Hyundai concept rides wave into future

  • 16-Apr-2009 08:16 EDT
Hyundai_Nuvis_2009_060.jpg

The Nuvis concept is Hyundai's take on the small crossover utility vehicle of the future.

Like most automotive market segments, crossovers—that most intermediate of light-vehicle design—presumably has a “sweet spot” of functional, environmental, and performance features that best balances the capabilities of sedans, wagons, SUVs, and even minivans to achieve maximum utility for each class size. For crossover designers, finding that elusive optimum is like a surfer selecting the best line to ride on the face of a big wave—the right initial setup will take you a long way.

The latest of many recent attempts by car makers to define this apex “structural hybrid” platform is Hyundai’s Nuvis (short for New Utility Vision) concept vehicle. Coming in on the smaller, four-passenger end of the crossover spectrum, the new concept is intended to blend the attributes of a tall urban car and a premium utility vehicle, say Hyundai designers speaking at its recent press unveiling at the 2009 New York Auto Show.

The new dream machine, a low, wide-tracked mini-SUV, with a swooping roof line that "floats" above the cabin, may indicate the Korean company’s current thinking in this key market category. Not only does the Nuvis concept get power from Hyundai’s home-grown parallel hybrid propulsion system, but its structure embodies the flowing, hydrodynamic forms that characterize the philosophy at the firm’s design center in Irvine, CA. If the next-generation Tucson and Santa Fe models follow these themes, we can expect fairly dramatic crossovers from Hyundai in coming years.

For this exercise, Hyundai Design Manager John Krsteski said he asked his young design team to build “a living machine” that is “constantly moving” with “no lines that are standing still.” On the Javitz Center stage, the overall effect of the Nuvis’ fluid body forms is certainly kinetic and reasonably graceful, but whether the body lines and aggressive front end could use some editing is up to the viewer.

Of greater interest is the company’s Blue Drive gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain, which was shown at the Los Angeles Auto Show last November. With an electronically controlled planetary gear, variable-ratio transmission, this strong hybrid unit resembles in function Toyota's vaunted Synergy Drive. Hyundai’s home-grown hybrid drivetrain, which will reportedly first appear in a 2010 Sonata mid-sized sedan, marries a specially tuned, 2.4-L Theta II inline four-cylinder engine that generates 228 hp (170 kW) with a 30-kW electric motor and a six-speed automatic transmission.

The thrifty hybrid drive incorporates a regenerative-braking system and an integrated starter-generator that enables the engine to shut down off at stops and restart automatically under acceleration. Fuel economy is further boosted with an electric-motor-assisted steering system and low rolling-resistance tires.The Nuvis delivers fuel-economy ratings of about 34 mpg city and 35 mpg highway, says a Hyundai spokesman—numbers that meet or surpass those of the similarly sized Ford’s Escape Hybrid.

Also notable is the 270-volt lithium-polymer battery mounted below the cargo floor. Its pouch-like cells, which were provided by Korea’s LG Chem, have a chemistry based on a gel electrolyte rather than the liquid ones in lithium-ion cells. The high-efficiency lithium-polymer cells are said to be lighter weight and more compact as well, and their high thermal stability means than no environmental conditioning is required.

Inside, the cabin fabrics are made from 100% post-consumer recycled polyester from reclaimed soda bottles by the supplier, True Textiles, which uses sustainable manufacturing processes. The Nuvis designers also installed touch-sensitive surfaces from Methode Electronics throughout the cabin rather than conventional controls and switches. Their goal is to enable a “river of information” from the car’s infotainment/telematics system to flow within from multiple feeds without. Driver and passengers alike can, for instance, learn of a local restaurant’s blue-plate specials as they ride by it. Talk about going along with the flow...

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