Head of Design SangYup Lee on the new Hyundai Tucson

The new Hyundai Tucson is a bold and fresh take on the Korean carmaker’s best-selling model. Since it launched in 2004, more than 7 million units have been sold worldwide, so a polarizing redesign is a risky move. But — and as I’ve said many times before — Hyundai has made huge advances in design in a short amount of time, and I applaud them for taking this latest, progressive, step.

Revealed in September 2020, the fourth-generation Hyundai Tucson is the first SUV to feature the company’s new Sensuous Sportiness design identity, combining sleek and dynamic proportions with rich surfaces. It’s also grown in size over its forbear, measuring 4500mm in overall length (+20mm), 1865mm wide (+15mm), 1650mm (+5mm) tall and rides on a 2680mm-long wheelbase (+10mm).

Fourth generation Tucson breaks from tradition

In the interview below, SangYup Lee, Head of Hyundai’s Global Design Center and Senior Vice President at Hyundai Motor Company, talks about the new design.

The Tucson wears Hyundai’s new Sensuous Sportiness design language. What can you tell us about this new philosophy?

“We are currently undertaking an exciting process where we are fundamentally revising the design of many of our models according to our design identity,” says Lee, who previously worked for Bentley and General Motors. “Sensuous Sportiness is characterized by the harmony between four fundamental elements: proportion, architecture, styling and technology.

“Our goal is to elevate the emotional value of our products through innovative design. In order to achieve this, we clearly define the roles and target audience of each vehicle within the line-up across our range and give them distinct individual styles and identities while maintaining the overall Hyundai look.

“In the coming years, Sensuous Sportiness will be implemented across all of our future models. The all-new Tucson is the third Hyundai model to feature Sensuous Sportiness in Europe, and marks the completion of Phase One of this process. It serves as our main proof-point for this strategy.”

What inspired the design of the all-new Tucson?

“The foundations for the design of the all-new Tucson were laid two years ago, when we presented ‘Le Fil Rouge’, our four-door coupe concept, at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show. This was a landmark for our brand as it was the first Hyundai model guided by Sensuous Sportiness. ‘Le Fil Rouge’ signifies the “common thread”, which connects our past to the present and the future. For us, that common thread is the bold, audacious attitude that originated from our 1974 Pony Coupe Concept.

Hyundai Le Fil Rouge concept_22
Hyundai Le Fil Rouge concept (2018)

“At the 2019 Los Angeles Auto Show, we presented our innovative Vision T SUV concept. Once again guided by Sensuous Sportiness, this model revolves around the concept of dynamism and aspires to be at the cutting edge of SUV designs. It served as a direct forerunner to our all-new Tucson.

“Vision T features an ultra-clean and seamless design. It uses crisp geometric angles and sharp edges to create a striking contrast between a sleek silhouette and masculine wedge lines. The long hood and level roofline are coupled with a long wheelbase and short overhangs, reflecting a ready-for-anything, dynamic character. At the front, it features a parametric air shutter grille design and integrated hidden signature headlamps. These design cues directly influenced the new Tucson.”

What are the Tucson’s key exterior design elements?

“The all-new Tucson is a design revolution for Hyundai – it reinvents the idea of what a family car can look like. Thanks to sportier and more dynamic proportions made possible by the new platform, the all-new Tucson achieves a very progressive look without compromising functionality.

“At the front, we have implemented Parametric Jewel Hidden Lights. This design innovation seamlessly incorporates state-of-the-art lighting technology into Tucson’s parametric jewel pattern grille, which forms the car’s striking light architecture. They appear to be of a dark chrome material when switched off and become dramatically lit when turned on. Can you imagine these lights on your rear-view mirror? The identity of that car will be unquestionable.

“Cubist-like chiseled surfaces give the all-new Tucson an avant-garde, bold and daring character. A sharp and strong character line offers the perfect contrast between rich volume and the ample rear and front fenders. Meanwhile, the dynamic Bertone-style angular wheel arches accentuate the parametric jewel surface. We utilized eye-catching chrome [on the DLO surround] to maximize the all-new Tucson’s sporty and premium sensibility while ensuring its practicality.

“The rear of the car features a few notable design innovations. For example, it boasts the Parametric Jewel Hidden Lights. To further burnish its high-tech credentials, the all-new Tucson showcases a glass-type Hyundai emblem, as well as a hidden rear wiper enhancing a clean look.”

Parametric dynamics is gaining momentum. What is it and what are its advantages?

“Parametric dynamics refers to the use of geometric algorithms that maximize digital technology as design elements. Instead of traditional drawing or sketching, it utilizes lines, faces, angles, and shapes that have been created through digital data to create unprecedented and bold design aesthetics.

“A good example of this is the new parametric jewel pattern grille I just talked about. This emphasizes the three-dimensional shape according to the angle and the reflected light that looks like a jewel ensconced in a geometric shape. Also, thanks to the integrated architecture, we were able to integrate the lamps of the car completely into the grille. By applying half-mirror technology, it looks like the chrome of the grille when it is not lit, but when it lights up, it shows the function of the lamp. I believe this is a truly impressive feature and a hidden delight for our customers.

“We have also used the parametric dynamic technology to transfer the jewel surface to the sides and back of the vehicle. The hidden lighting tail lamp also consists of parametric patterns, such as a bezel and black spots. This gives it an emotional touch and fascinates, like the stars in the night sky.”

What can you tell us about the new Tucson’s interior design?

“We strived to create an interior environment to maximize comfort and relaxation. The interior design of the all-new Tucson was strongly inspired by the serenity of gigantic flowing waterfalls. This is particularly visible with the control elements, which move downwards in a unified manner.

“The Tucson’s interior space is where the user organically and seamlessly interacts with futuristic technology and space. It is very special, especially in the case of the instrument panel, which we designed in an innovative way. Usually, the instrument panel is very large in competitors’ models, and we started with the idea of how to make it light, flat and offer customers a wider view.

Hyundai Tucson interior sketch (2020)

“In a cluster, there is no Head-Up Display at the top. Since there is no HUD, we focused on the innovatively comfortable view from the driver’s seat and applied a technology that does not reflect the screen to the windshield at night through a special anti-glare film.

“The air vents were pulled upwards to lighten the instrument panel. A black pad is connected to the vent and the bottom screen. The dual-cockpit emphasizes sportiness in the driver’s independent space, making it spacious and practical.

“To enhance the in-car experience so it is even more pleasant and relaxing, we installed ambient lights with 64 configurable colors and ten levels of brightness to fit every mood.

“For a modern and futuristic look, we ensured everything is layered and connected with sensuous forms. For this, we completely dispensed with physical knobs – all the functions are controlled via touch. The materials used in the vehicle are of extremely high quality.

“This enables us to achieve a very uniform interior image that continues from the front to the rear of the vehicle, which makes it particularly high quality and modern. To emphasize the openness of the interior, we applied a silver deco garnish line from the center fascia to the rear door. This gives the impression that it expands endlessly.”

It’s great to see Hyundai’s push forward with their decision to imbue the best-selling model in the lineup with a futuristic design identity. While it may not be to everyone’s taste – and the bodyside in particular is a bit jarring given the multi-faceted surface changes and breaks – the parametric detailing, front face and rear lamp design show that there’s still a lot of space to create newness, even in the SUV typology.


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