2002 Hyundai XG350
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by Greg Wilson

Never heard of the Hyundai XG350? You’re not alone. But if you’re in the market for a mid-sized luxury car and are looking for a bargain, the 194 horsepower XG350 is an excellent value for money at $32,295. There’s little to complain about this car — it has great styling, a quiet comfortable cabin, and plenty of power — it could use a CD changer and better-quality wood trim — but overall, I was impressed.

The best car nobody knows about

I have to admit, it’s difficult for me to come to grips with the concept of a Hyundai luxury car. Since Hyundai came to Canada in 1984 with the Pony, Hyundai has built a reputation for inexpensive transportation – cars like the Excel, S Coupe, Accent, Elantra, and Sonata made their mark as relatively affordable cars. More recently, the South Korean company has expanded its horizons with the Tiburon sport coupe (now with a V6 engine), the Santa Fe sport-utility, and the XG300 (now XG350) luxury sedan. In Korea, Hyundai sells an even bigger luxury car: the Equus, which is about the size of a Cadillac Eldorado.

Unlike Honda, Toyota and Nissan, Hyundai doesn’t have a luxury car division such as Acura, Lexus and Infiniti. The peculiarly North American marketing tactic of having a separate brand for vehicles in the luxury class seems to be a pre-requisite for catching the attention of upscale car buyers. Perhaps Hyundai should create a luxury brand-name in Canada – hmm, how about ‘Luxuris’ or ‘Xsellint’, or perhaps ‘Supurrlative’.

Well regardless of how it is marketed, the XG350 is a fine car. In the week that I had this car, I was very pleasantly surprised with its overall quality, ride comfort, quiet cabin, smooth drivetrain, roomy interior, and value for money. XG350’s come fully-equipped for $32,295 and the only option is metallic paint.

Without a doubt, this is the least expensive luxury car in its class. Competitors include the Nissan Maxima GLE ($36,900), Acura 3.2TL ($37,000), Lexus ES300 ($43,400), Mazda Millenia ($42,150), Lincoln LS V6 ($42,300), VW Passat GLX ($39,175), BMW 330i ($46,500), Saab 9-5 ($41,500), Buick LeSabre Limited ($38,580), and Chrysler Concorde Limited ($37,360).

My only reservation is its resale value. Few people have heard of the XG350, so its resale value is likely to be lower. Still, buyers will have already saved thousands of dollars on the asking price.

What is the XG350?

2002 Hyundai XG350
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The XG350 is Hyundai’s top-of-the-line luxury car: a five-passenger, front-wheel-drive sedan about the size of a 2002 Nissan Maxima. In Hyundai’s lineup, it is positioned above the mid-sized Sonata sedan. It was first introduced in 2001 as the XG300 because it had a 3.0 litre V6 engine rather than the new 3.5 litre V6. The 2002 model comes equipped with most popular luxury features as standard equipment, so the base price of $32,295 won’t escalate with expensive options.

Attractive styling

The XG350 is a handsome car, and since there is no Hyundai badge on the front of the car, first-time observers must try and guess what it is. On more than one occasion, I was asked if it was a Lexus – possibly because the XG350’s chrome grille looks similar to the Lexus RX300’s grille. It’s more identifiable at the rear where there is a chrome strip with ‘Hyundai’ embossed in it, and an XG350 badge.

The XG350’s distinctive good looks are due in part to its prominent side ‘shoulders’ and raised hood and trunklid. The car has classic proportions, particularly the rear which looks similar to British luxury cars of the 50’s and 60’s which had a raised trunklid and low fenders.

One aspect of the XG350’s design that is unusual are its frameless doors. Conventional wisdom says that framed windows rattle less and seal out air leaks better. However, I didn’t find any problems with the frameless doors during my test-drive — in fact, quite the opposite. The car is very quiet and solid.

New 3.5 litre powertrain

For 2002, the XG offers a substantial boost in displacement and torque. Last year’s 3.0 litre engine developed the same amount of horsepower (192 @ 6000 rpm vs 194 @ 5500 rpm) but considerably less torque (178 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm vs 216 @ 3500) – this means that the 2002 XG350 is much more responsive when you put your foot down.

