In 1986, to prepare for the upcoming Seoul Olympics, Hyundai needed a flagship sedan. But it was so wet behind the ears that it had to turn to another carmaker to design one for them, one that seemed like a juggernaut in comparison: Mitsubishi Motors. The Mitsubishi Debonair and its rebadged Korean cousin, the Hyundai Grandeur, both debuted in 1986 as the range-topping sedans in their respective lineups. Some 36 years later the Debonair is long gone while a new Grandeur has just debuted, and Hyundai has added a few retro cues that hearken back to the Mitsubishi-designed original.
The new Grandeur is a sharp-looking sedan. Kia and Genesis have been killing it with their designs in recent years, but now parent company Hyundai is joining the club. The Grandeur looks simultaneously modern and old school formal at the same time. A lot of that has to do with the classic rear-wheel-drive proportions, but the kicker is its opera window embedded in the C-pillar.
That’s a direct homage to the pronounced triangular glass found in the 1986 Debonair/Grandeur. When Hyundai published photos of the Grandeur last week a lot of commenters hated the body-colored pillar, but it’s what gives the rear section character. It makes the sedan look less fastback-y, even though that’s the current trend, and that bit of rear deck with a hint of upturned spoiler exudes class.
The Grandeur also has a black line that swoops up to cut through the rear wheel arch. That seems like a modern take on the molding strip that runs down the length of the Debonair and flattens out the top of the rear wheel arch.
The interior houses another throwback to the original Deboanir, the mono-spoke steering wheel. A single-spoke, elephant trunk-like steering wheel was a design element used in several Mitsubishi models, but the Debonair’s was the most high-tech.
On the new Grandeur it’s not truly a uni-spoke. There are two smaller spokes in black to mask themselves out. The central spoke is similar in shape and if it’s not clear that the intent was to pay tribute to the original, Hyundai says so in its press release: “The steering wheel was also inspired by the single-spoke design of the first-generation Grandeur and reborn in its current form by integrating and rearranging controls to provide a more optimized layout for the driver.”
That’s about the extent of it, but it’s interesting to see a company like Hyundai pay respect to its past. Incidentally, it’s not the first time in recent memory that they’ve done something clever with the original Grandeur. Last year, to celebrate its 35th anniversary, Hyundai designers updated a first-gen Grandeur with an electric powertrain and tons of LED lights. The result was dripping with cyberpunk coolness.
Imagine an alternate universe in which Mitsubishi is debuting a car like the Grandeur. In our world they’d be laughed out of town. It’s mind-boggling to think about how Mitsubishi’s fortunes have waned while Hyundai’s have soared in the last three decades. Hopefully Mitsubishi can one day be in a position to give us their own take on the Debonair.
Images: Hyundai, Mitsubishi