2003 Hyundai XG350 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Luxurious sedan at mid-size prices.
Hyundai is not a name associated with luxury, so you're not to blame for viewing the Hyundai XG350 luxury sedan with a measure of skepticism. That was our first reaction.
What we found, however, is that Hyundai's flagship does offer styling and appointments that place it in the near-luxury class. It also offers 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, and the XG350 represents a good value.
For 2003, Hyundai has upgraded the XG350 with an instrument cluster that's easier to read and a new trip computer.
Hyundai's XG luxury sedan comes in two trim levels: XG350 ($23,999) and the XG350L ($25,599).
Befitting its near-luxury status, XG350 comes with power everything, climate control, leather-faced seating surfaces and a six-speaker CD stereo. Four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel ABS are standard, as are front-seat side-impact air bags. As its name indicates, power for the XG350 is provided by a 3.5-liter V6 driving the front wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission.
XG350L adds a power tilt-and-slide moonroof, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, heat and memory for the front bucket seats, a leather-and-woodgrain steering wheel, even rear-seat reading lamps.
The only option available at either level is a compact-disc changer ($500). Dealer-installed accessories include a trunk cargo net ($38) and an air deflector for the moonroof ($62).
Hyundai XG350 looks the part of a near-luxury car, blending fresh styling cues with lines familiar in this class.
Before its introduction two years ago, Hyundai stripped the badges off of an XG and asked focus groups to rate its desirability. In those anonymous appearances, the big Hyundai bested the Oldsmobile Intrigue and Nissan Maxima, and gave the upscale Acura TL a run for its money. When the XG appeared with a Hyundai logo, the focus groups deep-sixed it. This would seem to indicate that the XG is a competitively handsome near-luxury car, but Hyundai hasn't established a credible reputation in this upscale market. Hyundai has been hard at work on improving the quality of its products for the past several years, and it shows.
A softly sculpted front end showcases an upright grille, flanked by clear-lens, multi-element headlights. A smoothly integrated, monochromatic bumper houses nicely Frenched foglamps. The side view presents a modestly crisp beltline blending into gently rounded shoulders at the rear. The boot proffers the only clear Hyundai indicia: taillights reminiscent of the Sonata and a bold, horizontal strip of brightwork beneath the trademark Hyundai logo.
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.
Close visual examination reveals hints of the Infiniti Q45, the Lincoln LS and even the Jaguar S-Type. The Hyundai shows a bit more bevel in the rear quarters than on any of those. The front end, though, could fool all but the most discerning observer. There's no obvious Hyundai logo to indicate this is a value-priced car.
Hyundai's flagship sedan 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 like a Mercedes seat, but lack support in the seat bottom.
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 nicely designed cruise controls. A smooth, quiet dashboard houses gauges in a well-shaded recess. Revised for 2003, the 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.
Audio and climate controls 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. LED readouts are large and easy to read. The stereo features an in-dash CD player, but lacks dynamic range. A trip computer above the audio/climate controls includes a clock that's easy to read. 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. Faux-wood trim suggests luxury.
XG350 offers more rear-seat headroom than the Taurus, Maxima, Chevrolet Impala, Dodge Intrepid or Toyota Avalon. 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 for child safety seats across the rear bench.
The design of the garment hooks reflects some 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. 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. A nice plus is that the release doubles as a pull-down for closing the lid, sparing your hands from road grime.
Hyundai XG350 feels like a substantial automobile and it is, pushing the large end of the mid-size envelope. Its long wheelbase stretches 108 inches and it and it tips the scales more than 3600 pounds. 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. On bumpy pavement, however, the XG350 doesn't quite match the sophistication of $30,000 luxury sedans. Road and tire noise seemed 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 unit produces 194 horsepower at 5500 rpm, and 216 pound-feet of torque at 3500. 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 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. The transmission features Hyundai's Shiftronic manual override. Slap the Shiftronic to the right, like in an Infiniti, and you can shift up and down manually by pushing the lever forward or pulling it back.
The power assist to the steering varies with engine speed, a strategy that is invisible most of the time, but is 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.
Why would anybody pay $24,000 for a Hyundai? It's a valid question. And it's possible you may not impress people telling them you drive a Hyundai. But you'll feel impressed enough when you're behind the wheel of the XG350.
It may not have the refinement of a Lexus ES 300, but the Hyundai XG350 drives like a luxury sedan. And each month, you'll feel like a smart shopper when you're sitting at your desk writing a smaller check for the car loan.
XG350 ($23,999); XG350L ($25,599).
Asan, South Korea.
Options As Tested
XG350 L ($25,599).
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