Korea: one of the great driving destinations?

Published: 29 March 2012

I’ve been to South Korea twice now for CAR with Kia and Hyundai, and each time it’s been an incredibly memorable experience, quite unlike anything I’ve ever experienced with car makers in America, Europe, Japan or Australia. So I thought I’d share a few iPhone snaps to give a taste of what it’s like, especially as the North seem to be getting giddy with nuclear weapons at the moment and the South is, you know, just next door.

Last time I was out there, I was bussed into Kia/Hyundai’s Namyang proving ground – we had to hand cameraphones in at reception sadly – and was struck by the slightly topsy-turvy way in which the Koreans operated.

Indiscrete engineers, GT-Rs and M3s... in Korea?

As we drove in, I spotted a Nissan GT-R and BMW M3 just parked up for everyone to see, and a senior Kia engineer talked eagerly of his desire to build a V6 turbo, rear-wheel drive coupe – no doubt he was keen to take the fight to the Hyundai Genesis coupe, an in-house rival from Kia’s parent company. This openness took me aback. When I recently drove the Porsche Boxster, I couldn’t even get its chief engineer to say whether or not he thought the often rumoured baby Porsche was a good idea, and there’s no way that you’d spy cars from rival makers dotted around Weissach.

Later at Namyang, I also spotted a Scirocco, then a lightly disguised Kia Soul; at that point the Soul’s facelift hadn’t been announced, but here it was being paraded in front of journalists. And yet the Rio, which had already been revealed in its entirety, was entirely camouflaged. It didn’t seem to make any sense at all.

Inside a Korean car factory

I also got to visit Sohari, one of the South Korean production plants – you can see the shots of the body panel pressings waiting to be assembled – and, later, drive about in Korea.

The Koreans can’t figure out how us Westerners are able to do this, and I had to insist that the PR team didn’t come along too. They called later that night, by which time I was on the opposite side of the country. They couldn’t believe it, and neither could most of the people I met. Did you come on the train, they’d ask.

When I told them I’d arrived by car, they asked where my tour guide was. It’s weird to them because you rarely see Westerners outside of Seoul, and that’s why so few people know about Korea’s incredible roads.

Korea: a great driving destination

They’re not all great, of course, but head away from the city and into the mountains and you will genuinely find some of the best roads in the world. The snap is of a brilliant – but busy with tourists on the weekend, so be early – road through Seoraksan National Park, a couple of hours or so to the east of Seoul.

Now all we need is that V6 turbo rear-drive coupe so we can head back and drive it again.

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator