If you’re a graphic designer, and you have to make one of those generic cars for some ad for an insurance company, you can probably cut your work time in half by starting with a Hyundai sedan made between 2000-2005 or so. I’m actually picking two meh cars for today, because they’re both so equally meh I couldn’t decide: the third-gen Hundai Accent and Elantra.
Like I always like to remind everyone, meh does not mean crappy; both the third-gen Elantra and Accent did their basic jobs well enough, and were reasonable values. Nobody would fault you for buying a new Accent or Elantra back in, say, 2006, but deep down you know that, on some level, you’d become dead to them. Because you yourself would have become dead inside.
In both of these Hyundais you can clearly see the influence of Hyundai’s corporate design language, which was known as “Rational Enuui” and was developed by taking brochures from all major automakers of the time, placing them in a blender with a lot of gin and a few phone books, and drinking the gray, smoothie-like result until any vestige of giving a shit was puked out of your system.
The larger, slightly more upscale Elantra had a sort of trapezoidal grille with some optional vertical chrome bits, while the Accent had to make do with a less dramatically angled grille. Both cars were as rounded and bland and featureless as the less-sexy class of creek-bed rocks, and both had interiors that, while absolutely serviceable, were as forgettable and inoffensive and character-free as a chain hotel’s ‘office center.’
In the U.S. market, the Accent was mobilized with Hyundai’s 1.6-liter inline four Alpha engine, which did have sort-of interesting variable valve timing, but made a not-so-interesting 110 horsepower.
The Elantra had engine choices ranging from 1.6-liters to 2-liters, but most U.S.-market cars had the 2-liter, making a yawntastic 134-138 hp. Perhaps with a manual and a certain gleeful destructive streak you could have fun with these, but by far most of both cars sold in America came with an automatic and were sold to rational, reasonable people who just had to get to work, dammit.
Hyundai wasn’t under any illusions that they were selling anything actually interesting here. Look at this ad for the Elantra:
Holy shit. If there’s a better commercial that embodies the fundamental ethos of “meh,” I haven’t seen it. This comemrcial shows and Elantra buyer’s literal fantasy, a scenario played out in his mind, and he’s on massive, open, empty roads and yet he’s still driving like he’s in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
I mean, what the hell is the point of this ad? The car is so, um, “good to drive”, it makes you feel like the only car on the road, but that in no way lets you, you know, enjoy being the only car? It’s like all the slow, mind-numbing tedium of driving in traffic, but with the added benefit of crippling loneliness. Where do I buy one?
The Accent was no better:
Gray. Everything is gray. All color has been leached away by the rational, reasonableness of the Accent. And what the hell does the line “For my loved ones—unlimited consideration” mean? And then to follow it with “...and more!” This ad sounds like it was written by a random-word generator.
Also, I’m calling bullshit on the line “satisfying your every need” because my heart still beats, dammit. I can still feel, you monsters.
Seeing one of these now, usually with faded paint, missing a plastic wheel cover, and maybe some red tape over a cracked taillight lens, just fills me with a sort of uneasy sense that whoever is driving it has probably been through some shit and is in the process of getting it back together.
I wish them well, and sincerely hope these good-enough glum acceptance sedans will one day soon drive them to a better, more interesting car.
UPDATE: I meant to mention that the Accent was rebadged as the Dodge Attitude! A delightfully mis-named car, and a wonderful example of how much of a blank slate this car is. Dodge, Hyundai, whatever, it barely matters!