Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
More luxury at the same price.
Not long ago, a luxurious Hyundai was an oxymoron. Remember, this is the South Korean car maker known in the late 1980s for the Excel, which came to be derided by some as a disposable car. The automotive world, and the world, for that matter, has changed dramatically since then. Hyundai has done more than just keep up. Yes, it still makes seriously affordable, but much higher quality small cars, the Accent and the Elantra. But it now offers a sporty two-door, the Tiburon; a very respectable midsize sedan, the Sonata; and the Santa Fe, a quite capable midsize SUV, all three available with a V6 engine, an offering their competition has yet to match. This ever-expanding lineup makes Hyundai sound increasingly like a mainstream car company.
Still, associating the Hyundai name with luxury might be greeted with a measure of skepticism. That was our first reaction in 2001, when Hyundai launched the XG300.What we found, however, was an impressive flagship offering styling and appointments that placed it in the near-luxury class. It also offered mid-size roominess and practicality with a sticker in the mid-20s, close to the price of a mid-size sedan. Add in Hyundai's five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty coupled with its standard-setting 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, and the car represented real value.
The value improved in 2002 when engine size increased from 3.0 liters to 3.5 liters, which boosted torque by a most welcome 21 percent, to 216 pound-feet. Torque is that force that propels you away from intersections and up hills.
For 2004, exterior styling changes yield a more stately look. Upgrades to some mechanical bits improve safety and convenience. And refinements of various interior features add to occupant comfort. Perhaps most valuable of all, the XG350's price is unchanged from 2003.
Hyundai's flagship sedan comes in two trim levels: XG350 ($23,999) and XG350L ($25,599).
Befitting its near-luxury status, even the base XG350 comes with power everything, automatic climate control, leather-faced seating surfaces and a six-speaker CD stereo. Four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel ABS and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) are standard, as are front-seat side-impact air bags and heated outside mirrors. As its nomenclature indicates, power for the XG350 is provided by a 3.5-liter V6, whichdrives the front wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission with the company's dual-gate, Shiftronic manual override system. Also now standard are outboard rear seat reading lights, electrochromic rearview mirror and the HomeLink integrated transceiver system.
The XG350L adds a power tilt-and-slide moonroof, premium speakers and 210-watt external amplifier, heat and memory for the front bucket seats, a leather-and-woodgrain steering wheel, memory outside mirrors that tilt down when reverse gear is selected.
The only factory option available at either level is an 8-disc CD changer ($500). Options available for installation at port of entry are carpeted floor mats ($89) and rear mudguards ($35).
The 2004 Hyundai XG350 looks even more the part of a luxury car, wearing a new front end with a taller and more fulsome grille, sleeker and better-integrated projection-lamp headlights and deeper bumper and lower fascia; think recent Infiniti Q45s. Thin, inset, chrome-like strips wrap around each corner of the bumper and are mirrored on the rear bumper. Sadly for owners living in states not requiring a front license plate, Hyundai felt compelled to emblazon the bumper with a rectangular license plate emboss, scarring an otherwise gracefully clean nose presentation.
Save for slightly wider molding, the side view is unchanged from 2003, presenting a modestly crisp beltline blending into gently rounded shoulders at the rear. The rear presents the only clear Hyundai indicia: taillights still reminiscent of the Sonata, although now sans the backup lights' disruptive clear lenses, and the trademark Hyundai logo. The license plate has been relocated from the rear bumper to a recess in the trunk lid topped with a bold, horizontal strip of brightwork and framed by the relocated backup lights; this gives it a look in keeping with other luxury cars.
The glass house balances openness with structure. The slim windshield pillars minimize blind spots. Tall side windows add to the airy atmosphere inside. The outside door handles are very well designed: attractive, comfortable, and easy to grab.
The XG350 still shows a bit more bevel in the rear quarters than might be indicated for an aspirant to true luxury status. The front end, though, could fool many a discerning observer, especially as it remains discreetly minus any Hyundai logo revealing this is a value-priced car.
The Hyundai XG350 is a roomy car by mid-size sedan standards. The leather-clad seats, front and rear, are comfortable, balancing on that fine line between firmly welcoming and aggressively hard. They are flat and firm like a Mercedes seat, but lack support in the seat bottom; snack and re-fueling stops will be welcome breaks on long drives. The lack of side bolsters makes getting in and out is easy.
From the driver's seat, almost everything about the XG350 is friendly and familiar. The hefty steering wheel trimmed in wood and leather invites spirited inputs and features re-designed cruise controls with more pronounced and readily discerned delineations. A smooth, quiet dashboard houses gauges in a well-shaded recess. Faux-wood trim suggests luxury and is lighter in color for 2004 for a roomier feel.
