Hyundai's Nuvis Concept, making its world debut at the 2009 New York show, is yet another hybrid-crossover dream car designed to blend utility with small-car fuel-economy and sci-fi futuristic styling.
Penned at Hyundai's design center in Irvine, California, its SUV-style body gives the Nuvis the passenger and cargo room of a large sedan, while its wide stance and low roofline lend it a sporty appearance. Powered by a parallel hybrid system backed up by a 270-watt lithium-polymer battery, the Nuvis delivers an estimated 34 mpg city and 35 mpg highway according to Hyundai, meeting the Ford Escape Hybrid's city mileage and beating its highway mileage by four mpg.
Hyundai's Hybrid Blue Drive system operates on a principle similar to Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive, wherein the gasoline engine is mated to an electric motor that reduces the load on the engine, increasing efficiency. In this case, Hyundai's 228-hp Theta II 2.4L inline four-cylinder engine is mated to a 30 kW electric motor that can get the vehicle moving from a stop and provide extra power for accelerating and passing.
That's no ordinary Theta II engine, either. The engine has been optimized to minimize efficiency-robbing friction, as has the entire drivetrain. Hyundai also massaged the engine management software for efficiency wherever possible in order to further boost fuel economy. Meanwhile, the fourth, fifth and sixth gears of the six-speed automatic transmission have been extended for better highway fuel economy. Hyundai says its lithium-polymer battery pack, stored under the rear cargo floor, is more space-efficient and durable than the nickel-metal hydride or lithium-ion battery packs of other hybrids. The smaller battery pack helps reduce weight as well, and the Nuvis tips the scales at just 3400 lb, according to Hyundai.
When you look at the Nuvis, though, fuel efficiency probably won't be your first thought. Hyundai says the Nuvis draws many of its styling cues from the motion of running water, which makes it appear as though it's always moving. While the lines themselves are graceful, a few too many of them run into each other for our taste. Things get cleaner as you work your way from the pinched nose along the sides to the back, where it's less busy. Regardless of which angle you choose, though, it will be hard to miss a hint of Mazda's Nagare design cues in the body lines.