Hyundai ponders BMW 3 Series fighter

2013 Hyundai Elantra sedanHyundai is never satisfied. The company went from building bargain-basement rides to having one of the most stylish, well-built and, thanks to the Genesis and Equus sedans, luxurious lineups of any mainstream carmaker. Now, the company is reportedly entering new territory by targeting one of the most popular luxury cars around: the BMW 3 Series.

A source inside Hyundai told Automotive News that the Korean company is preparing a shortened version of the rear-wheel drive platform from the Genesis to underpin a 3 Series fighter. However the car, codenamed RK, will not go on sale until 2014 at the earliest.

By putting the 3 Series in its sights, Hyundai is setting a near-impossible goal for itself. Established competitors like Audi and Mercedes have repeatedly failed to beat the magic Bimmer in sales or critical acclaim, so can an upstart like Hyundai do better?

The 3 Series’ greatest attribute is probably its sporty handling, something Hyundai has not had much success with in its sedans. The Genesis sedan was meant to compete with full-size luxury cars like the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class, so it’s a bit of a land yacht. Still, its platform also supports the sporty Genesis Coupe, so there is hope yet.

If Hyundai’s recent efforts are any indication, the RK will look good. The flowing lines of the Sonata and Elantra help distinguish them from the American and Japanese competition. The 3 Series is a handsome car, but it looks very conservative compared to the cheaper front-drive Hyundais. If Hyundai uses the same styling theme on the RK, it could at least win the beauty competition.

Like other Hyundais, a competitive price will probably make the RK more enticing. The Genesis is such a compelling car because it offers 7 Series and S-Class accommodations for the price of its competitors’ midsize models. The 3 Series starts at $39,595, so the RK will have to undercut that. Hyundai’s impressive 10-year/100,000-mile warranty could also sweeten the deal.2012-bmw-3-series driver side

Most luxury car buyers are not 100 percent rational, though. It’s hard to imagine people trading the snob appeal of a BMW badge for a Hyundai. Luxury buyers also have higher standards than the average Accent owner. When Hyundai launched the Genesis, it had to upgrade its dealers to provide a suitably upscale experience.

If Hyundai’s 3 Series fighter proves successful, a Kia version isn’t out of the question. Hyundai owns Kia; most of Kia’s models are based on Hyundai platforms. A Kia 3 Series competitor could be based on the company’s K9 luxury sedan.

Either a Hyundai or Kia 3 series competitor is a big gamble; it’s unclear whether luxury buyers want a bargain sedan without a prestige badge. However, a cheap rear-wheel drive sport sedan, is a good thing, regardless of which badge it wears.

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