The Hyundai Casper drives on the road. (Hyundai Motor)
South Korea has long been in love with large luxury cars.
Compact cars, despite their practicality and suitability for city traffic, are regarded as only for rookies, or those with thin wallets.
But that’s before Casper.
Hyundai Motor’s first A-segment release in 19 years, the mini sport utility vehicle has President Moon Jae-in, among others, signed up for preorders. It is creating buzz unseen for many years in the compact car segment for its unique, toy-like design and functionality.
So what’s so special about the Casper?
Taking the wheel, it was clear that Hyundai paid extra attention to the model, trying not to miss out on all the convenient functions that higher-segment vehicles now come with.
The Korea Herald had the chance to test-drive the Casper 1.0 Turbo Inspiration trim for a trip of 56 kilometers around Yongin to Anseong in Gyeonggi Province.
At first glance, Casper is eye-grabbing with a young and vibrant exterior design and the roof rack on top. The circular headlights at the sides of the wide front grille draw a cute face.
After seeing it in pictures first, the Casper in real life felt smaller, and it looked like a miniature version of other bigger SUVs.
The Casper is 3,595 millimeters in length and 1,595 mm in width, with a wheelbase of 2,400 mm -- almost the same size as the Hyundai Morning and Chevrolet Spark.
But the car is taller than its rivals by about 90 mm, and this made some difference when sitting inside the car, as it felt much roomier with ample headroom and nice outward visibility.
The desire for Hyundai to differentiate its car from others was also seen from how the car body narrows toward the top in a trapezoid shape. Hyundai clearly didn’t want to compromise the design for more passenger space, as shown in the boldly slanted walls and rear window.
Inside Hyundai’s Casper (Jo He-rim/The Korea Herald)
Inside Hyundai’s Casper (Jo He-rim/The Korea Herald)
Inside the car, practicality is accentuated. The digital dashboard and the 8-inch touch screen infotainment system are simple and useful. The infotainment screen sticks out above the dashboard to meet the height of the driver’s eyes.
What is special about the interior is that all four seats can be folded completely, which Hyundai says is a worldwide first. This is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts, who want to go on “car picnics,” or camping, they said.
On the road, the Casper with the turbo engine boasted decent driving capability and nice reaction speed to the pedals.
Casper’s gasoline 1.0 model facilitates up to 76 horsepower and a maximum torque of 9.7 kilogram-meters, with a combined fuel economy of 13 kilometers per liter. The turbo engine model exerts up to 100 horsepower and a top torque of 12.8 kg-m, with combined fuel efficiency standing at 12.8 kilometers per liter.
Raising the speed on the highway, the Casper held firm to the ground, offering a stable driving experience.
The car in the sports driving mode was also slightly faster in picking up speed.
What came as very convenient was the Advanced Driver Assistance Systems functions that are often left out of A-segment cars for their cost.
The Casper is equipped with an array of ADAS features, including forward collision alert, lane-keeping assistance and forward vehicle start alert.
It also has seven air bags, including one in the center of the front row to prevent a collision between the driver and the passenger.
The Casper was the first Hyundai car to be sold online directly.
It received a record-breaking 18,940 preorders on its opening day on Sept. 14. Total preorders have come in at 26,000.
The number not only broke the preorders record for all internal combustion engine cars for Hyundai, but also exceeded this year’s production goal of 12,000 units, according to the automaker.
Casper also won the title of “the president’s car,” after the presidential office revealed that South Korean President Moon was also among the early birds to reserve the car on the first day. Moon is to use the car after he retires, Cheong Wa Dae said.
The price of the Casper has also been the talk of the town, as some view that the starting cost -- ranging from 13.85 to 19.6 million won ($11,700-$16,600), and more if options are added -- is set a little too high for an A-segment vehicle.
The Chevrolet Spark starts from 9.97 million won, and the Kia Ray starts at 12.75 million won.
AR tour program inside Casper Studio in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province (Jo He-rim/The Korea Herald)
Seeking to give Casper a youthful identity, Hyundai has diversified channels for advertising the mini SUV, utilizing digital technology to target young customers.
In a media premiere event, Hyundai introduced the metaverse world of the Casper, and the whole presentation on the car was done by a digitally created character named Casey.
In the Casper Studio, the showroom Hyundai is operating to exhibit Casper for a month in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, the automaker offers an augmented reality tour for visitors to explore various features and design factors of the Casper using tablet PCs.
The price for the lowest Smart trim starts from 13.8 million won, with 18.8 million won for the highest Inspiration trim.
By Jo He-rim (email@example.com