Hyundai XG350 L (2004)

"The former maker of real cheap junk little cars has been, of late, making pretty damn good cars that are value priced, abundantly optioned, and very well-covered by factory warranty."
Good: comfortable, easy to drive and service, decent warranty.
Bad: leans in turns, growly engine, stodgy looking.


This is a decent first try. Hyundai is on a roll in the United States. The former maker of real cheap junk little cars has been, of late, making pretty damn good little cars. And medium-sized cars. And small- to medium-sized SUVs. Their cars have been value priced, abundantly optioned, and very well-covered by factory warranty.

The XG350 is Hyundai's first attempt to sell a large car in America. Or, at least, a large-ish car. Bigger than the mid-sized Camry, it's roughly the size of a Toyota Avalon. It's also cheaper than the Avalon-$4,500 cheaper at $25,599-while providing many of the same amenities you get in the upscale-ish Avalon.

But it's not an Avalon. It's soft and old-fogey-ish. On first impression, in fact, we have to confess that the XG350 L reminded us of the mid-80's Chrysler New Yorker. Remember that car? The New Yorker was a classic, Detroit pig-in-lipstick. It had all kinds of luxury cues-shiny metal, plastic wood, puffy seats, white walls, and lots of little switches. But underneath, it was a basic Chrysler K-car. It was a cheap way to surround yourself with luxury trappings, and it sold to a mostly older, male, middle-class audience who felt it was time for a little reward. While the Hyundai XG350 is better dressed than the New Yorker (and a helluva lot more reliable), it also reminds us of a car that's dressed to be a luxury car, without the real engineering bona fides to get the job done.

If you're an old guy or gal who wants all the luxury touches-the soft seats and electric everything-but you don't care much about styling or handling, this may be the bargain of the decade for you.

On the road, the XG350 leans in turns. On city streets, it's fine- comfortable, even. But get it out on any kind of twisty road, and you'll be swaying with the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

The Hyundai engine is also not as refined as what you find in a Toyota or Honda. It's a little growly when you step on the gas, and it doesn't feel as quiet or as silky smooth. But the average driver would never complain. The pedal action also bothered us. It's hard to start it very smoothly from a stop. When we stepped on the gas a little bit, the engine surged with a "Whoof!" but eased off after that.

There's really no need for Hyundai to over-emphasize the engine power in the pedal action. The engine's plenty strong for this car. At 194 horsepower, the 3.5-liter six-cylinder is less powerful than some of its competitors, but its got enough juice to get you in line at the early bird special ahead of the Goldberg's. Overall, it's easy to drive, with a perfectly adequate engine and a soft, floaty ride.

This is a comfortable car: It's nice and large in front and back, with soft, ample seats (like my brother). The trunk is acceptable, though not huge. All the accoutrements are there, including black leather, and some faux wood on the steering wheel and console. It looks like the Hyundai designers tried their best to copy the high-end Japanese cars, while stealing a cue or two from the Europeans. If you want the luxo look, but don't want to pay full price, this is your baby.

The switches, buttons, and controls are all very easy to use. The radio is easy to operate, but could use a tuning knob instead of one of those little up-down, push-button controls; we thought that was a little cheap and inconvenient. Toyotas have tuning knobs. Otherwise, the Hyundai benefits from copying the results of decades of Japanese perfection of interior switch placement. They figured, why reinvent the wheel? Good decision.

The XG350 L is kind of stodgy looking, though not offensively so. It looks like Hyundai hired one of the old Lincoln Town Car stylists. It's got a very formal look, especially the roofline, which is almost squared off in the back. Our prediction: Older folks, and middle-aged cheapskates will love it.

This car is very easy to service. There's no intimidating or complicated technology-the guy at your local corner garage should have no problem doing anything from routine maintenance to major repairs.

Hyundais have become significantly more reliable in recent years, to where they're now above average. In fact, a just-released J.D. Powers study showed that Hyundai was tied for second place, just barely behind Toyota. That's right-Toyota, one of the standard-bearers of reliability. Whether that translates into excellent reliability over 200,000 miles (like Toyotas) remains to be seen, but it's certainly a good omen.

Another good omen is Hyundai's warranty. Bumper to bumper coverage lasts five years or 60,000 miles, which is pretty darned good. But, the major power train components are also covered for a full ten years or 100,000 miles. That doesn't guarantee that nothing will ever go wrong. But it does say that Hyundai is pretty confident about its build quality. And it gives Hyundai plenty of incentive to build their cars right. If they don't, they could well be driven out of business by the warranty claims. So you can bet they're very serious about trying to make these cars trouble-free.This warranty alone is enough to tip the balance if you're trying to decide between and Hyundai and a car with a lesser warranty.

Hyundai is an option you almost have to look at if you're looking for decent, value-priced transportation these days. They're under-pricing their Japanese competitors, and over warranty-ing everybody in the business. This makes their cars and trucks very competitive.

Are they every bit as good as comparable Hondas and Toyotas? No. But they're not that far off. And we're guessing that at least some folks out there would rather save a few thousand bucks, or have some free butt warmers and electric windows for the same price, and drive a Hyundai instead of a Toyota or Honda.

The XG350 feels like a decent first stab at a large, luxury car. At least they got the interior right. Underneath, it's not great. But not bad either. My guess is that when Hyundai comes out with its next generation of this car, we'll have a lot more to say in its praise.

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