The new 3.5 litre DOHC 24 valve V6 engine features a variable air intake system that adjusts air intake at different engine speeds to enhance power and fuel economy, and balance shafts to reduce vibrations. It doesn’t have such high tech features as variable valve timing and five valves per cylinder, but it gets the job done nevertheless.

A five-speed automatic ‘Shiftronic’ transmission with manual shifting capability is standard equipment. This transmission features ‘fuzzy logic’ programming to adapt automatically to different driver’s.

The suspension is fully independent: a front double wishbone design and a multi-link design at the rear. The XG350 is equipped with nitrogen gas-filled-type shock absorbers at front and rear, and the front chassis design incorporates a sub-frame to isolate road noise and vibrations.

The standard braking system is 4-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock brakes and electronic brake force distribution (EBD) which helps manage front to rear braking forces for a more controlled stop. As well an Electronic Traction Control System (ETCS) which simultaneously control brakes and throttle control activates when the front driving wheels begin to spin. This system includes a dash-mounted on/off button.

Michelin all-season P205/60HR-16 tires and alloy wheels are standard equipment on all XG350’s but unlike many luxury cars, the XG350 doesn’t offer optional 17 inch tires and wheels.

Lots of standard features

2002 Hyundai XG350
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As I mentioned, the standard equipment list is extensive. As well as the 3.5 litre V6 motor and 5-speed Shiftronic automatic transmission, the XG350 comes with projector beam headlights, automatic climate control, leather interior, a premium audio system, 60/40 folding rear seatbacks, power sunroof, trip computer, keyless entry, security alarm and immobilizer system, cruise control, power windows, power door locks, power heated outside mirrors, power heated front seats, tilt steering wheel, digital quartz clock, centre console with double storage boxes and dual cupholders, map pockets in the doors, and remote releases for the trunk, hood and fuel door.

The premium audio system is an AM/FM/single disc CD player with 6 speakers, 2 speakers and 2 tweeters located in the front and 2 speakers located in the rear, and includes an equalizer. I noticed that neither a CD changer or cassette player is offered as an option, an oversight that could probably be fixed by a Hyundai dealer.

Safety-wise, the XG350 is equipped with dual front de-powered airbags and seat-mounted side airbags. A passenger detection system prevents the front passenger airbags from deploying if the passenger seat is empty, or if a small child is in the passenger seat. The 2002 XG350 also has seat belt pretensioners, childproof rear door locks, adjustable rear seat head restraints, and three-point safety belts in all five seating positions. Head curtain airbags are not offered.

Interior impressions

The XG350’s interior is wide, spacious and airy with attractive two-tone leather and textured plastic surfaces, and walnut trim on the centre console, passenger dash and doors. The wood trim has a shiny lacquered finish which looks a bit ‘plasticy’, but it does look more attractive than previous Hyundai wood trim.

2002 Hyundai XG350
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The XG350’s gauge cluster consists of two large, easy-to-see round gauges for the tachometer and speedometer that have an unusual grey wave pattern. Between them is useful illuminated PRND54321 gearshift indicator that saves you the trouble of looking down at the floor shifter to see which gear you’re in.

The top centre dash has a green LCD display for the trip computer and clock which I found it to be distracting — I wished I could have turned it off.

The AM/FM/CD stereo has an equalizer with selectable digital sound modes such as Rock and Jazz. I noticed it has Tune and Seek functions, but no Scan function. Also, a multiple in-dash CD changer is not offered, nor is a cassette player (although I noticed that U.S. cars have a combined cassette/CD player). Hyundai dealers could probably offer an aftermarket solution here.

Below the stereo is a single-zone automatic climate control with a large Liquid Crystal Display for temperature, fan and ventilation functions as well as a handy outside (ambient) temperature display.

One complaint about the LCD displays: they’re hard to see when the Sun is shining on them from the side or rear windows.

Just below the heater is a spring-loaded slide-out drawer that’s useful for change, keys or other small items. Below that is a hidden ashtray, lighter and powerpoint.

The floor-mounted shifter has a handsome leather and chrome knob and a stainless steel gate that’s straight rather than zig-zagged as in many luxury cars — I liked it. Also, it has Hyundai’s Shiftronic feature which allows manual shifting by selecting the gate to the right, and pushing forwards to shift up a gear, and shifting back to shift down a gear.

