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[Test Drive] Hyundai Motor Benjamin Buttons the Grandeur

Classic of the 80s is looking younger as each decade passes
Nov 25,2019
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Hyundai Motor’s new Grandeur is driven down the road in Namyangju, Gyeonggi. [HYUNDAI MOTOR]
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NAMYANGJU, Gyeonggi - When it first rolled off the lines in 1986, the Grandeur was seen as the “car for the successful.”

The reputation stuck, so much so that when I was growing up, my dreams of success included driving around in one of the iconic sedans.

Thirty three years after hitting the market, the image has changed, but the popularity remains. The Grandeur no longer evokes images of blue-suited executives driving around a sepia-toned Seoul.

It is now more of a practical vehicle for upwardly mobile professionals and ambitious hipsters.

A face-lifted model has been introduced, three years after the sixth generation was released in November 2016. I was skeptical at first, even though 32,179 people rushed to order the car in just 11 days.

Since Hyundai Motor came to market with its premium Genesis brand in 2015, it seemed Grandeur might lose its way.

But after testing out a 3.3-liter gasoline Grandeur for about an hour last week, I started to see where the car fits in the market. The new Grandeur is by no means as elegant, or as pricey, as Genesis models, but the four-door sedan seems just about right for those in their 30s and 40s who have had some success but not enough yet to upgrade to the big leagues.

What I drove is far beyond a face-lift of the earlier version. To push the metaphor, the doctors have done a bit more work. It’s a very different vehicle when compared to its predecessor.

A parametric jewel pattern across the front that integrates LED headlamps, daytime running lights and the radiator grille into a single unit gives the car a younger look. It sacrifices tradition but makes up for it with a futuristic galaxy of stars on the dome.

Hyundai Motor seemed to have Benjamin Button-ed the Grandeur - as the car got older, it looks younger.

The company did keep the full-width LED light strip from the last model, seemingly to maintain a connection with the past.

When I climbed into the car and got behind the wheel, I realized the automaker had taken the game to the next level. If it weren’t for the Hyundai Motor logo on the steering wheel, I might have thought I had mistakenly stepped into a Genesis.

The luxurious vibe starts from ambient lights and the leather seats and dashboard. Two 12.3-inch displays standing side by side added to the futuristic look, while thinner and longer air vents, usually a signature design feature for Audi models, let me know that the hiring of top designers wasn’t for nothing.

It’s bigger than the last version. The 1.47-meter-tall (4.82-feet-tall) sedan is 10 millimeters (0.39 inches) wider than earlier Grandeurs, at 1.875 meters, and 60 millimeters longer than its predecessor, at 4.99 meters. The wheelbase also gained 40 millimeters to 2.885 meters.

Then I came back to reality. As soon as I got on the road on a 60.2-kilometer (37.4-mile) drive to Namyangju, Gyeonggi, I found the 3.3-liter gasoline engine with an eight-speed automatic transmission wanting. It was far from dynamic, despite being rated at 290 horsepower and 35 kilogram-meters in torque - solid numbers for any car out on the market. It probably was smart for Hyundai Motor to advertise the new Grandeur as a premium sedan, not a sporty one.

Acceleration was a little delayed, the car trembled a bit too much and the sound of the wind rushing by was annoying at high speeds. Even in Sporty mode, the car seemed to want to stay on the bench.

But in investing between 32.9 million won ($28,159) and 36.7 million won in the new Grandeur, you are buying some of the best high-tech safety features available on the market.

The highway driving-assist feature automatically controlled the distance between the Grandeur and cars around it, and when I turned on signal lights to change lanes, the digital cockpit display showed the real-time view of the surroundings. The car also opened the trunk, turned on the air conditioner and tried to play music for me when I ordered it, but it seemed like it couldn’t close the trunk by itself.

The usual lane-keeping assist and surrounding view monitor systems were all there. I had the air purifying system on throughout the test drive, but the air quality outside wasn’t so bad, so I couldn’t really feel the difference.

Even though the drive may not be exhilarating, the innovative design changes and a range of high-tech safety and convenience features of the new Grandeur could be enough for Hyundai Motor to hit its goal of selling 110,000 units by the end of next year.

The car seems to provide value for the money, enough perhaps to maintain its reputation as being the “car for the successful.”

BY KO JUN-TAE [ko.juntae@joongang.co.kr]