Friday, November 23, 2012

Same Basics, Different Looks: Sonata and Optima

As I've probably noted before, automobile makers can reduce expenses by having different brands share important components such as motors and the basic body shell. This has been done in many places for many years. Sometimes the strategy has been effective and sometimes not. Certain British makes during the 1960s were noted for their "badge engineering" (differentiating brands through small changes in exterior trim) as did Chrysler's brands from the 1970s on. A low point was encapsulated in Fortune magazine's 22 August 1963 cover showing identically painted cars from four different General Motors brands positioned so that they looked essentially the same. Implicit was a contrast from the days when GM brands had distinctive appearances even when sharing major body components.

Avoiding this problem costs money in the form of having differently shaped sheet metal for different brands using the same underlying components. I could cite a number of good examples, but for this post I'll use the current Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima models. At first glance, they look entirely different. But statistics show they share the same basic dimensions -- wheelbase length, for example. And close inspection of the shapes of doorposts, cut lines and other body essentials confirms underlying commonality.

Let's take a look.

Sonata front 3/4 view
Optima front 3/4 view
Note the shape of the windshields (the black parts behind the glass, not the exterior metal shapes), and the shape and locations of the front and center roof pillars. Also look at the cut lines of the doors in relation to other features such as the front wheel well openings.

Sonata rear 3/4 view
Optima rear 3/4 view
These views offer a different perspective regarding the same features just mentioned, especially the cut lines and pillars.

Which car's styling do I like better? I find the Sonata more dramatic, but the sweeping side creases seem a little awkward as they wrap around the rear of the car. I marginally prefer the Optima. In particular, I like the way Peter Schreyer's "Tiger Nose" grille shape is echoed along the top of the windshield.


The Sanity Inspector said...

Kia and Hyundai aren't really trying to fool anyone though, are they?

I would have liked a Sonata, but I'm too tall, so I bought a Sorento instead.

(from an old 2Blowhards reader...)

Donald Pittenger said...

Inspector -- Well, they did fool me for a while because I hadn't paid much attention to Korean cars and formed the idea that Kia was the lesser brand and therefore would use smaller platforms. The truth only sank in when I compared dimensions.

Thank you for migrating from 2B.