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The Hyundai Variations

While model extensions can be a good thing, done improperly, they hit a sour note. Hyundai’s designers and engineers have hit the right ones with the Veloster Turbo, Elantra Coupe, and Elantra GT.
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The real trick of doing model extensions is to do them in such a way that the character of one to the other is sufficiently different so that there is a reason for the variant to exist, while being sufficiently the same so that the extension has a connection with the original, which is, of course, the reason the extension exists.

You’d think that would be easy. But evidentially—given the “What were they thinking?” that’s sometimes wondered, when the “sport editions” of some cars appear (those with the useless spoilers and other such irrelevant go-fast cues)—it’s not. Sure, the company doing the not-extraordinary extensions might pick up some volume, and they get to amortize their costs across an increased volume, thereby making it economically somewhat sensible.

One company that pulls the extensions off quite well is Hyundai. And given how it has also launched a veritable Renaissance of automotive design, this spells “success” for Hyundai and “trouble” for its competitors.

One of the most radically different cars to appear in the last few years is the Veloster. This three-door (2-1/2, really, but who’s counting?) hatch takes the Hyundai Fluidic Sculpture design language into the future.

When the 2012 Veloster came out, while there was considerable visual appeal, while the car provided good ride and handling, and while its 1.6-liter, 138-hp double-overhead cam with dual continuously variable valve timing and gasoline direct injection provided 28 mpg city and 40 mpg highway . . . there were those who wanted something a little more, at least performance-wise.

And so the powertrain engineers at Hyundai took that 1.6-liter engine and added a twin-scroll turbocharger so that running on regular fuel (its in-class competitors require premium for performance) it produces 201 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 195 lb-ft of torque from 1,750 rpm. Yet with the six-speed manual, it still delivers 26 mpg city and 38 mpg highway.

And the designers made some modifi-cations, as well, such as providing new front and rear fascias, with the hexagonal grille being increased in size from its non-turbo partner and eight LED headlight accents added, while around back the single trapezoidal centrally located exhaust outlet give way to two circular ports, though again centered side-by-side.

So it now goes as fast as it looks and it looks like it is faster than it already did.

A word about the turbocharger.

One of the things that Hyundai does as a matter of course is look at the ways and means to reduce vehicle mass, which has positive effects on both dynamic performance, as well as fuel efficiency. This is a consideration that extends to all portions of the vehicle, including the engine. (And it is worth noting that the body consists of 42% high-strength and 23% ultrahigh-strength steels, as another mass-down move.)

So in the case of the Veloster Turbo, they’ve cast the stainless steel exhaust manifold and the twin-scroll turbine housing in a one-piece design, which not only reduces mass, but which helps improve heat transfer compared to a conventional two-piece design.

Another feature of the Turbo is that it uses an electrically controlled, motor-driven wastegate rather than a mechanically controlled one. The benefit of this is more precise control of boost pressure for improved performance under varying conditions.

Brandon Ramirez, senior group manager, Product Planning, at Hyundai Motor America notes that the role of Veloster in the company’s lineup is to “attract a new generation of buyer” to the brand, someone who is looking for a “high-image, highly emotional, but affordable” vehicle. He admits that “It looks like nothing else in our lineup.”

So with the Veloster Turbo, they’re taking some of those elements—like the image, affordability, and distinctiveness—and making them immediately obvious by offering a matte gray paint for the vehicle, the kind of finish that is more ordinarily found on high-end vehicles like the Audi R8 and Lexus LF-A. But here it is as a $1,000 option on a car that starts at $21,950.

Not only is the finish one that requires a second go through of the vehicle in the paint shop at the plant in Ulsan, Korea, where it is built, but it is one that comes not only with a unique appearance, but (1) a “Matte Finish Paint Customer Acknowledgement” form that is signed by the customer and countersigned by the salesperson and (2) a special Dr. Beasley’s (drbeasleys.com) car care kit specially formulated for matte finishes.

The 2011 Elantra took the compact sedan from relative anonymity in the class to the benchmark with its taut, aggressive styling. Which worked out well for Hyundai, inasmuch as in calendar year 2010 it sold 132,246 and that number rose to 186,365 for calendar year 2011.

So they’ve decided to extend the Elantra in ways that are (1) sufficiently different and (2) sufficiently similar. They’ve created a means to utilize the platform in more ways than one.

One of the variants has been available before: a five-door, previously known as the Elantra Touring. Now it is called the “Elantra GT.” The other variant is a new model: the Elantra Coupe.

“We’re not talking about two additional cars because we need to sell more,” says Mike O’Brien, vp of Product & Corporate Planning, Hyundai Motor America. The intent, he explains, is to get a bigger buy-in from younger buyers, from Gens X and Y. O’Brien says that the Civic coupe over-indexes in the young couple category, while the Mazda3 five-door indexes exceedingly well with Gen Y families. So Hyundai wants to get some of that. So it does want to sell more.

In practical terms, the GT is like a small wagon. Fold the rear seats down and get 51-ft3 of cargo capacity. Small wagons play better in Europe than in the U.S. market. So it comes as little surprise that whereas the design of the sedan came out of Hyundai’s Fountain Valley, CA, studio, and whereas the GT is predicated on the sedan, the design for the GT started in the California studio and then went to Rüsselsheim, Germany for completion. And in the case of the stylish coupe (Scott Margason, director, Product Planning: “It has the same Fluidic Sculpture as the sedan but a unique front fascia. The sedan has a coupe-like profile. The Coupe takes it more to an extreme.”), it was a joint design effort between Fountain Valley and Seoul.

One thing that Hyundai really concentrates on (in addition to the aforementioned reduction in mass, though it is worth noting that mass reduction is also the case here: O’Brien points out, for example, that the GT is 175 lb. lighter than a 2012 Ford Focus) is reducing variety so that the build process is simplified. (According to John Krafcik, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America, “There are 100 ways to build every Hyundai from the Accent to the Equus.”)

So the sedan, Coupe and GT share the same 1.8-liter, 148-hp engine. And while there are visible differences in terms of the body—the sheet metal from the B-pillar rear is different on the coupe from the sedan; the front and midsection of the platform for the sedan and GT are the same, with the rear being different—there is still a whole lot of commonality.

For example, the GT and the sedan share the front side member, center floor, dash panel, steering system, front suspension, front sub frame, fuel tank, braking system, engine mounting, cooling, drive shaft, and seat frame.

So there are similarities. There are differences. There is sharing where there can be. There are changes where they must be.

Orchestrated correctly, there can be success. Orchestrated badly, there can be “What were they thinking?”

Hyundai is playing these variations well.