one will get run off the lot by a horde of salesmen holding 4 square sheets and shouting “What monthly payment do you want?” There’s a reason the few Ioniq 5’s in my metro area were purchased elsewhere. The local dealers are essentially BHPH scum.

    1. Yeah, the understanding I’ve gleaned from the other website is that the Kia/Hyundai dealership experience leaves a lot to be desired.
      It’s the same with any product – it’s about the whole user experience – website, dealership, aftersales as well as the car itself.

      1. The cars themselves are great. At least here in New York a lot of dealers have held franchises since Hyundai was a discount brand selling mainly to people with less than stellar credit. By and far they haven’t changed that mentality. Or they’ve gone 1980’s Honda and act like the cars are so in demand they can treat customers horribly because the next person through the door will buy it at whatever price they’ve named. And that was pre-COVID. I like the cars, having put many teenage miles on a reliable 1999 Elantra, but the local dealers have all but ensured they’re not getting my new car business. Maybe if one opens a standalone Genesis branch and the car is available as a Genesis.

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