A peek at the future of Kia design

LISTEN 13:08

Kia glided through the design process of its latest coupe SUV concept, the Futuron, drawing inspiration from outer space. With Level 4 autonomy, this SUV with a "360-degree core" represents a look at the future of Kia design with its novel approach to the tiger nose front grille and the eye-catching Star Cloud headlights and taillights. In fact, the concept features light sources all over the luscious bodywork that suggests this EV’s got some grunt. Expect to see at least some cues inside and out on future models of the Korean automaker.

South Korea has quickly risen, in the span of about two decades, from the doldrums of the auto industry to the very top and concepts such as Kia’s Futuron (in itself a pun on the words "future" and "on") signals to the world that Kia plans to stay at the top in the foreseeable future by incorporating the latest EV technology coupled with autonomous systems, all draped in a futuristic body with clean surfaces but also aggressive ridges and angles. We like it if it’s a sign that the two-door SUV is bound to make a comeback.

Kia Futuron Concept Exterior

  • Fluid design
  • Very clean lines with distinct creases
  • Some panel gaps are lit
  • Ingenious multi-element light clusters
  • Ambient lighting on wheels
  • Greenhouse-like roof that blends with side windows
  • SUV stance with a coupe-style body
  • Pointy tail section accentuated by tall waistline
2019 Kia Futuron Concept
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In the front, the Futuron looks very bold with its broad and bulbous arches and narrowing center panel that's framed by a prominent design line going around the front light clusters.

In its own words, Kia states that it "took inspiration from nebulae in the night sky to create a geometric patchwork of matrix LED lighting." In other words, it incorporated the headlights into the basic shape of its signature ’tiger-nose’ grille which, of course, doesn’t exist as such because this is an EV and it doesn’t need a grille. So, in order to mimic the mesh of the grille, Kia’s designers tucked each LED cluster within small openings in the front bodywork that are similar to a lizard’s skin.

This is no accident, as Kia explains. It’s all got to do with where the car was unveiled - in China. More precisely, the surfacing around the headlights - known as the ’Star Cloud’, although this nomenclature is also used for the similarly-organized taillights - is meant to echo the scaled armor that adorns Chinese dragons. This is, in Kia’s PR discourse, the ’Dragon Skin.’ Looking back, the Imagine by Kia Concept also featured an interesting lighting arrangement in the front with small LEDs placed within small ’pockets’ in the lower bumper.

2019 Kia Futuron Concept
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The lower grille sprouts up from the black chin spoiler, showing a clear division between the silver bodywork around the nose and the black splitter area.

In between the two openings, there’s an extra light cluster made up of a number of horizontally placed LEDs in individual casings that stick out like the rain lights on racing cars.

While there are some bold surfaces around the front end, the general appearance of the car is quite clean. For instance, the whole ’tiger-nose’ area actually caves in comparison to the lower bumper and the edge of the hood, thus underlining the narrower area of the grille on standard production Kias. The creases that exist are bold and can be seen from a mile away - they’re there to make a statement, not merely exist for the sake of existing.

The top edge of the flared fenders, that barely contain those huge wheels, falls back and blends with the doors.

The panel gaps between the fenders and those chiseled doors, as well as the main design line along the car's waist, are backlit.

This is done to clearly guide the eyes from the nose section and all the way to the back, to the elongated coupe tail section that ends with a blade-like edge.

2019 Kia Futuron Concept
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The middle section of what would be the hood area in a front-engined car is dark-colored, continuing the theme started around the area of the ’monobrow’ above the headlights.

This central part of the hood then blends with the car's glassed roof making for a seamless - and seemingly pillar-less - transition.

But you can see the pillars as the narrow exterior rear-view mirror are attached to them, hanging right above the meeting point between the front fenders and the receding edge of the door. The shape of the fenders and the acute waistline seem to pull the car towards the back, which makes perfect sense visually given the relatively short front overhangs compared to the long tail in the back. The low roofline is only there to accentuate this visual effect of the ultimate coupe SUV.

Sure, the huge wheels don’t help in the car’s bid to look as sleek as possible, but you must admit Kia’s done an admirable job of getting rid of almost all annoying ridges and useless multi-faced surfacing. The sides of the Futuron are flowing, almost voluptuous, including the bodywork above the waistline that begins to wrap around the greenhouse towards the back, creating a de facto B-pillar in the process. It’s all very subtle, but the basic features of a car are still there.

2019 Kia Futuron Concept
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In the back, you could swear that Kia's designers took inspiration from '30s-era boat-tail speedsters.

The lower bumper connects with the fenders while the rear center panel features an acute angle and dives deep within the car to create that edge immediately above the area where the taillights were placed. This edge is punctuated by a narrow strip of red LEDs that blend flush with the white strip that lights up the waistline (yes, the car’s waistline around the sides completes the circle around the back of the Futuron and thus becomes part of the SUV’s rear light clusters).

