One of the standouts among the global carmakers at the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show was Hyundai.
The Korean company has seen its market share rise from 3 to 4 percent during a dismal downturn, even without any new volume models to spur excitement.
Now, with its Los Angeles launch of the 2010 Tucson compact crossover and the 2011 Sonata midsize sedan, Hyundai has unveiled two new volume vehicles that it hopes will keep it climbing.
The big surprise? Hyundai won't offer a V-6 engine in either model.
2010 Hyundai Tucson leakEnlarge Photo
2010 Hyundai TucsonEnlarge Photo
Omission by design
And that's by design. As John Krafcik, CEO of Hyundai America, told us, "We believe the V-6 will be a thing of the past in midsize sedans and compact crossovers in just a few years," and the company is determined to lead the trend.
The company will stay with V-6 engines for premium specialty models and larger cars. Its larger 2010 Hyundai Azera sedan, for example, will stay solely with V-6 power.
But engines could get smaller still. "We have tested amazingly low-displacement engines with very high power density," Krafcik said, though he noted that a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine posed significant noise and vibration challenges in a 3,000-pound midsize sedan.
Overall, Hyundai plans to focus on direct-injection fours, many with turbochargers, along with its forthcoming hybrid electric system, expected to make its debut on a Sonata Hybrid very soon.
And as our colleague Bengt Halvorson noted, Hyundai made its decision before last year's sales collapse and economic downturn led remaining car buyers to specify more frugal options.
4 cylinders, 6 speeds
The engine in both the 2010 Hyundai Tucson and the 2011 Hyundai Sonata is its new Theta II 2.4-liter direct-injection four-cylinder, fitted to a new six-speed automatic transmission.
Compared to the previous Tucson four, the combination gets 20 percent better gas mileage. And its power is higher than the previous Tucson's optional 2.7-liter V-6.
Smaller engine, lower weight
Regular readers will know we've been saying for quite awhile that future fuel efficiency gains will come in large part from much more efficient small gasoline engines. Hyundai's decision is one more piece of proof.
One of the benefits is that smaller engines not only weigh less, but there's a nice multiplier effect: the structures holding them, the accessories, and so forth can all be somewhat lighter as well.
Like Mazda, which took 220 pounds out of the 2011 Mazda2 compared to its predecessor, Hyundai is proud of reducing the weights of its new models even as it adds features and new equipment.
The new 2010 Hyundai Tucson weighs 61 pounds less than the outgoing 2009 Tucson. The gas mileage of comparable four-cylinder automatic models rises from 20 mpg city, 25 mpg highway to 23 mpg city, 31 mpg highway.
Similarly, the new Sonata is a full 130 pounds lighter than the current model, though its mileage figures have not yet been released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.