Automaker's Move Toward Sleeker Sedans
For most of the history of the automobile, the most common forms of family transportation was the four-door sedan, and its long-roof relative, the station wagon. Sometime in the late 1990s and early 2000s, that started to change, with the advent of the sport-utility vehicle, or SUV. Riding higher than a sedan, typically with four-wheel drive, and with a boxier form, the SUV – and its own relative, the slightly sleeker crossover – became the dominant family vehicle. Buyers loved the image that these vehicles projected, the ease of getting in and out of higher cabins, and their versatility.
SUVs and crossovers, however, came with their own sets of compromises. Being higher up and heavier, they were less fun to drive, less responsive, than the equivalent car. Their taller bodies were less aerodynamically efficient than sleeker sedans and wagons. Their four- and all-wheel drive systems, while offering additional capability in bad weather and off-road, added hundreds of pounds of extra weight, while not actually being needed most of the time. Ultimately, all of this meant that SUVs and crossovers, compared to cars with similar interior room and overall footprint, were significantly less efficient, using more fuel and having more of an environmental impact for every mile driven.
Now, with the entire automotive industry looking to more sustainable driving and zero emissions – and with electric-car buyers in particular most concerned about range and efficiency – the compromises inherent in tall, boxy SUVs and crossovers are pushing automakers back to sleeker sedans. A couple of teasers from Volkswagen and Hyundai have us excited about the future of the EV sedan.
The original Volkswagen Beetle broke the mold in the 1950s with its rounded, aerodynamic shape, designed for cruising at speed on German autobahns while being powered by a tiny four-cylinder engine. The latest family Volkswagen, the ID.Aero, looks nothing like the tiny people’s car, but it too is designed for efficiency at speed.
Volkswagen’s first fully-electric sedan, the ID.Aero is currently a concept vehicle, and will be released first in the Chinese market before coming to North America. It is low, sleek, and organic-looking, impressing with an outstanding aerodynamic shape, a spacious cabin, and elegant design details.
Like all electric Volkswagens, the ID. Aero is based on the company’s Modular Electric Drive Matrix (which in German abbreviates to MEB). It packages an 84-kWh battery under its floor and has a very long wheelbase, liberating space for a huge interior. Like the ID.4 SUV, already on sale in the U.S., it features a flowing, precise design language, a full-width front LED lighting strip, and big wheels. The low profile, smooth lines, and sleek roof help reduce energy consumption, and increase range to 435 miles – a significant bump over the taller ID.4.
Volkswagen hasn’t released any shots of the interior of the ID.Aero yet, but expect it to feature a small instrument cluster and a large central touchscreen like the ID.4, as well as that car’s sustainable interior materials.
The ID.Aero will go on sale in China in the second half of 2023, with a production model for Europe and America to be shown in late 2023, and likely on-sale in 2024. It will be built in Volkswagen’s factory in Emden, Germany.
Hyundai Ioniq 6
Hot on the heels of the 80s-inspired Ioniq 5 crossover, Hyundai is about to bring to market the Ioniq 6, the company’s second all-electric vehicle. Concept renderings released by the company show a sleek, streamlined design reminiscent of the company’s Prophecy concept electric vehicle.
Hyundai’s positioning of the Ioniq 6 is “the electrified streamliner,” highlighting its electric powertrain and the way its sleek styling contributes to performance and range. The company feels the streamlined design will appeal to customers’ aesthetic as well as functional needs. Like the Ioniq 5, it takes advantage of Hyundai’s electric global modular platform (E-GMP) which has an exceptionally long wheelbase to liberate plenty of interior space. The vehicle’s overhangs are short, making it easy to position on the road and park, and the surfaces are pure, unadorned by superfluous glitz. Indeed, the Prophecy, precursor to the Ioniq 6, was the first vehicle designed by a Korean automotive brand to earn the coveted Red Dot design award in Germany.
Even SUVs are Going Smoother
While there’s definitely a resurgence in streamlined sedans, it’s likely that SUVs will remain the most popular choice for many drivers – their high seating positions are easier for older adults to slide into, and it’s hard to beat the versatility of a boxy rear end. But the latest crop of electric SUVs is definitely trending sleeker and lower than before.
Take, for instance, the Mercedes EQS SUV, an all-new, avant-garde seven-seater SUV built on a brand-new all-electric platform. It offers space, comfort and connectivity for up to seven passengers in its huge, high-tech interior, and is also capable of tackling light terrain with ease. Compared to the Mercedes GLS, its closest gasoline relative, it is substantially lower and sleeker. And indeed, the EQS SUV shares its exceptionally long wheelbase with the EQS sedan – the wheels are pushed right out to the corners, and the interior benefits fully from the large dimensions. Thanks to its smooth underbody, slick front end with shuttered radiators, and more, it has a range of up to an EPA-estimated 410 miles, which is amazing for an SUV.
The EQS SUV and the upcoming crop of sleek, high-tech sedans are indications that the electric revolution is going affect a lot more than just the drivetrains of future vehicles. We can look forward to new, aerodynamic shapes, and a whole new style revolution, to go with zero-emissions driving.