Hyundai moves into the big league.
by Tom Lankard
Base Price (MSRP) $23,499
As Tested (MSRP) $24,744
As you look at the 2001 Hyundai XG300, the newest and most extravagantly expensive Hyundai, think Infiniti Q45 crossed with Mitsubishi Diamante. As you drive it, think Nissan Maxima crossed with Toyota Camry. As you sit in it, think Ford Taurus crossed with Lexus ES300.
And as you check the window sticker, please, Hyundai begs, don't think of a pauper posturing in a prince's clothes.
Hyundai has come to the rescue for those of us who have been working hard, minding the bucks, but have, by necessity, had to settle for less when it came time to signing up for monthly car payments. This new XG300 brings the style, luxury and roominess of a well-equipped mid-size near-luxury car without the high cost. Hyundai’s warranty reassures us that we’re making a responsible decision with five-year/60,000-mile bumper to bumper, and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain coverage.
This is a cool car. It's not especially original. It's not unique. It is a decent and affordable mid-size sedan. It's also another indication that Hyundai has abandoned the bad old days of poor-quality, boring econoboxes to become a serious contender among $25,000 mid-size cars.
Two models are available, the XG300 ($23,499) and the XG300L ($24,999).
The base model isn't really all that base. The only, truly aspirational feature it doesn't include is automatic air conditioning. Otherwise, you get power-everything and leather-faced seating surfaces. The one option is a power moonroof ($750).
The XG300L adds the power moonroof, automatic air conditioning, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, front seat heaters, leather-and-woodgrain steering wheel, rear-seat reading lamps, and a CD-capable AM/FM/cassette six-speaker stereo.
In the spring, Hyundai plans an upgrade to a 16-inch tire, likely a speed-rated Michelin.
The XG300 manages to blend the familiar and the fresh.
A softly sculpted front end sports modern, clear-lensed, multi-component headlights, an upright grill, and a smoothly integrated, monochromatic bumper with nicely frenched foglamps. The side view offers a modestly crisp belt line blending into a rear deck bookmarked by gently rounded shoulders. The boot proffers the only clear Hyundai indicia: taillights reminiscent of the Sonata and a bold, almost-assertive, horizontal chrome strip beneath the trademark Hyundai logo. The XG300 emblem on the rear and XG logos on the wheels are the only other markings, further adding to the car's elegance.
The glass house balances openness with structure. Triangulated A-pillars adequately support the roof but avoid blinding a driver to vehicles turning left at an intersection. High-ceilinged side and rear windows facilitate assessing surrounding traffic flows with an eye for the occasional, but psychically essential, darting lane change. Outside door handles are very well-designed: attractive, comfortable, and easy to grab.
A close and careful visual examination unearths hints of the Infiniti Q45, the Lincoln LS and even the Jaguar S-Type. There's a bit more shoulder in the rear quarters than on any of those. The front end, though, could fool all but the most discerning viewer. That there's no obvious Hyundai logo helps.
In fact, when shown to focus groups prior to its public introduction, the XG300 bested the Oldsmobile Intrigue and the Nissan Maxima and gave the upscale Acura TL a run for the money on the appeal scale, until, that is, the Hyundai logo was affixed. When that happened, the focus groups deep-sixed the XG300. The only reason for this is Hyundai's reputation as the maker of the first disposable car. The Excel is ancient history, but perceptions aren't changed as quickly as quality controls, and improvements in engineering and design. The XG300 is the future, and the future looks bright for Hyundai, at least in terms of product.
Sitting in the driver's seat, almost everything is friendly and familiar. A smooth, quiet dash houses easy-to-read gauges in a well-shaded recess. All the necessary controls for the sound system and air conditioning fall readily to hand, with the stereo properly positioned above the ventilation panel. Audiophiles will likely find the stereo lacks dynamic range.
Faux-wood trim accents suggest luxury. Trimmed in light-colored leather, it is an attractive interior. Seats, front and rear, are comfortable, walking that fine line between aggressive and soft; they are flat like a Mercedes seat, but lack support in the seat bottom. A center head restraint in the rear seat would reassure the rare fifth passenger, but the XG300 does have the new, ISO-specification anchors for child safety seats across the rear bench. Rear head restraints lock into their selected positions for improved safety, ratcheting forward for comfortable adjustment. When in position, they block rearward vision somewhat, but can be removed (with a struggle) when not being used.
Tested by the tape measure, the XG300's interior is more than merely competitive. Only the Ford Taurus and Nissan Maxima offer more front seat head room, and by less than an inch. Only the Maxima has more front seat leg room, with the XG300 besting the rest by more than an inch.
Rear-seat passengers can wear taller hats than friends and neighbors riding in the Taurus, Maxima, Chevrolet Impala, Dodge Intrepid or Toyota Avalon.
One place the XG300 brings up the rear is in trunk space, giving up more than one half a cubic foot to the next smallest trunk, the Maxima's. The XG300's has an inside release in deference to growing concerns about children unwittingly locking themselves in car trunks; a nice plus is the release doubles as a pull-down for closing the trunk, sparing hands the road grime that commonly attaches itself to a car's back end.
Garment hooks inside reflect thoughtfulness. Instead of being suspended from roof-mounted, rear-seat 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.
This is a card-carrying, not especially light, midsize sedan, but the all-coil spring suspension smoothes out sharp pavement ridges and coddles the XG300 through abrupt directional changes. It doesn't have quite the chassis sophistication on bumpy roads of a $30,000 Infiniti I30. Road and tire noise seemed a bit loud for the class but not enough to lighten the right foot's pressure on the go-fast pedal.
That go-fast pedal delivers less horsepower and torque than the competition, down 8 horsepower and 22 pound-feet of torque from the Taurus, the next-lowest on the power scale. But the XG300's engine revs freely and pulls decently. It won't win the stoplight grand prix, but what it promises it delivers. Just as important for a luxury car, it's smooth and quiet, adding to the pleasant ambience of the interior and providing a comfortable place for conversation or quiet reflection.
Shifts, whether relegated to the automatic or selected through the do-it-yourself gate, are very smooth. One complaint about the Shiftronic is it doesn't hold a lower gear but upshifts at a programmed engine speed; that's unfortunate because the XG is enough fun to drive there are times when you want to push the engine to redline and stay in the lower gear. When left in the auto mode, the transmission is slow to downshift; and the upshifts are on the long side. None of this is an issue when cruising at normal speeds.
A hefty steering wheel and strong hood profile invite spirited directional inputs; it's nice to know where the front of the car is pointed. The placement of the Shiftronic gate to the right side of the shift lever away from the driver seems counterintuitive, though. A more natural reflex would be to tug the lever toward the driver to activate the Shiftronic function, as then the shifts up and down a gear could be executed mostly intuitively without worrying about inadvertently slipping the lever back to the left into the straight, automatic mode.
All other inputs to the driver are positive. Braking is reassuringly linear. The variable power assist to the steering is mostly invisible, materializing only when the transmission upshifts before you expect it to, as in exiting a turn, at which point the assist increases when the engine speed drops.
This is a remarkable car, especially for a Hyundai. At the launch, a Hyundai spokesman posed the expected conundrum: Why would anybody pay $24,000 for a Hyundai? While it's true you may not be able impress people by telling them you drive a Hyundai, when you're behind the wheel of the new XG300, you'll feel like you're driving an elegant luxury sedan. And, each month, when you're sitting in front of your desk, writing a check for that car loan, you'll feel like a smart shopper.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.