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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.
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.
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.
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