Time was Hyundai was an automotive joke sparring with Yugo for the title of worst import in America. Not anymore. Hyundai started the ball rolling by offering 100,000 mile/10 year warranties on their products. That changed the perception of their products. They became cheap alternatives to Toyota and Honda. Roll forward a few years and we find the previous generation Hyundai Sonata came close to matching the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Progress.

While the meat of the market is in the mid-range segment, Hyundai also introduced an entry level luxury range in the Genesis RWD sedan and a Mustang/Civic SI competitor in the Genesis coupe. These two cars established Hyundai’s credibility beyond Camcord.

Honda has a strong following in the tuner market. You know that because you see so any Civics with clear tail light assemblies, loud exhausts, and fins and fangs galore. The Genesis coupe is also very tunable, has rear-wheel-drive, and comes with 4 and 6 cylinder engines. It is a natural to capture fans in the youth market.

You can’t buy a better Honda than the Accord, and you can’t buy a better Toyota than the geriatric Avalon. Yet Hyundai has topped the Sonata with the Genesis, a RWD sedan that competes with the Germans, while undercutting their prices by thousands. Obviously, Hyundai will never have the snob appeal of Mercedes or BMW or Audi, but it will appeal to luxury buyers looking for value for money. Moreover, there is a halo effect. When a buyer visits a Hyundai dealership looking for their first new car, they will see cars that represent further rungs up the ladder. Which Honda dealer is going to refer their prospects to an Acura dealer? Ditto Toyota and Lexus. Maybe Hyundai is onto something here; one brand; all market segments.

I’ve been leasing Honda Accords for decades. Had dozens of them. My last one was a V6 5-speed Auto, which was pretty nice, except it only got 23 mph. I liked having 240HP under my right foot whenever I needed it. My current Accord is a 4 cylinder, 5 speed manual. It was more fun than the V6 auto. Unfortunately, it suffered catastrophic clutch failure at 900 miles. Honda fixed it it, but didn’t cover any of my costs associated with the failure. My current Accord is OK. My biggest complaint, after the clutch failure, is a lack of torque. Great that it makes 190HP, but none of that power is down where I need it. Yeah, I can change down to 3rd for a freeway merge, but why can’t I accelerate from 50 in 4th? I’m getting 28mph from this car in mixed freeway/city driving. So, it’s OK. But I want a car with V6 performance and I4 economy.

Hyundai brought out a new version of the Sonata. It’s styling burst the envelope of mid-range sedan styling. It started placing or winning comparisons with its competitors.

Hyundai has followed up with a direct injection 4 cylinder turbo version of the Sonata that delivers V6 performance with 4 cylinder fuel economy. From the press release:

The 2.0-liter turbocharged GDI four-cylinder engine produces 274 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 269 lb-ft of torque from 1750-4500 rpm with regular fuel, while delivering 22 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. Hyundai’s 2.0T engine features a twin-scroll turbocharger that, when combined with the GDI system, results in crisp, responsive power delivery. Twin-scroll turbochargers have traditionally been used on more expensive high performance engines, but as with direct injection, Hyundai has chosen once again to apply this efficient technology in high volume to its most popular model.

A lot can happen in two years, but looks to me like Hyundai is doing everything right to move ahead of the other transplants. Great product with competitive pricing is a winning combination.

So, what about Kia? It is a Hyundai clone, just like Pontiac was a clone of Chevrolet. Lately, Kia has been putting some nice product out there. Moreover, it is distinct from Hyundai. The Kia Forte Coupe is very impressive. There is no matching Hyundai model. The Kia Optima is based on the Sonata but is more conservatively styled. The funky looking Kia Soul competes in the boxy niche established by the first Scion XB.

I think here is some pretty clever marketing going on to promote both brands while preventing cannibalization.

Hyundai and Kia are also establishing a strong presence in Europe, at the expense of Toyota and Honda, as The Truth About Cars notes:

In Germany, probably the most auto-chauvinistic of all the  European countries, the Golf-class Hyundai i30 (above) is currently the number one selling import car, not counting VW’s captive import brand Skoda. Toyota and Honda’s European market share is down, and Hyundai’s is up, and growing quickly.

I won’t be buying another Honda. I will be checking out Hyundai and Kia.

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