2004 New Car Review: 2004 Hyundai XG350L


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DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
2004 Hyundai XG350L

A dozen years or so ago the juxtaposition of the word ``luxury'' with ``Hyundai'' would have been cause for laughter... But the Korean manufacturer has come a long way since then, with vastly improved build quality and an impressive lineup. While not completely abandoning its low-budget roots - the Accent is alive and well - the Hyundai line has been quietly moving upscale.

Its flagship XG350 is meant to compete in the fiercely-contested entry-luxury class, but at a middle-class sedan price. Laugh at your own risk, especially if you are an established player in that marketplace. The Koreans are serious, and it shows.

Fitting above the mid-sized Sonata in the Hyundai lineup, the XG350 was born in the 2001 model year as the XG300, powered by a namesake 3.0-liter V6 engine. It was the first offering from Hyundai to bump up against the $25,000 price point. Industry observers, and Hyundai itself, wondered if sales would meet expectations. They didn't - they exceeded Hyundai's forecast. In 2002, with a new 3.5-liter V6, the XG300 became the XG350.

For the 2004 model year, the XG350 has freshened exterior styling and a number of interior enhancements. The basic XG350 is comprehensively-equipped, but for customers who want more, Hyundai has the XG350L. ``L'' in this case doesn't stand for ``leather,'' as all XG350s have leather upholstery, it denotes a luxury package with special alloy wheels, an upgraded sound system, a moonroof, and further interior upgrades.

I've been driving an XG350L for the past week and have been impressed. The fit and finish and build quality are first-rate, and it's quiet and well-behaved on the road. If it's not quite up to the very high standards of the benchmark cars in the entry-luxury class, that is only because some minor interior details are merely at middle-class sedan levels - which is no bad thing at all, especially considering its middle-class price point. And it wouldn't surprise me at all to see Hyundai iron out those details to true luxury level in the next generation of the XG. The Koreans are serious about building serious cars.

APPEARANCE: Most of the front and rear styling of the 2004 XG350 is new, although not radically different from that of the 2003 model. Rounded contours are balanced by a strong, angular shoulder line. It looks much like a larger, leaner version of Hyundai's compact Elantra, but with the sort of faux-classic British grille that was fashionable among some Japanese luxury manufacturers a few years ago. The vintage British influence also shows in the high, rounded trunk. The grille is slightly different this year, and the headlights, and front bumper fascia are new, and give it a more upscale look. At the rear, the decklid, rear bumpers, and taillights have been changed slightly. Tasteful but plentiful chrome trim adds to the luxury look. The XG350L has 12-spoke alloy wheels in place of the regular XG350's 10-spoke wheels.

COMFORT: Inside, the XG350 has the look of a contemporary luxury sedan. And there is no pretension here, you have to look very closely indeed to see that some of the seam fit and finish is merely as close as is found in middle-class sedans and not the extreme tolerances of the high-priced imports. Soft-touch surfaces and damped-action covers add to the luxury ambiance. The design motif is contemporary luxury, with a dark-over-light color scheme, gently-contoured instrument panel, and plentiful use of realistic-looking woodgrain trim, lighter in color this year. Both versions of the XG350 have power accessories and leather seating surfaces; the ``L'' has a woodgrain and leather steering wheel, premium Infinity sound system, memory for the driver's seat, and heat for both front seats. Front seat comfort is at near-luxury levels, as is the rear seat. Front storage is good, with a dual-layer console box and locking glovebox. Rear passengers get air conditioning vents and a power point at the rear of the console, and map pockets. The rear seat is split 60/40, and the trunk is adequately large even with the standard full-sized spare tire under its floor.

SAFETY: Every 2004 Hyundai XG350 has four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution. The front brake rotors are larger this year.

ROADABILITY: The luxury car experience is about smoothness, quiet, and refinement, and Hyundai meets expectations with the XG350. The suspension is supple and compliant in the luxury class manner, and the shock absorbers are matched to the springs for good control. Good soundproofing and low wind noise further contribute to interior comfort.

PERFORMANCE: While Hyundai's 3.5-liter twin-cam, 24- valve V6 is not the most powerful engine in its class, with 194 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 216 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm, it works very well in everyday use. It's at its best where it will be used the most - at low to medium speeds, where response and power are very good. It only begins to run out of breath above 75 mph, which should be a minimal problem in typical American driving. Unlike some competitors which still use four speed transmissions, the XG350 has a five-speed automatic transmission for improved performance and economy, and manual-shift ``Shiftronic'' mode is standard equipment. With the engine's torque characteristics, it works very well, and adaptive shift logic allows it to adapt shift patterns to each driver's style.

CONCLUSIONS: Hyundai get serious about luxury, but at a Hyundai price, with its flagship XG350L sedan.

SPECIFICATIONS
2004 Hyundai XG350L

Base Price $ 25,599
Price As Tested $ 26,099
Engine Type dual overhead cam 24-valve V6
Engine Size 3.5 liters / 212 cu. in.
Horsepower 194 @ 5500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 216 @ 3500 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic with ``Shiftronic'' manual mode Wheelbase / Length 108.3 in. / 191.9 in.
Curb Weight 3651 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 18.8
Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement 89 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires P205/60 HR16 Michelin MXV4 Pilot XSE
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone / independent multilink
Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 17 / 26 / 19
0 to 60 mph 8.4 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES 8-disc CD changer $ 500
Destination included in base price

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