Curbside Classic Visits The 2019 New York International Auto Show, Part 5: Hyundai, Kia, And Genesis

Good news everyone! It seems like Hyundai Motor Company is doing pretty well these days. That wasn’t the case several months ago. Perhaps Hyundai’s deal to put the Veloster into Fortnite contributed to the brand’s minor turnaround. Okay, that didn’t actually happen, but someday it might. Basically, Hyundai doesn’t need to pull a Keanu Reeves right now because they’ve got fresh crossovers. And that’s what the people want.

Hyundai’s crossovers are helping the company regain some momentum, but that doesn’t mean they’ve given up on cars. Case in point: the 2020 Hyundai Sonata. The current model landed with a thud when it debuted way back in 2014. The company attempted to rectify its generic exterior with a refresh for the 2018 model year, but sales still plummeted. At this rate the sedan could conceivably fail to sell over 100k units this year. Can the redesigned 2020 model turn things around?

Probably not. But Hyundai is definitely putting themselves out there with the new model. It’s a more svelte design all around, except perhaps the front end, which strikes me as a little much. It’s the same problem I had with the 2010 model. A smaller front grille would do wonders for the overall appearance.

Two designers at Hyundai were responsible for the Sonata’s transformation: Luc Donckerwolke and SangYup Lee. Both served previous stints at Bentley and other luxury automakers, and the former is responsible for creating the Tesla design aesthetic. That explains the tapered hood, a design trait that hasn’t been used as dramatically in other mid sizers as it has in the Sonata. Overall, the Hyundai is 1.2 inches shorter in height, 1.8 inches longer, and 1.0 inch wider than the current model. But don’t expect this new look to proliferate throughout the Hyundai lineup. The company is committed to keeping each model distinct, at least visually. Does that mean the lighting accents running parallel to the hood are exclusive to the Sonata? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

The rear end gets a much needed makeover too, although that tail light design clearly originated when the engineers at Hyundai forcefully bred a contemporary Honda Civic with a late model Lincoln MKS, in a manner similar to the way the Tralfamadorians treated Billy Pilgrim and Montana Wildhack. Despite the obvious inspiration, the overall look is light years ahead of the 2019 model, which is uninspiring at best.

Despite the radical new sheetmetal, the bones of the 2020 Sonata are just substantially redesigned from the model currently on sale. The 1.6 turbo also carries over, but is revised with a claimed output of 180 horsepower, mated to Hyundai’s new eight speed automatic. A new 2.5 liter naturally aspirated Atkinson cycle four cylinder joins the lineup with 191 horsepower and it will also be mated to the new eight speed. Curiously absent from the 2020 model is the old 2.0 liter turbo or any sort of upper tier powertrain. All wheel drive is also being left off the option sheet, although it might be added later.

Aside from the usual gamut of standard safety features like adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking, the Sonata can be optioned with rear collision braking and a digital key that allows access to the vehicle with a smartphone. Also optional is a system that enables the Hyundai to enter or exit a parking spot remotely, a feature that was once exclusive to luxury automakers and James Bond films.

As for the cabin, it’s a huge improvement over its predecessor, at least from an aesthetic standpoint. The seats were comfortable and material quality is nearly on par with the Japanese, which means it’s close enough to not be a deal breaker, just like the new Altima. The widescreen setup mimics the infotainment display in the Accord and Hyundai was justified in emulating Honda because it gives the interior a more premium vibe.

Overall I’d say the new Sonata is a vast improvement over the current generation model. The front grille should probably be toned down but regardless it’s a handsome vehicle that should satisfy Sonata owners. In a shrinking sedan segment that already contains vehicles like the Accord and Camry, the 2020 Sonata isn’t going to set the sales charts on fire. And it’s not absurd to think that this one could be the last. If it is, at least the company went down fighting.

The Korean automakers initially made inroads by marketing themselves as a value brand above all else. Ten years ago that changed when it became plausible to measure their cars on an equal basis to the Japanese. The Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade are proof positive that segment newcomers don’t have to play follow-the-leader. Like the Telluride, the Palisade looks more upscale than its price would suggest, at least on the outside. It’s also a design that looks much better in person. This is what the Cadillac XT6 should have looked like.