2002 Hyundai XG350
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The leather seats, steering wheel and shift knob are very attractive and well-finished. In my opinion, seat heaters should be mandatory with leather upholstery (for the rear passengers too), and the XG350 has them for the front seats. Two buttons to the left of the shift lever offer one temperature setting for the front seat cushions and backrests.

The XG350’s dual front cupholders are discreetly hidden under a walnut-covered cover behind the shift lever. A tall, dual-level armrest/storage bin is situated between the front seats, and it has enough space for phones, cameras, CD’s, eyeglasses, and other ‘carry-on’ items — there’s a 12 volt powerpoint inside the bin for charging phones.

Like most Asian automobiles, the XG350 has simple stalk-mounted headlight controls, including fog lights, and wipers with a variable intermittent setting for those times when it spits instead of rains.

Rear passengers have generous legroom and headroom, and it’s possible to fit three adults in the back seat, although there are only two height-adjustable rear head restraints. I liked the rear centre armrest which has matching walnut trim, two covered cupholders and a storage container – but I was somewhat bemused to discover that both rear door armrests have ashtrays and there is a lighter in the centre console – obviously, the XG350 is designed for Asian markets where smoking is more prevalent.

Driving impressions

2002 Hyundai XG350
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Getting in to the XG350 is easy — it has four large doors, a conveniently low step-in height, a tall, wide cabin with excellent outward visibility, and wide comfortable front seats which are height-adjustable — the seat cushions can be tilted up or down at the front and back. I found the driving position very comfortable.

Turn the key in the dash-mounted ignition socket, and the 3.5 litre V6 engine purrs quietly without any noticeable vibrations through the steering wheel. Accelerating away from a stoplight, the XG350’s electronic throttle provides quick, smooth response — there is no lag in acceleration. However, the accelerator pedal is sensitive, and stepping on it too quickly will result in lurching.

0 to 100 km/h goes by in about 9.5 seconds — quick enough for a luxury car, and on the freeway, the engine loafs along at just 1,900 rpm in top gear at a steady 100 km/h – and 2,300 rpm at 120 km/h. The cabin is very quiet, and the ride is very, very comfortable.

The XG350’s standard 5-speed automatic ‘Shiftronic’ transmission is a bonus — it shifts with purpose in quick but smooth transitions, and is quite responsive to throttle input. When braking downhill, it even shifts down automatically to prepare for the next corner.

The Shiftronic’s manual mode allows the driver to hold the car in gear longer for quicker acceleration and sportier driving — Hyundai says you can shift 0.5 seconds faster in manual mode – but realistically, this transmission shifts just fine on its own. The XG350 is not a sports sedan — there are no optional spoilers, body cladding or turbo kits. It’s more of a stylish, elegant luxury automobile that’s got more than enough power when needed, but isn’t designed for dynamic handling.

In the corners, the XG350 leans slightly at first but assumes a flat cornering stance and sticks with it tenaciously. The fully independent suspension and 60-series Michelin tires provide the stability and grip. For a fairly large front-wheel-drive car, the XG350 feels quite balanced — not as balanced as an Acura 3.2TL mind you – but better than you might expect.

I found the XG350 to be a great highway car – comfortable, stable, smooth, and quiet enough to have a normal conversation with your partner at 120 km/h. I could hear a slight whine coming from the transmission, but I suspect it was only because the car was otherwise so quiet.

Bottom line

In my opinion, the 2002 Hyundai XG350 is the best car that most people never heard of. It fulfills all the needs of a typical luxury car buyer, and is relatively inexpensive. The one thing it lacks is pedigree — and by association, prestige. It’s only a matter of whether you want to pay another five or ten thousand dollars for bragging rights.

Technical Data:

2002 Hyundai XG350
Base price $32,295
Freight $380
Options $125
A/C Tax $100
Price as tested $32,900
Type 4-door, 5 passenger mid-size sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 3.5 litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves
Horsepower 194 @ 5500 rpm
Torque 216 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
Transmission 5 speed automatic/Shiftronic
Tires P205/60HR-16
Curb weight 1633 kg (3600 lb.)
Wheelbase 2750 mm (108.3 in.)
Length 4865 mm (191.5 in.)
Width 1825 mm (71.9 in.)
Height 1420 mm (55.9 in.)
Trunk space 411 litres (14.5 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 13.3 l/100 km (21 mpg)
  8.3 l/100 km (34 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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