28.07.2021 Story

Designing the all-new Hyundai KONA N: how the ‘hot SUV’ gets its sporty appearance

  • Hyundai Motor combines the popular SUV body style with high-performance features in the all-new KONA N
  • International collaboration among designers made this project possible
  • Almost an entirely digital design process, including a virtual reality collaboration

Designing a high-performance SUV comes with a unique set of challenges. While SUVs are characterised by stability, size, and a high ride height, sports cars, on the other hand, need to portray speed, agility, and a low-to-the-ground appearance. This is what Hyundai’s designers were facing when they started the ambitious KONA N project, the first SUV model to join the Hyundai N line-up. Their close cooperation with Hyundai engineers, made possible through the company’s “Virtual Seat Buck” virtual reality technology, was the catalyst for getting this “hot SUV” onto roads and racetracks.

Davide Varenna

As Hyundai N’s first SUV model, we wanted to make sure KONA N resembled the rest of the high-performance line-up. We accented the more understated exterior design elements in N-exclusive red, such as the callipers and the side sill engraved with the N logo. On top of that, the forged wheels are an N exclusive – with a dark satin grey finish and the N logo on the wheel caps.

Davide Varenna Senior Exterior Designer at Hyundai Motor Europe Technical Center

Seeing the end result of any model that we designed for the first time is unforgettable. We have been working on the development of KONA N for a long time, so experiencing the final product for the first impression is a magical moment for everyone involved.

Eduardo Ramírez Head of Exterior Design Team at Hyundai Motor Europe Technical Center

Designing the next N model

Each Hyundai N high-performance vehicle – including i30 N, i30 Fastback N, and i20 N – undergoes its own unique process for exterior design. The creative process for KONA N’s exterior design was conducted at Hyundai’s European Design Center in Rüsselsheim, Germany.

Engineering and the final developmental stages, on the other hand, took place at Hyundai’s global R&D center in Namyang, Korea. Despite the distance, the Virtual Seat Buck allowed the company’s designers and engineers worked in close tandem on a daily basis, constantly collaborating to create a successful new model.

Refining and capturing the main idea

As with every new model, the design process for KONA N began on paper. Primary sketches and renderings serve as a foundation for more detailed designs later in the process.

During this step, the designers infused the idea with emotion and creativity. They took inspiration from examples of efficiency and performance in nature as well as technology. The designers’ limitless imaginations feed into the outline for the initial sketches of KONA N’s exterior.

“When Hyundai N fans look at KONA N head-on, they will immediately feel the high-performance SUV’s power. The front grille design is exclusive to N. The combination of the mesh grille, the iconic lights, and the N logo gives KONA N an aggressive look. We even moved the Hyundai logo down from the bonnet, effectively lowering the front focal point.”

“KONA N screams ‘performance’ from all angles. Designed for balance, the large, double-wing roof spoiler dominates the SUV’s rear. Hyundai N fans will also immediately recognise the signature triangular third brake light. And to stress KONA N’s performance spirit even further, we also outfitted the rear with a red accent line and two large exhaust mufflers.”

Rendering digital models

The next step was converting the sketches into three-dimensional renderings. When it comes to making models of newer cars, Hyundai’s designers have many tools to work with. In the past, clay was the primary medium. Nowadays, however, all models created at Hyundai follow a digital design process using the company’s Virtual Seat Buck, a virtual reality tool which enables the company’s designers to easily sketch a design, render a model, and request a review from anywhere on the globe.

How it works is: Hyundai’s designers in Rüsselsheim create a digital room in which engineers in Namyang can see the car and meet “face to face” on a weekly basis. Using the technology in their innovative VR system, the global team could do a walk around of KONA N together. Not only could they effectively discuss the latest N model in real-time, they could inspect the SUV in various light conditions as well.

“To give KONA N its wide and confident stance, we gave it 19-inch wheels and a body-coloured rocker. And to give it a close-to-the-ground performance-inspired look, we emphasised KONA N’s muscular body style with body-coloured fenders. Hyundai N fans will appreciate the performance SUV’s sporty silhouette and low-ride height.”

The Virtual Seat Buck allows for the fast visualisation of design data, as well as colour and trim variants early during the design process. This data is then simultaneously shared with engineers even at an early stage, which allows for a constant dialogue between the two departments. As each step is saved in the Cloud, it can be continuously reworked and be worked on by different departments globally.

The virtual reality design process simplifies a Hyundai car designer’s work by reducing the amount of time it takes to see their ideas realised via computer-generated 3D models. It provides scope for unlimited colour options and material applications, as well as allowing for the dynamic presentation of functionalities such as moving parts. These models can also be used to assess the real-world performance, such as aerodynamics.

Left: “The design of the front air intakes plays a major role in expressing KONA N’s sportiness while streamlining its architecture. The lower central intake dominates the front fascia and brings the visual focus closer to the ground. The side air curtain intakes are integrated into the headlights, making them larger while simplifying the hot SUV’s overall shape.”

Presenting a physical model for final reviews

A physical model, however, is still needed for the final decision-making process. Physical models provide a tangible experience that digital versions cannot.

Everything is perfect when it’s digital, but it’s just not real. Cars come alive when there’s a small drop of water on them. In real life, you can analyse surface quality.

Davide Varenna Senior Exterior Designer at Hyundai Motor Europe Technical Center

Incorporating engineering’s high-performance requirements

To alter KONA N’s profile while still adhering to the engineering requirements, Hyundai’s designers added a large double-wing spoiler, a sizeable exhaust pipe, and a big diffuser. By redefining the model’s features, designers were able to imbue KONA N with a different attitude.

Like any high-performance vehicle, design elements of KONA N follow the clear “form follows function” principle. That results in not only evoking strong emotions, but also supports the ride and handling as well as cooling functions of the vehicle. Body-coloured fenders emphasise width and bring KONA N visually closer to the ground, though ride height remains the same. This gives KONA N an enhanced sports appearance while still delivering an SUV level of comfort and ride height.

On top of that, KONA N also incorporates aeronautic inspiration. The high-performance SUV features lower air intakes for better aerodynamic performance. These give the idea of wings for perceived weightlessness. KONA N also features design aspects that enhance airflow control and improve cooling, as well as newly designed high-performance rims optimised for minimal weight and maximum strength.

Capturing the right emotion

The final product KONA N embodies the Hyundai N DNA based on the three pillars of N: corner rascal, everyday sports car, and race track capability. Corner rascal means that KONA N offers the same fun to drive and high-performance feeling as the other Hyundai N models, even with the comforts of an SUV. Everyday sports car means the ‘hot SUV’ expands the boundaries of versatility by combining an SUV’s inherent advantages in daily driving and rough terrain situations, as well as race track capability. And on the track, KONA N provides a real-life gaming experience because of its game-like features which enhance driving excitement. These include features such as N Grin Shift, N Power Shift, and N Track Sense.

The all-new KONA N was announced earlier this year. The high-performance SUV is being produced at Hyundai’s production site in Ulsan, Korea and will arrive in European showrooms this summer.


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