Phil Zak with the new Sonata; photo by Paul Williams
Phil Zak with the new Sonata; photo by Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

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First Drive: 2011 Hyundai Sonata

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By Paul Williams

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2011 Hyundai Sonata

When I first heard about Hyundai’s application of “Fluidic Sculpture Design,” to the styling of the company’s latest vehicles, my first thought was that it sounded pretty futuristic. My second thought was of Star Trek.

Trekkers will know that the fierce Species 8472 live in Fluidic Space in the Star Trek universe, and they’re definitely a force to be reckoned with.

Phil Zak with the new Sonata; photo by Paul Williams
Phil Zak with the new Sonata; photo by Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

So, Fluidic Design… Fluidic Space… I made the connection.

Then again, what about Fluidic Drive? More Star Trek? No — try Chrysler, Planet Earth, circa 1939.

Fluidity, it turns out, is a well-trodden path, especially when it comes to engineering and design. However, this is not a bad thing, as the term is historically associated with something inventive, clever, adaptable and perhaps a little exotic.

At the 2010 Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto, Phil Zak, Hyundai’s new Chief Designer at Hyundai’s North American Design Centre in Irvine, California, explains that Hyundai’s take on the Fluidic concept is both practical and artistic.

It’s a “cohesive essence,” he, says, that has been developed by Hyundai’s five global design studios. It’s “cross-cultural,” having relevance and appeal for all the markets served by the company. The term is also representative of the overall look of the vehicles: “It’s an organic form,” says Mr. Zak, “rather than architectural.”

2011 Hyundai Sonata
2011 Hyundai Sonata
2011 Hyundai Sonata
2011 Hyundai Sonata
2011 Hyundai Sonata; photos by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

While Hyundai is not the first to boldly go in the fluidic direction, it’s pretty clear what the direction represents for the company.

Says Mr. Zak: “As a brand, we’ve got value covered; we’ve got the great warranty; we’ve got awards for quality. Now it’s time for design.”

Although the Genesis and the new Tucson lead the way to Hyundai’s new design identity, perhaps the most striking expression of “Fluidic Sculpture” thus far is the all-new 2011 Hyundai Sonata. In comparison with some earlier Hyundai designs, this is not a step forward; it really is a leap.

“We want Hyundai to become the most emotional Asian brand,” says Mr. Zak of the Sonata’s striking lines. “The overall impression is natural, expressive and flowing.”

Mr. Zak points also to the premium elements found even on the base model 2011 Sonata, including the chrome grille, the detail in the headlamps and the overall execution.

With its character lines flowing from front to back, converging tidily below the rear deck, the 2011 Sonata may be the best-looking car in the mainstream midsize segment. It certainly turns heads.

“Koreans in general are an animated and emotional people,” muses Mr. Zak. “Fluidic Sculpture Design expresses those characteristics. In combination with the value and quality, it really makes Hyundai a global force to be reckoned with.”

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