2021 Hyundai 45: new electric crossover drops disguise

Hyundai’s 1970s-inspired C-segment EV gears up for production with styling inspired by bold concept.

The 45, Hyundai’s first bespoke electric car, has been testing at the Nürburgring in preparation for an expected launch in 2021.

The crossover SUV, set to rival the Tesla Model Y and Ford Mustang Mach-E, was previewed with a bold, retro-styled concept at the Frankfurt motor show last September. Despite the disguise worn by the recently spotted test mule, we can see that some of the conceptual design details of the show car have been watered down due to the realities of mass production.

However, the angular, wedge-like shape, low bonnet line, slim overhangs and heavily sloping rear window remain largely faithful to the concept. While it’s still considered to be a crossover, we can also see that it remains low-slung, with far less ground clearance than a traditional SUV.

The 45 concept’s name references the number of years since the Korean maker’s first production car, the Pony, was previewed by a sleek coupé concept designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro. The 45 concept takes design inspiration from that car, too, with clean lines said to be inspired by 1920s aircraft.

The name also reflects the 45deg angles of the front and rear window lines. Hyundai design chief Sangyup Lee said that “the typology is taken from the 1974 concept: it’s simple and pure.” It remains unclear whether the production car will retain the moniker.

The decision to draw from the work of 45 years ago is that Hyundai considers the production version of this concept to be the first of a new era of dedicated electric vehicles from the company.

“The 45 signifies a new beginning, so we looked at the beginning of our company,” said interior design chief Hak Soo Ha. Hyundai feels that it will now be competing “on a level playing field”, he added, because the major manufacturers have very little EV heritage: “We’ve been followers. Now we want to be leaders.”

The 45’s crisp modernising of Giugiaro’s design has produced a look – “tight corners and short overhangs” – that will form part of a suite of Hyundai design styles, with the brand planning to develop more distinctive designs for each of its models. It will also visually differentiate its electric cars from its ICE models.

“Looking forwards and backwards helps us diversify our portfolio,” said Lee. “This will be the language for just one electric car. The next EV will be completely different.”

Lee likened Hyundai’s next-generation range to chess pieces rather than Russian dolls, each piece more individual, “but part of an underlying Hyundai philosophy. We want to add emotional value through sensuous sportiness, and bring the emotional side of our cars up to the same standard as our value for money.”

The 1974 concept’s original front-end shape has been reinterpreted in what Hyundai calls a “kinetic cube lamp” design – essentially, a panel of LEDs, acting as the headlight, that produce a theatrical light display on start-up. The same effect is created at the rear.

Hyundai also employs LEDs for the 45’s badging. Meanwhile, a charge indicator at the bottom of the doors allows the driver to quickly see how far they can drive before getting in.

Technology developments showcased on the 45 concept include a camera monitoring system, which is said to leave room for “self-driving system applications”. As is common on concepts, cameras replace the side mirrors and are kept clean by a lens that rotates past a brush.

The interior is even more minimalist than the exterior and dispenses with a centre console. The designers have employed a mix of fabric, wood and leather inside. The dashboard is dominated by a substantial screen that combines the instruments and infotainment, which, Hyundai claims, can be controlled via a “projection beam interface”.

The 45’s interior is a pointer towards the world of autonomous cars, according to the firm. The 45’s generous width and flat floor provide living room-like space, the battery pack that lives beneath offering potential for underfloor heating and cooling, said Lee. The production version will not be fully autonomous and nor will it have clamshell doors, but expect furniture-like interior architecture and warm, inviting materials. “You won’t be disappointed,” added Lee of the production version.

Interior space is maximised by the batteries being set in a skateboard-style floor, allowing Hyundai to “create a space that feels like a living room with new pieces of furniture”. There’s lounge-style seating front and rear and the driver and front passenger get one unbroken footwell.

Tom Morgan

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