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L.A. Auto Show: 2011 Hyundai Sonata: Captain Nemo, your car is waiting

December 2, 2009 |  6:24 pm

Let's be candid: The new-for-2011 Hyundai Sonata is merely a life-support system for the lurid, florid, Georgia O'Keeffe-worthy character lines wrapped around the body. It's just bonkers -- but in a good way. And a hard-to-build way too.

Streaming back from the enormous headlamp assemblies like windblown beads of mercury, chrome accent lines traverse almost the whole length of the car, forming the bottom sill of the side windows. Meanwhile, plunging contour lines reach forward from around the taillamps, convex and concave details, sort of like the Mercedes CLS fuselage. When the light is right, the effect is like a pair of fencing foils about to en garde.

Sonata These character lines are set inside really complicated, chamfered recesses, highly detailed curvatures and dimension-critical areas that would make your average manufacturing engineer run screaming for the nearest abandoned well.

And that's not all. Every corner, every panel, every inch of this car ripples with what Hyundai calls "fluidic sculpture." The grille of this relatively cheap family sedan looks like it was stolen off a Martian Rolls Royce. This thing makes a Chris Bangle-designed BMW look like a cinderblock.

Is the Hyundai overstyled? Is Tiger Woods sleeping on the couch?

But you've got to step back and admire Hyundai's ferocious and seemingly unappeasable ambition. "It really speaks to where we are in our manufacturing," says designer Andre Hudson.

By comparison, the Chevy Cruze appears to have been extruded from a tube of toothpaste.

Pointing to the mid-sectional character line, he notes, "Any time you take a feature line and wrap it around the corner of a car, you raise the difficulty a lot. I must have taped that line about 100 times." Taping is a process in which designers put tape on a clay model to test out where the body contours should go.

I'm not saying the Sonata works. I might be saying it's kind of a mess. But you've got to love the ambition, blind though it might be.

-- Dan Neil

Photo: Hyundai Motor America President and CEO John Krafcik introduces the 2011 Sonata at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Credit: Hyundai