The Kia letters are placed in the middle with yet another LED light cluster in the lower bumper, above the black areas around the underbelly of the car, a continuation of the black chin spoiler in the front and the black rocker panels. The roof or, rather, the greenhouse, is, seemingly, one continuous sheet of glass.

The Korean automaker actually said that

"the concept’s roof is a diamond-shaped panoramic glasshouse which sits atop the 360-degree core, in the best traditions of UFO and flying saucer design."

In fairness, it’s not quite panoramic with the rear bodywork climbing up towards the tail, leaving only a narrow strip of glass to go down forming the rear window, but it looks interesting. It also allows for the incorporation of a network of LiDAR (light detection and ranging) sensors.

The sensors are there to allow for Level 4 autonomous driving, including hands-off and eyes-off driving in most conditions (never forget an asterisk should always be placed here, however!).
2019 Kia Futuron Concept
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What’s really cool is that the light peeks from between the body panels apparently to gestures and movements you make facing the car, but it’s not clear what they actually do when you, for instance, clap at the car or, why not, wave at it. Do they blink? Do they just flicker? Do they turn off? Do they become increasingly brighter as you draw near to welcome you? It’s unclear and Kia’s only saying that it "elicits a close connection between vehicle and driver."

The Futuron is actually a pretty big car, its sporty good looks belying a length that exceeds that of the Kia Sorento SUV and the Kia Stinger, being about as long as the Optima. At almost 191 inches, the Futuron is almost 20 inches longer than the Kia e-Niro, currently Kia’s only crossover SUV (the e-Soul is, frankly, more of a ’car’ than an ’SUV’).

Kia Futuron Concept exterior dimensions
Length 190.94 inches
Height 61.02 inches
Wheelbase 118.11 inches

Kia Futuron Concept Interior

  • Extremely futuristic
  • Honeycomb-shaped seats (when viewed from above)
  • Digital steering wheel and instrument cluster
  • Seatbacks light up as well
  • Top of the dash features waves of light that can be seen through the windshield
  • Cockpit-like feel for the driver with the center console wrapping around him
  • Seats four people, the cabin belying the low roofline
2019 Kia Futuron Concept Interior
- image 869589

The interior premises of the Futuron are at least as forward-thinking as the exterior.

With a lot of room freed up by the lack of stuff such as a transmission tunnel, Kia was able to cram four seats in there, despite the sloping roofline.

On the interior door panels, you’ll find the same Star Cloud LED clusters embedded in the openings of the ’Dragon Skin’ surface as on the outside. The ’Dragon Skin’ seamlessly blends with the dashboard to create a circular space.

The ambient lighting system is as interactive as you’d expect and the ’Dragon Skin’ also hides air vents for the A/C system. The driver’s and the passenger’s seats are made out of flexible materials and can offer an upright ‘driving’ position, or a reclined ‘rest’ position, depending on whether or not you want to take matters into your very own two hands and drive the Futuron.

If you choose to drive yourself, the interactive digital dash is there to give you every piece of information you could possibly want.

The dash and center console are effectively one and they wrap around as if to cocoon you from any conversation piece coming from the passenger. The dash is part of an elaborate structure connected to the floor with the dash extending towards the windshield with a pattern of small LEDs around the top area. It’s all very elaborate and even the structure of the dash lights up, while the passenger gets infinite legroom as there’s no dash for him or her to hit the knees against.

When the car's locked in the fully autonomous mode, the small steering wheel - that also features a full-width digital screen - retracts.

We’d expect the interior lights to be kinetic just like those on the outside. Kia only told us that the kinetic technology - that automatically adjusts the beam of the headlights depending on the time of day and weather conditions - is incorporated by the light fixtures fore and aft but it’d make sense for the interior lighting to also be responsive to the exterior world.

The digital dash of the Futuron is known as its GUI (graphical user interface) and is mainly operated by artificial intelligence although your own intelligence can interfere.

Kia designed the dash structure in such a way to form a ’Star Cloud’ light display at the very front of the cabin - function follows form here more or less.

In the back, there’s sitting for two more adults with some storage spaces in the back. We can see in the pictures provided by the Korean automaker at least two covered storage areas behind the rear seats.

Kia Futuron Concept Drivetrain

  • Battery located within the floor
  • Low center of gravity despite high ground clearance
  • Four electric motors, each for a wheel
  • AWD possible, of course
  • Big tires for extra contact patch, better grip
2019 Kia Futuron Concept
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Details about the drivetrain are, by and large, inexistent at this stage. We know that the battery is strong enough to make the Futuron feel sporty, aided by no less than four electric motors, one behind each wheel, but that’s about it.

