Hyundai reinvents itself with sumptuous XG300 flagship sedan
by Marc Stengel
If a stranger handed you a $100 bill and said, "Just take it," well...would you? Chances are you would at least hesitate a moment and wonder, "What's the catch?"
Such is the predicament in which I find myself now that I've confronted the all-new flagship sedan from Hyundai, the XG300. This is a five-passenger midsize sedan ripe with luxuries. It looks virtually identical to Lincoln's $40,000 LS sport sedan. It's even reasonably spirited with a 192-horsepower V6.
And the catch? Well, the darn thing costs only $23,615. That's bottom line; as-tested, the whole banana. That's thousands less than Hyundai's stalwart Japanese and European rivals - cars like Camry, Accord, Maxima, Passat, and A4, just to name a handful. So here's this relative stranger, then, handing out what looks like free money. Should you take it?
Forget about the Excel
In all fairness, the XG300 deserves to be evaluated on its own merits. That means disregarding Hyundai's many years of iffy reputation. For a lot of folks, this South Korean upstart has always represented the bottom-dollar-bare-minimum option in vehicles. Folks who were lured in the ‘80s and ‘90s by the Excel econocar because it cost under $10,000 soon learned to their chagrin that you get what you pay for. Hyundai's once-execrable, now-extinct Excel is irrelevant to an evaluation of the XG300 so many years later. Still, it's only fair to ask: What do you get when you pay less than $24-grand for Hyundai's new flagship?
Clearly, you get a lot of very good intentions. Almost every conceivable feature, flourish, and convenience is included as standard equipment on the XG300. There are leather seats; an AM/FM/CD or cassette sound system; fully automatic, thermostatically governed climate control. This latter feature, moreover, incorporates a quite unusual and possibly unique Air Quality System (AQS) that detects exhaust gasses entering the cockpit, as of course will happen when you're stymied in bumper-to-bumper traffic. With AQS enabled, the climate control system automatically shuts off all outside air and recycles the cockpit's captured atmosphere through a microfilter. Then, when the air clears outside, AQS reverts to external ventilation.
There are front airbags and side airbags for front occupants. There is anti-lock braking with four-wheel disk brakes and four-wheel independent suspension. The front suspension, moreover, employs tech-sexy double-wishbone components. The XG300 powerplant is a double overhead-cam, 24-valve, 3.0-liter V6. Its 192 horsepower isn't tops-in-class, nor is its 178-ft.-lb. torque rating; but neither of these figures are an embarrassment. In fact, the XG300 accelerates smartly and cruises effortlessly at lofty highway speeds. For what it gives up in raw performance, moreover, it compensates with attractive mileage ratings for a midsize family car this size. The XG300 is EPA-rated at 19 miles-per-gallon/city and 27 mpg/highway. The transmission is a smooth and "driver-adapting" five-speed auto, and its Shiftronic manual-shift feature is an obvious enticement for the driving aficionado.
Even the tiniest of details suggests that Hyundai is determined to have its XG300 evaluated "outside" of the company's erratic reputation. There is, for example, an unobtrusive, tiny pushbutton at the end of the windshield wiper stalk. Push it gently, and the wipers make a single sweep to clear dust or mist. (The washer function is another feature altogether.) It's a curlicue of a convenience, and it isn't necessary at all. But it is thoughtful, and it is admired.
So why do I remain so hesitant, so reluctant to snatch the XG300 out of the stranger's outstretched hand? What's the catch concerning those thousands of dollars of potential savings when comparing this car to its better-established archrivals?
Real luxury car, or poseur?
For one thing, there's the XG300's appearance. It's not unattractive, but there's something faux-stately about it. Aside from its resemblance to Lincoln's LS, this Hyundai also hearkens back to Toyota's long-departed Cressida sedan, which itself suffered from status-envy styling. There are design cues here that suggest a stunted limousine or a stubby Bentley. Interior quirks include a migraine-inducing zig-zag pattern for the speedometer and odometer dial faces that contrasts inexplicably with the posh ambience of the cockpit's leather, carpet, and wood grain appointments.
There's also the XG300's ride. The spiffy four-wheel-independent suspension is under-exploited by spring rates that billow and roll, when they should tauten and stabilize. Ride is therefore mushy, handling somewhat vague. These certainly aren't capital offenses, of course; but they suggest an engineering team trying to second-guess American taste. This applies as well to the pseudo-sporty manual shifter. In principle, it's a neat feature, and it can give the enthusiast an enhanced measure of control over down- and upshifts. But the electronic programming of this car's manual gear changes is slow, almost sloppy. If the intention was to favor smoothness over promptness in order to convey a sense of unruffled luxury, Hyundai has clearly misunderstood the psychology of the enthusiast driver.
Ultimately, the bottom line on this car is, in fact, its bottom line. It is a stupendous value considering its ambitious array of features; it is a pleasant if not particularly sophisticated drive; and it is roomy, comfy, and distinguished in appearance. All for less than $24,000.
Look closely at the sticker, however, and you will see that there is a bottom line appearing even lower than the totaled price. This is the warranty statement, which stipulates 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain protection and 5-year/60,000-mile new vehicle coverage. These are hugely generous terms - among the best in the business. Certainly, they say a great deal about Hyundai's confidence in its new flagship. But there's an odor of the company's prior hard luck reputation about these terms as well. We're back where we started, it seems. "Just take me," the XG300 proffers in a most ingratiating way. Well...will you?
2001 Hyundai XG300
Price: $23,499 base, $23,994 as tested
Engine: 3.0-liter V-6, 192 hp
Transmission: Five-speed automatic w/ Shiftronic
Wheelbase: 108.3 in
Length: 191.5 in
Width: 71.9 in
Height: 55.9 in
Curb Weight: 3604 lb
EPA (city/hwy): 19/27 mpg
Safety equipment: Front side airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction control
Major standard features: Automatic climate control, leather interior, speed control, power windows/doors/mirrors, remote entry, AM/FM/CD sound system
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles
© 2001 The Car Connection