Hyundai XG350
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Story and Photos by Grant Yoxon

The Hyundai XG300, introduced in the fall of 2000 as a 2001 model, was expected to compete as the value leader against entry-level luxury vehicles like the Acura 3.2 TL, Lexus ES 300 and Infinity I30. With a full complement of standard luxury features like power driver and passenger seat, leather and wood grain interior trim, power sunroof and automatic climate control, the XG300 — which took its name from its 3.0 litre, 190 horsepower V6 — offered consumers good value in a luxury sedan for less than $32,000.

But the real competition turned out not to be the lower priced sedans of the Japanese luxury car divisions, but well-equipped versions of the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima and even Hyundai’s own Sonata.

2001 was a good year for Hyundai, which sold 59,166 vehicles in Canada, it’s best year since the days of the Pony. But XG300 sales — 1,108 units — accounted for less than 2 per cent of sales. In contrast Hyundai sold over 7,400 Sonatas in 2001.

For 2002, Hyundai introduced a larger 3.5 litre V6 for the XG and renamed the model the XG350. It was a prescient move, as 2002 saw the introduction of the new Nissan Altima with its 3.5 litre, 245 horsepower V6 and the 210 horsepower, 3.0 litre V6 Camry, and later in the year, the 240 horsepower, 3.0 litre V6 2003 Accord.

Producing 194 horsepower at 5,500 r.p.m., the Hyundai V6 came up short on horsepower and with 216 ft.-lbs. of torque at 3,500 r.p.m., topped only Honda (211 ft.-lbs. of torque).

2003 Hyundai XG350

2003 Hyundai XG350

2003 Hyundai XG350
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But more significant than power, the Japanese trio offered comparable top-of-the-line trim levels, more modern styling and, to some extent, better comfort, convenience and safety features, and at prices at or near the $32,295 price of the 2002 XG350. In what was yet another record year for Hyundai (66,917 units), 2002 sales of the XG350 dropped to 947, down 14.5 per cent from 2001.

Despite a variety of standard luxury equipment, the XG350 lacks some features commonly found in luxury sedans and better-equipped family sedans.

For example, the XG350 does not have two-step power door locks. The remote opens all doors with a single click. A single-disc CD player is standard, but a 6-disc CD player and steering wheel mounted audio controls are not available. Nor is a Homelink garage door opener. Power windows include an auto down for the driver, but not auto up as found in the Altima luxury package and Accord EX V6. The Altima also includes auto up and down for the passenger. Both the Accord EX V6 and Altima luxury package offer tilt and telescopic steering wheel, but the XG350 (and Camry XLE) has tilt only.

All four have automatic climate control, but the Accord EX offers dual zone climate control. Like the XG350, the Accord also offers a power passenger seat.

Active safety features on the XG350 include 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake force distribution, and electronic traction control. Brake assist — which senses a panic stop and electronically applies greater breaking pressure — is available on the Altima and Camry XLE, but not on the XG350 (or Accord).

Both the Altima and Camry have optional side airbag curtains to supplement dual stage front air bags and front seat mounted side airbags. Neither the Accord nor the XG350 have the optional curtains.

The XG350 has not been crash tested by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but received an overall ‘Good’ rating by the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Buyers will need a spreadsheet program to sort out the confusing array of trim levels and option packages available with the Altima, Accord and Camry. At least Hyundai makes the process simple with the XG350 — there is one trim level (GLS) and no options.

But it is important to understand what you get and what you don’t when comparison shopping. Against the luxury packages offered by Honda, Nissan and Toyota, the Hyundai XG350 is still the price leader – $32,420 according to Hyundai Canada’s web site — compared to $33,498 for the Nissan Altima luxury package, $36,540 for the Toyota Camry XLE and $32,500 for Honda’s Accord EX V6.

Compared to the Camry, Accord and particularly the Altima, the XG350’s styling is very conservative. But it is also very elegant. It has the classic look of a luxury automobile with its raised trunk, broad shoulders that run from front to back and Lincoln-like substantial chrome grille. Chrome accents on the bumpers and solid-feeling chrome door handles also add to the luxury feel.

2003 Hyundai XG350

2003 Hyundai XG350

2003 Hyundai XG350
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Inside, the XG350 has faux wood trim on the doors, center console and control panel and across the dash. The leather covered power seats are broad, but overly firm, while the leather feels hard to the touch. The instrument cluster, with white letters on a black background, is as plain as you will find in any car and not up to the standard one would expect in a luxury car.

The rear seats are comfortable and both head and legroom is good. The rear seat folds 60/40 and includes a passthrough from the trunk to allow additional cargo carrying space. Luggage capacity is excellent at 411 litres (14.5 cubic feet).

Our tester came with an obnoxious “new car smell”, most likely a product of the chemicals used in the production of plastics and other synthetic materials. I was not alone in noticing this troublesome odor and hopefully it would recede in time.

The XG350 can be shifted manually or automatically with the dual-gate ‘Shiftronic’ transmission. Hyundai claims a half second shifting advantage in manual mode over automatic, but in truth, I didn’t notice any real difference and left the transmission in automatic most of the time.

In any case, the XG350 is not a particularly sporting vehicle. The XG350’s forte is a quiet, smooth, comfortable ride, even over rough surfaces. Handling is surprisingly good for a large sedan, with relatively flat cornering and little brake dive, but not as sharp as a sport sedan such as the Acura 3.2 TL.

Power from the 3.5 litre V6 is more than sufficient, if not at the same level as it’s Japanese competitors. The switch from a 3.0 litre to 3.5 litre engine resulted in only a five horsepower increase, although torque went up by a significant 38 ft.-lbs. to 216 ft.-lbs. at 3,500 r.p.m., with a noticeable improvement in acceleration.

However, fuel economy suffered as a result. The XG350 is rated by Natural Resources Canada at 13.9 litres per 100 kilometres (20 miles per gallon) in the city and 8.4 L/100 km (34 mpg) on the highway — a fuel economy rating that is worse than that of the V6 Camry, Accord or Altima.

Midway through it’s third year of production the Hyundai XG350 is showing its age, particularly with respect to the more luxurious versions of the Camry, Accord and Altima, which have caught up to and, in some areas, surpassed Hyundai’s luxury sedan.

For 2004, the XG350 will receive minor upgrades — driver’s seat and outside mirror integrated memory system, full size alloy wheel and spare tire, driver and front passenger seat belt buckle sensor, new 12 spoke 16″ alloy wheels and gas lifters for the trunk lid.

The question is, will it be enough to maintain sufficient sales in this very competitive entry-level luxury segment?

Technical Data: 2003 Hyundai XG350

Base price $32,420
Freight $415
Price as tested $32,835
Type four-door, five passenger luxury sedan
Layout front engine, front wheel drive
Engine 3.5 L V6 DOHC
Horsepower 194 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque 216 ft.-lbs. @ 3,500 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic with ‘Shiftronic’
Tires P205/60HR-16 Michelin all season radials
Curb weight 1,656 kg (3,651 lbs.)
Wheelbase 2,750 mm (108.3 in.)
Length 4,875 mm (192 in.)
Width 1,825 mm (71.8 in.)
Height 1,420 mm (55.9 in.)
Trunk space 411 litres (14.5 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 13.9 L/100 km (20 mpg)
  Highway: 8.4 L/100 km (34 mpg)
Warranty 36 months/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 60 months/100,000 km

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