Hyundai’s First North American Car Was the Pony – Cool or Nah?

Hyundai doesn’t tend to jump to the top of our mental list when thinking about classic cars. For us in North America, Hyundai seems like they came out of nowhere, but of course, that’s not true. Hyundai has been around for a long time, 53 years, to be exact. So, how did the Korean powerhouse start over on our side of things? Unless you are Canadian or Korean, you probably haven’t heard of the Hyundai Pony – until now. 

The Hyundai Pony

The Hyundai Pony debuted in 1975, but around 1985, Road & Track decided to see what cars our cousins to the north had that we didn’t down here. R&T speaks pretty harshly about the Pony’s competition but compared to what it was up against; it sold like maple crunch donuts all across America’s hat. 

Whether or not the other cars were trash or not, the Pony was incredibly popular. Although the Canadians didn’t yet know Hyundai, they bought about 45,000 Hyundai Ponies from 1984 to 1985. According to the R&T, most of them would grow to regret it. Uh oh!

Well, the Hyundai Pony wasn’t actually the first to come over, technically

The first model brought over was the Hyundai Pony II. This version was the same car as the pony but with an “upgraded” aesthetic. The way R&T puts it, “The Pony II looks vaguely melancholy – like someone drew a sad face on a cardboard box.” Yeesh. That is pretty tough. I actually think there is something appealing about it, almost like a VW Scirocco of the same year. 

1982 Hyundai Pony 1400
1982 Hyundai Pony 1400 GLS | Getty Images

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The Hyundai Pony wasn’t exactly a racehorse

The Pony was rear-wheel drive, powered by a 1.4-liter four-cylinder good for an underwhelming 70 hp. The Pony does have a solid rear axle and leaf springs, though. Pretty cool – right? Right? I’m trying really hard to find some bright spots here. R&T notes that when the Hyundai Pony came out in 1975, it wasn’t that bad compared to other Asian Economy cars. By 1983 it came off as a goofball compared to the Japanese cars of the same class. 

The poor Hyundai Pony is miserably slow. The 0-60 mph crawl happens in around 15 seconds… even typing that felt boring. One good thing about the Hyundai Pony is that it comes in manual! Expect, Hyundai didn’t see fit to give the Pony a tachometer, which I guess I understand. Why bother? 

Ok. Ok. The Hyundai Pony is crazy slow, but how is it to drive otherwise?

The barrage of roughness continues. Even though the R&T review isn’t actively bad in this department, the comments they made are sterile and uncaring at best. The handling is reported as “not dangerous,” lol. That is about the worst way you can describe a suspension without being actively negative. R&T does mention the ride is fairly comfortable, and it operates like a real car for day to day use.

1985 Hyundai Pony
1985 Hyundai Pony | Getty Images

The life expectancy for a Hyundai Pony

Like many Asian cars from this period, the Pony positively disintegrated with rust. They were eaten alive, in Canada, in particular, because of the snow and use of corrosive road salts. This lack of longevity hurt the brand’s reputation giving it the stamp of a budget brand, not a quality item. Of course, these days, Hyundai has overcome its old quality issues and has become a widely trusted brand that shows a push for serious, high-end quality products.

So is any part of the Pony cool or just, nah? I’m going with – nah.