Out back is where things get a bit more generic. It’s almost like the Palisade visited the tuxedo store, noticed what formal wear the Explorer and Highlander were buying, then went ahead and ordered the same outfit, but with a few alterations to avoid being called a copycat. That’s nothing new. Segment leaders will always set the styling and sizing precedents for everyone else.

And that’s exactly why Hyundai and Kia opted to make their new three rows 196 inches in length. This segment is all about space, and the Palisade boasts competitive dimensions in terms of cargo capacity, even if it is just short of the Telluride. The Kia has a freakish 21 cubic feet of space behind the third row, which makes it the segment leader in that area, even prevailing over the Palisade, which has three less cubic feet to work with. That’s a bit odd considering the two share a platform. Perhaps Hyundai chose styling over maximum cargo capacity? Probably, as 18 cubic feet is still a pretty impressive accomplishment.

The Palisade’s mechanical bits are probably the least interesting aspect of the crossover, mainly because of the Telluride, which debuted on the same platform using the exact same powertrain. The Koreans use a revised version of the architecture that underpins the three row Sorento and the Santa Fe XL. The duo boast a larger displacement variant of the Lamda II engine, and in this application it’s 3.8 liters and an Atkinson cycle setup with 291 horsepower and 262 Ib-ft of torque. Unremarkable numbers for the segment, but it seems the new corporate eight speed automatic pairs well with the engine, as reviewers praised the powertrain when they examined the Telluride several months ago.

The never ending comparison between the Hyundai and the Kia is probably a bit tedious at this point, but it’s a necessary evil. I have to acknowledge the similar vibes that are felt inside both crossovers. Aesthetically they’re extremely premium setups. Material quality places them right in the thick of things. My prediction is that the publications who praised Kia for the superlative quality of the Telluride’s interior will do the same with the Palisade. Hyundai fooled a lot of people into thinking that these cabins are truly premium.

If I had to choose between the Palisade and Telluride, I’d pick the Kia. The roughly 45 degree lean of the Palisade’s center stack combined with buttons that are sized and shaped identically will force drivers to take their focus off the road in order to change any number of things. The Kia also suffers from these issues, but given the vertical orientation of its center stack, it isn’t as bad.

The mainstream three row crossover segment is hotter than ever before. With the Palisade, Hyundai finally has a competitive product that achieves parity with the more established players. Even though the Telluride has stolen a bit of the Palisade’s thunder, it should nonetheless be a hit for the Korean automaker. There are no more stinkers in this segment anymore, just older models. I’m looking forward to the inevitable comparison test between the American, German, Korean, and Japanese three rows. That’s going to be a hell of a read.

In addition to creating compelling vehicles for the upper end of the mainstream crossover market, Hyundai is also committed to offering models for entry level shoppers too. The Venue is Hyundai’s effort to woo price conscious buyers to their brand, and they’re simultaneously going after used car customers and shoppers who previously gravitated towards a subcompact or compact sedan.

When it debuts later this year it will become the shortest crossover on the market. At 158.9 inches, the Venue is shorter than the Ford EcoSport by two inches and a whopping ten inches shorter than the Nissan Kicks, which is arguably its closest competitor. It’s about as long as a Honda Fit.

I’m not going to go too in depth here since I already covered the Venue in a separate post back in May. But I will repeat my assertion that the Hyundai is a funky piece of transportation that will likely do well if it’s priced right.

And it gets a major kudos from me for having a blue exterior and interior. The icing on the cake is the denim inspired seats. They may not actually be made of denim, but they certainly could have fooled me. More importantly, they were super comfortable.

The Venue comes standard with a 1.6 liter four cylinder that is rated at 120 horsepower and paired to a six speed manual. A CVT is optional. I’m sure acceleration will be slow, but no one in the market for something like this will care. Subaru’s sales have been on an upward trajectory for about ten years now and their vehicles tend to be the slowest to 0-60 in their respective classes. It’s just not a priority for most customers.

An eight inch touchscreen capable of running Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is standard, as is a plethora of active safety equipment like automatic emergency braking and lane keeping assist. The Hyundai also comes standard with Driver Attention Assist, which monitors the fatigue level of the driver. That’s a nifty feature not found in many vehicles.

I think Hyundai will sell a lot of these things.

I’ve spent enough time talking about the dynamic duo that is the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride but it’s still worth posting at least one picture of the Kia because its front end really stands out.

