by Richard Russell
Perched atop the Hyundai lineup is the all-inclusive XG350. A few years back the idea of a South Korean luxury car would not have carried much appeal, let alone respect. But Hyundai is rapidly confounding the pundits, producing a lineup of increasingly sophisticated and well-built products. The XG350 is a rolling showcase of the company’s ability to provide the same degree of feature and function as companies with a much deeper pedigree – at a substantial saving.
The first XG was introduced in 2000 as a 2001 model. It came as a shock to people thinking of Hyundai as a purveyor of inexpensive little economy cars. But now we know the international conglomerate that builds everything from the world’s largest ships to microchips, also sells sports cars and SUVs, so a luxury car isn’t such a stretch.
The 2004 XG350 has been restyled and updated to ensure it provides the best possible combination of technology and quality Hyundai can produce. The bottom line is that it does so at a price thousands, if not tens of thousands lower than more prestigious marquees.
While the Tiburon and Santa Fe have showcased Hyundai’s brave new styling direction, the company played it pretty conservatively with this new XG. The simple lines and rounded edges are meant to convey a general sense of size and strength but to these eyes the end result is a little too generic. Chrome has been used to emphasize the new front, side and rear appearance and you’ll also be able to differentiate the 2004 model from its predecessors by new wheels, which have 12 spokes instead of 10.
Inside the XG, it is obvious ergonomics have been a key part of the development process. Instruments and controls are clean, legible and modern in both appearance and operation. The white on black analog instruments are positioned within proper site lines in the steering wheel’s upper quadrant. The centre stack is laid out to present the sound and ventilation systems with large, easily-read buttons and a single knob for the sound system’s off/on and volume. The instrument panel is nicely integrated with the doors with a strong line that flows from front to side. Leather and wood abound. The front seats are broad, yet proved supportive and comfortable for several hours at a sitting. There is sufficient room in back for two large adults or three in a pinch.
When first introduced, the XG300 was powered by a three-litre V6, which was replaced last year by the more modern 3.5 litre DOHC 24-valve Sigma unit used here, in the Kia Sedona minivan and in the new Hyundai Santa Fe GLS where it is rated at six more horsepower! Based on a Mitsubishi design and impressive for its civility, this is a thoroughly modern engine, with all the latest techno-wizardry. Smooth and silent, it is perfectly suited to a luxury car. With 194 horsepower and 216 lb. ft. of torque to propel 1700 kilos, it is not a threat to win many drag races, but thanks to optimal gearing and a selection of five-speeds from the automatic transmission it never feels stressed either.
The automatic, with dual-gate Shiftronic also impresses. Left to its own devices, the transmission acquits itself remarkably well, with seamlessly smooth shifts and quick reactions when a downshift is required for passing. However, the ability to move the lever into another gate and control shifts manually might be a bit out of place here. This is not a car someone buys as a substitute for a sports car. You will rarely encounter someone on your favourite mountain pass or twisty backroad in an XG350 wearing the edges off the Michelins. But make no mistake; this is a modern, sophisticated transmission with neural network programming that allows it to skip a gear upon kickdown or provide additional engine braking when slowing.
The XG350 is endowed with a double wishbone front suspension – an elaborate design usually reserved for high-end sports sedans. The multi-link independent rear suspension is similarly modern in design and ability. Combined with nitrogen-filled shocks and anti-roll bars front and rear, it provides a very supple and stable ride and reasonable handling unless pressed really hard at which point you are gifted with hefty doses of understeer. The rolling stock is comprised of 16-inch alloy wheels wrapped in all-season Michelins.
Braking is by discs at each corner, ably assisted by a four-channel, four-sensor ABS system incorporating electronic brake force distribution. The same system also provides electronic traction control through both reduction of engine power and individual brake application. The safety bases are well covered with dual second-generation front airbags, dual side bags and belt pretensioners.
The XG350 comes in one guise only – fully loaded. There are no options other than metallic paint, which adds $125 to the $32,995 tag. The usual features are included, like power windows and seats, air conditioning, remote keyless entry and power sunroof – but there are also plenty of added surprises like a full-size spare tire on a fifth alloy wheel and heated seats and mirrors. Numerous changes for the 2004 model were made to refine rather than redo. A myriad of little changes indicate how serious Hyundai is about playing in this league, things like hydraulic assist for the trunk lid, reading lights in the C-pillars, modified headlights and larger brakes.
Anyone still harbouring doubts about Hyundai’s ability to build a quality car should be assuaged by the warranty. The entire XG350 is covered by a three-year, 60,000 bumper-to-bumper warranty, a five-year unlimited mileage rust warranty and the powertrain by a five-year, 100,000 km warranty. While resale or retained value has not yet moved up to that of the competition, it is heading in that direction.
If you are more concerned about enjoying the fruits of a luxury car than showing others you can afford one, the Hyundai XG350 provides a whole lot of content for comparatively little outlay.
Technical Data: 2004 Hyundai XG350
|Price as tested||$33,510 including freight, license and taxes|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger mid-size luxury sedan|
|Layout||transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive|
|Engine||3.5 litre V6, 24 valves, DOHC|
|Horsepower||194 @ 5500 rpm|
|Torque||216 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm|
|Curb weight||1700 kg (3651 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2750 mm (108.3 in.)|
|Length||4875 mm (191.9 in.)|
|Width||1825 mm (71.9 in.)|
|Height||1420 mm (55.9 in.)|
|Cargo volume||411 litres (14.5 cu. ft.)|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||5 yrs/100,000 km|