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Five years ago, when Hyundai launched the XG as the flagship of its fleet, luxury was not a word associated with the brand. After all, this South Korean car maker had made its reputation with bargain-basement compact cars, some seriously lacking in quality. Recently, Hyundai has done more than just keep up.
Quality has improved dramatically in its bread-and-butter economy models, and it now offers a range of models that provide serious competition to mainstream brands.
With continuing improvement in power, convenience, and styling since its launch, the spacious and elegantly styled four-door, five passenger Hyundai XG350 offers the trappings of cars in the so-called near-luxury class. There is still one difference, however: price. The two XG350 models still have sticker prices closer to those of plain midsize sedans in the mid-20s.
Add in Hyundai's five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty coupled with its standard-setting 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, and the Hyundai XG350 represents real value.
A full range of luxury features is standard on the base model, and the only slightly more expensive upgraded model adds a few more nice conveniences. Equally pleasing is the competent 194-horsepower engine, which delivers good acceleration performance. Anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, and traction control come standard, active safety features that can help the driver maintain control in an emergency maneuver.
Befitting its near-luxury status, the XG350 comes standard with leather-faced seating surfaces, automatic climate control, power everything, a six-speaker CD stereo, heated outside mirrors, and carpeted floor mats. Wheels are 10-spoke 16-inch alloy with 205/60 Michelin tires. The 2005 XG350 also comes standard with an electrochromic rearview mirror, automatic headlights, the HomeLink integrated transceiver system, and rear-seat reading lights.
Safety is enhanced by four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel ABS, Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and traction control. Also standard: dual front airbags, front-seat side-impact air bags.
The XG350L adds a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, upgraded audio with premium speakers, a 210-watt external amplifier and a trunk-mounted eight-disc CD changer, heated seats, memory for the driver's seat, a leather-and-woodgrain steering wheel, memory outside mirrors that tilt down when reverse gear is selected, and 12-spoke 16-inch alloy wheels.
Options are limited to the eight-disc trunk-mounted CD changer for the base model ($495). Options available for installation at port of entry are rear mudguards ($35), a cargo tray ($65), wheel locks ($40) and, for the XG350L, a sunroof wind deflector ($65).
The Hyundai XG350 feels like a substantial automobile and it is, pushing the large end of the midsize envelope with mass to match, outweighing the opposition by as much as 300 pounds. Its long wheelbase stretches 108 inches to help smooth highway undulations and enhance high-speed stability.
As expected of a car that aspires to luxury status, the XG features a fully independent suspension that smoothes out sharp pavement ridges and coddles the body through abrupt directional changes. Handling is helped by a multi-link rear suspension geometry that keeps the back tires in better line with turning front tires. On bumpy pavement, however, the XG350 doesn't quite match the sophistication of pricier luxury sedans. Road noise and tire noise seem a bit loud to merit upper class designation.
We found the XG350's engine smooth and quiet, willing and free-revving. Its relative silence adds to the pleasant ambience of the interior, not intruding on comfortable conversation or quiet thought. This dual-overhead-cam engine produces 194 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 216 pound-feet of torque at 3500 rpm. 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. Upshifts are on the long side, and the transmission is slow to kick down for passing. In semi-manual Shiftronic mode it always upshifts at a pre-programmed engine speed, rather than holding a lower gear when you open the throttle wide. 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.
Steering is light and easy. The power assist to the steering varies with engine speed, a strategy that is invisible most of the time but noticeable when the transmission upshifts when exiting a turn and the power assist increases.
Braking is reassuringly linear. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) help maintain steering control while braking on slippery surfaces. Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) apportions brake application front-and-rear to minimize stopping distance. Traction control helps maintain steering control when accelerating, especially on slippery surfaces. EBD doesn't come into play in normal driving, but its presence was comforting as were the large front brake discs, now 12.1 inches in diameter. When it comes to stopping, any little bit can make a big difference.
The Hyundai XG350 wouldn't be confused with a Mercedes or Lexus at close quarters, but passing on the street it is more likely to be mistaken for a new luxury car than a sedan in its price class. Close-up inspection displays a wide array of convenient features and luxury touches that aren't generally found in this price class and will be much appreciated by owners. With the impressive improvements in quality that Hyundai has made in the past few years, this comfortable, easy-to-drive, and attractive automobile offers exceptional overall value.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Tom Lankard reports from Northern California; with nctd.com editor Mitch McCullough in Southern California.
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