Okay, that’s not the last Telluride picture, and for good reason. Kia is really playing up the three row as something that can do it all.

This particular example also makes a case for Kia giving the crossover some more vibrant color options. Currently, Kia only has two interesting colors for Telluride shoppers: Dark Moss, which is a dark green, and Sangria, which is obviously colored after Sangria. But it looks good in orange too. And why don’t they offer a blue Telluride? They should offer a blue Telluride.

The Telluride would also look pretty good in this neon green that will see use on the 2020 Kia Soul EV. It also looks good on the Soul, and what’s even better is the EV’s specs. Like its Hyundai Kona brethren, the Soul boasts a 64kWh battery. DC fast charging is now standard. It’s also got a new electric motor that’s rated at 201 horsepower and 291 Ib-ft of torque, which gives the Kia a 0-60 time of 7.0 seconds. Those specs make it a way more compelling buy than the current model, which has a smaller battery and a less powerful electric motor.

Kia has not announced its official range, but Car And Driver easily surpassed the estimated 243 mile figure, which makes sense considering the Kona EV’s rating of 258 miles. Pricing is also not available yet but it’s probably a good bet that it will come close to the Hyundai’s base MSRP of $37,000. It may not be as trendy as a Model 3, but the Soul EV still has a lot going for it and it should satisfy a lot of people.

Kia also decided to outfit the Stinger in a very fetching orange. And it’s a color exclusive to the GTS trim, which is a new option for the 2020 model year.

Here is everything you get by opting for the GTS. Basically, the trim bundles the previously optional (and only for RWD models) limited slip differential with a new all wheel drive system that is designed to give drivers more options as to how much power they want sent to the rear wheels.

Pretty cool stuff. It’s nice to see Kia is continually updating the Stinger.

Kia even brought a concept vehicle to the show. The HabaNiro concept sports an eye rolling name but it looks good.

There’s really not much to say about the concept. Apparently its purpose is to showcase biometric ignition technology and a windshield with augmented reality.

In all likelihood the HabaNiro is just a design study meant to preview the company’s upcoming design language for a future vehicle.

And here is the possible vehicle in question. The Kia Seltos debuted last week for the Indian market, but the odds of it coming to America are quite high. Specifications aren’t available yet but this is probably Kia’s version of the Hyundai Kona.

Like most modern Kia models, it boasts an exterior that is more attractive than its Hyundai equivalent. I expect to see one in the flesh at next year’s show.

Hyundai’s Genesis luxury brand also brought a concept to New York, called Mint, but for some reason it had departed by the time I got to the Javits Center. Unlike the HabaNiro, this is a concept that is actually unique and cool.

Genesis categorizes the Mint as a two door electric coupe. It’s pretty out there in terms of styling but that’s certainly not a bad thing. And the cargo area is accessed via two butterfly style doors.

With no crossovers on the horizon, Genesis needs something to generate some buzz, and they succeeded with the Mint. Too bad it’s not an actual production vehicle.

While Genesis hopes people are interested in the Mint they probably would prefer if they immediately head to their local dealer to pick up a G70.

Is the Genesis G70 a compelling vehicle? Yes. Critics lauded the sedan when it debuted, and it’s widely considered the model to get if you want an entry level luxury four door with excellent diving dynamics.

For everyone else the G70 is just a glorified Kia Stinger. Once again, Hyundai cannot compete with the house that Peter Schreyer built.

The interior is underwhelming too. Just get the Kia.

These days Genesis is on the rebound. And every brand under the Hyundai Motor Company umbrella got top marks from the 2019 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study. The company has got a slate of competitive products and some interesting EV’s on the market. I’d say their future looks a lot better than it did several months ago. Way to go Hyundai!

Stay tuned for part 6!

Related Reading:

CC Visits The 2019 Hudson Valley Auto Show, Part 2: Toyota, Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Jeep, and Ram – Click the link if you’d like some additional thoughts on the latest products from the Koreans

CC Newsstand: Hyundai Hopes The Venue’s Inexpensive Milkshake Brings All The Boys (And Girls) To The Yard

CC Visits The 2019 NY Auto Show, Part 4: Honda, Acura, Toyota, And Mazda

Part 3: General Motors And Nissan

Part 2: Luxury Automakers And Supercar Manufacturers

Part 1: Ford, Lincoln, And Rivian