In traffic jams, in narrow residential alleys, and along country roads, big cars are omnipresent, often filling lanes to the brim as if performing a high-wire act. Observing such scenes, one might feel as though they’re witnessing a sci-fi epic where large vehicles have conquered the Earth. Indeed, we’ve entered the age of big cars.
In the current automotive landscape dominated by larger vehicles, columnist Gyu-chul Pak stands as a beacon for the lesser celebrated, yet equally compelling, world of small cars. He is a fervent advocate for the charm of compact vehicles, a true ‘small car enthusiast.’ Pak’s love affair with small cars isn’t a recent trend; it’s a lifelong journey. From his earliest driving days in smaller vehicles to his preference for them even in his mature years now, his passion is unwavering. He’s even penned books on the subject, further solidifying his position as a small car connoisseur.
Pak, a pioneer among South Korea’s automotive columnists, has been writing columns and test drives since the 1980s for publications like ‘Auto Life,’ ‘Motor Magazine,’ and the Korean edition of ‘Motor Trend.’ Known for his emotional writing style, wit, and insight, Pak has made a name for himself as a columnist capable of emotive evaluations and incisive critiques.
For our meeting with Pak, we prepared his much-loved small car - the Hyundai Casper. The Casper has captured attention even before its launch, thanks to its SUV styling, unique interior and exterior design, and diverse color options. The pre-orders for the Casper, reaching 18,940 units, set a record for Hyundai’s combustion engine models, surpassing the partially updated sixth-generation Grandeur launched in November 2019. Its popularity continued post-launch, with 48,002 units finding new owners in 2022 alone, outperforming the sales of the ‘national compact cars,’ the Kia Morning (29,380 units) and Ray (44,566 units).
Upon seeing the Casper, Pak’s face lit up with a gentle smile, reminiscent of a young man in love. “Just gazing at small cars brings joy. Those who prefer larger vehicles may not understand this reaction. Though a light vehicle, the Casper seems to combine the unique design of a compact car with the robustness of an SUV. It’s thrilling to come across such a well-crafted small car after a long time.”
Pak immediately lavished praise on the Casper. “The Casper feels distinctly different from past light cars. It’s evident even in a short drive. The attention to passenger comfort is impressive. Compared to the light car I first drove, driving the Casper feels like being in a high-end flagship model. Back then, even rolling down windows and adjusting side mirrors was manual. But with the Casper, everything is just a button press away. And it doesn’t stop there - it’s even equipped with ADAS for safe driving. The Casper is enough to completely change the perception that ‘a light car is somehow lacking.’ It’s such luxury in a light car.”
As Pak notes, the Casper may be a light car, but it’s packed with features that rival those of mid-sized vehicles. Highlights include a 4.2-inch cluster displaying all crucial driving information, an 8-inch navigation system including phone projection and BlueLink, Hyundai CarPay, and a fully automatic climate control system adjustable in three stages. The Casper’s impressive convenience features have shattered people’s preconceptions about light cars.
Safety features are equally comprehensive. With seven airbags, including a front-center side airbag to prevent collisions between driver and passenger in an accident, and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), the Casper has earned its reputation as a ‘safe light car.’
When asked why he loves small cars, Pak’s answer is surprisingly straightforward. “Isn’t this enough? People in our country have a particular fondness for big cars, as evidenced by the popularity of luxury large sedans like the Grandeur. People often ask me why I stick to small cars. I counter, ‘Why do you need to drive a big car?’ Nowadays, small cars are just as feature-rich and appealing as big ones. There’s no reason not to drive one.”
He continued to extol the virtues of small cars. “There’s so much more to gain from driving a small car than a big one. Think about parking. It’s heartbreaking to see people struggle to park large cars in tight spaces or cause ‘door dings.’ I remember when I had a Kia Ray. One day, I parked it right up against a parking lot wall, and next to it, a huge SUV parked easily, thanks to the space my Ray left. I felt like a philanthropist, easing the inconvenience of others.” He explained that the lack of parking stress is one of the many charms of small cars.
Pak, energized by encountering a small car he likes, continued discussing space. “Until a few years ago, Japan was the pinnacle of light cars. But not anymore. The development of South Korea’s auto industry has extended to small cars. They’re not just more convenient and safer but also bigger.”
“Have you driven a Japanese light car?” he asked. Before even hearing the full answer, he continued. “In a Japanese light car, passengers are constantly rubbing shoulders. But the Casper’s interior is spacious and comfortable. We no longer need to envy Japanese light cars. Especially the Casper, with its fully foldable front passenger seat, maximizes space utilization. Plus, the rear seats slide back and forth (up to 160mm) and recline. You can even go auto camping using this space. The Casper has it all - space, convenience, safety, and style. I’d get one if my wife allows it.”
Pak, a veteran who’s experienced countless cars, from mid-to-large sedans to sports cars and SUVs, shared his thoughts on driving the Casper. Sitting in the driver’s seat, touring the corners of Seoul, he reminisced about his first car. “The first car I drove after getting my license was a small car with an 800cc air-cooled 2-cylinder engine. I have fond memories of joyriding everywhere. I still remember those long drives when I had to stop to cool the engine down. That was routine back then.”
“The Casper is different. You can drive long distances without stopping. I’m not just comparing it to older cars; it can go all the way to Busan without a break. Even compared to other modern cars, it’s not lacking in performance. The 1,000cc engine pairs well with the transmission. It’s flawless. I like that they offer a turbo engine. Depending on your preference and usage, you can choose either the turbo for a bit more pep or the standard model for efficiency. Power? Even the standard model is sufficient. These days, unrealistically high outputs like 500 or 600 horsepower have become the norm, so the Casper’s power might seem less. But it’s more than enough to move its small body. In the city, this level of power is just right. The ride is so smooth it doesn’t feel like a light car.”
Pak hopes people’s perceptions of small cars will change. “Light cars are no longer just economical choices for those in financial need. In the past, they were cheap modes of transport for livelihood. Now, they’re tools for expressing individuality. Look at the Casper. It’s a great companion for fashion items and hobbies. Outdated perceptions only hinder the progress of the auto industry.”
For Pak, a first-generation South Korean columnist and small car advocate, the Casper is a ‘true car’ and a ‘luxurious light car.’ After meeting the Casper, his love for small cars has deepened and become more evident. His advocacy for small cars is genuine, not just for show.
by Heo In-hak
Assisted by Pak Gyu-chul
Photography by Choi Min-seok
HMG Journal Operation Teamgroup@hyundai.com
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