We currently know nothing about the battery's capacity, its power, the combined output of the motors, or the range.

We’ve got nothing but radio silence when it comes to technical specs but this is no surprise. Kia was also tight-lipped when it came to revealing the technical figures for its previous two concepts we’ve talked about in this review, namely the Habaniro and the Imagine Concept.

We think this veil of secrecy has something to do with the fact that a new EV platform co-developed by Kia and Hyundai will debut next year. The two automakers are spending a lot of money (over $38 billion in long-term investments in R&D and capital expenditure, some of it going to EVs and autonomous tech) in the bid to sell as much as 1.67 million electrified cars by 2025.

2019 Kia Futuron Concept
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Currently, Kia’s only SUV/crossover offering is the compact Niro EV (or e-Niro, however, you like it) that’s only plagued by its ludicrous waiting time stretching in some places to a year. But it’s easy to see why. With a 64-kWh battery, the Niro romps away thanks to an output of 200 horsepower that translates to a 0-60 mph sprint in 7.5 seconds. The EPA-estimated range is in the region of 239 miles. Moreover, it starts at just $38,500 but the Niro EV EX Premium is about $45,000. Still, that’s nothing compared to other compact electric SUVs. Granted, most of them are luxurious, such as Audi’s $75,000 e-tron but not everyone is after luxury.

We think a production version of the Futuron or, in any case, a coupe-styled crossover SUV should benefit from added power - at least 350-400 horsepower - and a bigger battery for +250-mile journeys on one charge. Extra power should also allow it to accelerate faster as that e-tron needs a little over five seconds to reach 60 mph, for instance. But, depending on what the new platform will bring, we think such sporty aspirations aren’t out of touch for Kia.

Kia Niro EV specifications
Electric Motor
Motor Type Permanent Magnet Synchronous Motor
Voltage 356V
Horsepower 201 hp / 3,800-8,000 rpm (150 kW / 3,800-8,000 rpm)
Torque 291 lb.-ft. / 0-3,600 rpm (395 N*m / 0-3,600 rpm)
Electrical System
High-Voltage Battery Pack -
Battery Type Lithium Ion Polymer Battery (LIPO)
Battery Voltage (V) 356V
Battery Capacity (Ah) 180 Ah
Battery Energy (kWh) 64 kWh
Battery Power (kW) 170 kW
Battery Weight (lbs.) 1,008 lbs.
Transmission Type Gear Reduction Unit
Final Gear Ratio (Constant) 8.206:1
Dynamic Performance
Max. Speed (mph) 103.8 mph
Acceleration Performance (sec) -
0 - 62.1 mph 7.8
49.7 - 74.6 mph 5.0
Brake Performance (ft.) -
62.1 - 0 mph 137 ft.
On-board charger (OBC) 7.2 kW
Port locations Behind front grille
Charging time -
Level 1, AC charge with in Cable Control Box (ICCB) 59 hours (120V)
Level 2, AC charge with Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) 9 Hours 35 Min (7.2 kW)
DC fast charge with Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) to 80% charge 75 Min (50 kW)1 Hour (100 kW)

Final Thoughts

2019 Kia Futuron Concept
- image 869582

The Kia Futuron is a step in the right direction for Kia as it stamps its intentions for the future. Electrified Kias of the 2030s will not be boring and they’ll surely not be sluggish if the spirit of the Futuron will live on to inspire them. This is surely a striking concept and the fact that Kia unveiled it in China is a sign that the Koreans hope the Chinese EV/Crossover/SUV/Hybrid craze won’t tank although reports are grim.

Will a reality of more negligible to non-existent incentives affect the market share of EVs in the war they’ve waged against ICE-powered cars? "On November 11, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers announced sales of electric, hybrid, and fuel cell cars plunged by over 45% in October, marking four straight months of declines in the sector," CleanTechnica wrote. Can cars like the Futuron turn the tide around and battle with the image EVs have in some markets now, that of "some form of government welfare being handed out,” as Tu Le, founder of Sino Auto Insights, a consulting firm based in Beijing put it. Only time will tell...

  • Leave it
    • Far from the design of future Kia crossovers
    • Maybe too many lights in too many places?
    • No technical details at the time of writing
Michael Fira
Michael Fira
Associate Editor and Motorsport Expert - fira@topspeed.com
Mihai Fira started out writing about long-distance racing like the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the years went by, his area of interest grew wider and wider and he ever branched beyond the usual confines of an automotive writer. However, his heart is still close to anything car-related and he's most at home retelling the story of some long-since-forgotten moment from the history of auto racing. He'll also take time to explain why the cars of the '60s and '70s are more fascinating than anything on the road today.  Read full bio
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