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Everything you need to know about Hyundai

Mass investment has turned a once little-known Korean manufacturer into one of the biggest brands in the global automotive industry – read on to find out all about Hyundai

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Over the last 20 years, the profile of Korean car manufacturer Hyundai has steadily risen to prominence. That has only accelerated in recent years, as a result of the company placed a lot of early emphasis on offering electric vehicles (EVs). Today, Hyundai is an established name on any motor retail park.

What the average car buyer might not realise, however, is just how big Hyundai is. Many buyers now seeking a new car are drawn to a choice between Hyundai or Kia – both are Korean brands with very strong reputations but Kia’s growth is thanks to Hyundai buying its almost bankrupt rival in 1997 and developing it since as a sister company.  

Hyundai is now the third-largest automotive manufacturer in the world, beaten only by Toyota and Volkswagen, but the story goes a lot bigger than that – the car maker is a mere part of an enormous conglomerate called Hyundai Heavy Industries, which among other things is the world’s largest shipbuilder. 

So who or what is Hyundai?

In terms of car manufacturers Hyundai is quite young. The Hyundai Engineering and Construction Company was founded in 1947, but the Hyundai Motor Company did not follow for another 20 years. Its first car was called the Cortina, thanks to a deal struck with Ford.

By the mid-1970s, Hyundai had decided to develop its own models and turned to the UK, snapping up key British automotive professionals including the former managing director of Austin Morris.

The first bespoke Hyundai was a small car called the Pony, with a Mitsubishi engine and styling by famous Italian designer Giorgio Giugiaro – the same man who designed the original Volkswagen Golf. In 1982, the Pony led Hyundai’s entry into the UK car market. The Stellar, based loosely on the Ford Cortina, followed in 1984.

As Hyundai steadily grew, its model range it also expanded around the world, with the company making its one millionth car in 1985. Further core models included the Excel and then in 1988 the Sonata, the first car to be built with technology developed in-house rather than bought in from other manufacturers. Meanwhile the 1996-launched Coupe found many fans in the UK.

As the new millennium dawned, Hyundai took over its almost bankrupt Korean rival, Kia, and began a major overhaul of its image in a bid to establish itself as a world-class brand. Big investment was poured into the design and development of new models and technology, with cars sold on the US market even including 100,000-mile warranties. This resulted in both Hyundai’s and Kia’s image being transformed from budget buys to mainstream car brands.

The next step in Hyundai’s relentless march towards market leadership took place in the 2010s, with the company focusing on improving the handling of its vehicles and declaring that it wanted to “become a technical leader in ride and handling”. It hired the head of engineering at BMW’s M performance division. Another former BMW man had been leading Hyundai’s German design centre for almost a decade, having previously styled the fourth-generation BMW 3 Series and the 6 Series.

There was significant investment in technology too, which has continued to today. As well as being an early adopter of EVs, Hyundai became the first brand to mass-produce a hydrogen-powered vehicle, the ix35 Fuel Cell launched in 2014. The technology remains under development, although has taken a back seat to battery EV development.

The only potential chink in the ongoing Hyundai success story came with the launch of Genesis, an upmarket sub-brand, in 2015. Soon spun off into a separate company, Genesis did not quite set the world alight as its creators intended and was brought back under direct Hyundai control in 2023, although it still sells cars under its own name. 

Hyundai has continued to grow – it sold its millionth car in the UK in 2015, and in 2021 global profits jumped by a remarkable 187%. Another 60% rise in 2023 saw record profits of $9.7 billion and today the company is rated as one of the 100 most valuable brands in the world.  

What models does Hyundai have and what else is coming?

Like sister brand Kia, Hyundai offers two distinct ranges of combustion-engined and electric cars. In the former, the company has had particular success with its SUVs, today boasting a three-strong core line-up going up in size from the Kona through the Tucson to the seven-seat Santa Fe. A facelifted Tucson and an all-new Santa Fe with a plug-in hybrid powertrain are going on sale in 2024. 

There is also a core ‘i’ range of traditional cars, the smallest being the i10 city car which sits alongside the i20 supermini and the i30 family car – competing against the likes of the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra. Both the i20 and i30 are also offered as ‘N’ performance models, while the i20 is also available in crossover form as the Bayon.

The current Kona was designed first as an electric car, the petrol version pitched as an alternative, but Hyundai’s main electric range goes under the name of Ioniq, the first model appearing in 2016. Currently there are two options – the Ioniq 5 was launched to great acclaim in 2021, and it has a larger four-door saloon sister, the Ioniq 6. There is also an N variant of the Ioniq 5.

Also coming is the Ioniq 7, a relative and rival, to the Kia EV9 large seven-seat electric SUV, though Hyundai would probably prefer buyers to be choosing its Ioniq 7 over the likes of the BMW iX

Current Hyundai range on our Expert Rating Index

Hyundai Bayon

Hyundai Bayon

Hyundai i10

Hyundai i10

Hyundai i20

Hyundai i20

Hyundai i20 N

Hyundai i20 N

Hyundai i30

Hyundai i30

Hyundai i30 N

Hyundai i30 N

Hyundai Ioniq 5

Hyundai Ioniq 5

Hyundai Ioniq 5 N

Hyundai Ioniq 5 N

Hyundai Ioniq 6

Hyundai Ioniq 6

Hyundai Kona

Hyundai Kona

Hyundai Kona Electric

Hyundai Kona Electric

Hyundai Santa Fe

Hyundai Santa Fe

Hyundai Tucson

Hyundai Tucson

Where can I try a Hyundai car?

Hyundai’s continual growth has resulted in the brand now having a significant presence on the UK market – there are currently around 165 showrooms in the UK with plans to add more.

These showrooms are almost entirely traditional outlets but Hyundai is one of the brands that has tried to redefine the way it sells its cars – it opened a ‘Store’ in the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent in 2014 which it dubbed the “world’s first digital automotive retail experience.” However a traditional dealer group took over the centre in 2019.

What makes Hyundai different to the rest?

In many ways Hyundai’s growth has mirrored that of Kia, its cars solidly built, attractive and reliable with long warranties – though Kia’s seven years outdoes the five of its sister brand. Under the skin the two makers use effectively the same hardware, though Hyundai cars are generally more conservatively styled than those of Kia. 

With so many of its cars now on the road, and the vast majority of their owners being very happy with their buys, Hyundai enjoys a reputation that many much longer-established European manufacturers envy.

A Hyundai fact to impress your friends

 

You might think the Hyundai logo is simply an H for ‘Hyundai’ in an oval. In fact it is styled to represent two people shaking hands – a dealer and a satisfied customer. The oval represents the brand’s global presence.

The word Hyundai (pronounced ‘Hyun-day’ rather than ‘High-un-Die’) means ‘modern’ in Korean.

Hyundai logo | The Car Expert

Summary 

Hyundai is an automotive success story. Huge investment in technology and quality, combined with snapping up the very best of the industry’s design and engineering talent in Europe, has elevated Hyundai to direct competition with the best-known European and Japanese manufacturers, with most of them left in the Korean brand’s wake.  

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Andrew Charman
Andrew Charman
Andrew is a road test editor for The Car Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.