Instruments are straightforward, clearly marked and easy to read, using white markings on a black background. The speedometer is placed in the middle of the display, the tachometer is on the left side and the fuel level and engine coolant temperature gauges are in a large display on the right. A big emergency flasher button is mounted just to the right of the steering wheel, easy to reach when quickly for those times when the traffic ahead comes to a sudden standstill.
Audio and climate controls are paragons of ergonomic excellence. They are mounted high on the center dash, with the stereo properly positioned above the climate control panel. Buttons for both are large, clearly marked and easy to operate. The air conditioning automatically switches to recirculation mode when outside air quality deteriorates. LED readouts are large and easy to read. The stereo features an in-dash CD player, but the sound lacks dynamic range. A trip computer above the audio/climate controls includes a clock that's easy to read.
Luxury in a sedan is as much feel and features as it is spaciousness. But even in the latter, the XG350 measures up. It bests the likes of the Taurus, Maxima, Impala, Concorde , Camry and Avalon in most interior measures by at least an inch and sometimes by almost two inches.
The XG350 offers good rear-seat headroom, but is a little lacking in legroom. It beats all but the Camry in rear seat headroom, but in rear-seat legroom it comes in behind all except the Maxima. Rear-seat head restraints lock into their selected positions and ratchet forward, making them more effective at preventing injuries. When in position, they block rearward vision somewhat, but they can be removed (with a struggle) when not being used. XG350 does not have a head restraint for the center of the rear seat. However, it does have ISO-specification anchors (covered when not in use) for child safety seats across the rear bench.
Picking up the dry cleaning is a breeze. The design of the garment hooks show attention to detail. Instead of being suspended from the roof-mounted assist grips, they fold out from the headliner, making them much more user-friendly, and less likely to dump the week's dry cleaning onto the floor. Few manufacturers make garment hooks that work as well as this Hyundai's.
Trunk space is more limiting, where the XG lags behind mid-size sedans. An inside pull-down has been added for 2004 to spare getting your hands dirty when the trunk is covered with slush or rainwater. Gas-pressurized struts replace previous years' goose-neck hinges to ease the lifting and lowering. Beneath the floor resides a full-size spare mounted on a matching alloy wheel. Like with most new cars, the XG's trunk features an inside release, useful for children or car-jacking victims who find themselves locked in the trunk.
The Hyundai XG350 feels like a substantial automobile and it is, pushing the large end of the mid-size envelope with mass to match, outweighing the opposition by as much as 300 pounds. Its long wheelbase stretches 108 inches to help flatten highway undulations. As you should expect from a car of its size, the XG's all-coil, all-independent suspension smoothes out sharp pavement ridges and coddles the body through abrupt directional changes, the latter helped by a new, multi-link rear suspension geometry that keeps the back tires in better line with turning front tires. On bumpy pavement, however, the XG350 doesn't quite match the sophistication of $30,000 luxury sedans. While improved, road and tire noise still seem a bit loud for the class.
We found the XG350's engine smooth and quiet, willing and free-revving. Its relative silence added to the pleasant ambience of the interior, allowing for comfortable conversation or quiet reflection. This dual-overhead-cam engine produces 194 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 216 pound-feet of torque at 3500 rpm. That's respectable power at reasonably low rpm, which translates to good throttle response around town.
Hyundai's five-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly enough, but in semi-manual Shiftronic mode it always upshifts at a pre-programmed engine speed, rather than holding a lower gear when you open the throttle wide. Upshifts are on the long side, and the transmission is slow to kick down for passing. That's unfortunate, because the XG is fun to drive, and we would enjoy holding a lower gear and pushing the engine to its redline.
Steering is light and easy. The power assist to the steering varies with engine speed, a strategy that is invisible most of the time but noticeable when the transmission upshifts when exiting a turn and the power assist increases.
Braking is reassuringly linear, and ABS helps maintain steering control while braking on slippery surfaces. The standard traction control does the same when accelerating. New for 2004 is Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), which apportions brake application front-and-rear for maximum stopping assistance. Opportunities to evaluate EBD never presented themselves, but its presence was comforting as were the larger front brake discs, 12.1 inches in diameter now, against a former 10.9 inches. When it comes to stopping, any little bit can make a big difference.
It may not have the refinement of a Lexus ES 330, but the Hyundai XG350 feels, drives and looks more like a luxury sedan than the everyday midsize, mid-priced conveyance. And each month, you'll feel like a smart shopper when you're sitting at your desk writing that smaller check for the car loan. For many, this quite adequately answers the question, Why would anybody pay $25,000 for a Hyundai?.
XG350 ($23,999); XG350 L ($25,999).
Asan, South Korea.
Options As Tested
Hyundai XG350 ($23,999).
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