Hyundai XG350 car review

Review Notes: 2004 Hyundai XG350
Personality Compact luxury car with some teething quirks
Quirks Windows, door locks, tire squeal
Above Average: Value, luxury looks, warranty
Needs Work In: Some details; mileage could be better
Gas Mileage: 18 city, 26 highway (EPA)
EPA Air Pollution Score: 6 of 10; qualifies as LEV
Interior volume 103 cubic feet passengers, 15 luggage
Scrape test Passed
Reviewed by David Zatz

It looks and feels like a luxury car. The styling is almost pure Volvo and Lincoln, with a Lincoln grille and Volvo shaped hood and sides. Chrome abounds outside, while wood complements the chrome inside. The ride is cushioned without losing road feel, the engine muted aside from a gentle, dignified roar on acceleration. But we're not talking about a Lincoln, or a Volvo. It's a Hyundai, the most expensive car the company has made to date, seemingly designed to make everyone forget about the little Accents and Excels the company gained a foothold with.

If you don't tell someone this car is a Hyundai, they will think it's something far pricier, more upscale. Just as the exterior design evokes premium cars, the interior uses leather, woodgrain, and chrome to create an aura of luxury whose sole exception may be the plain but functional instrument panel. Backlighting is an almost white color with a slight green tint, gentle on the eyes but very readable; even in the daylight, the numbers seem to have a slight illumination. The gear indicator lights only the gear that's actually in use, switching to numbers when you bump into manumatic mode. The chrome-lined gearshift is very easy to use - you can slide right into drive, which is where most people will stay, or bump right and stay in manumatic mode, where you choose the gears by bumping the shifter up or down. Nudging the shifter forward puts you up one gear, pulling it back brings you down. You can also use this mode to keep the engine in a lower gear for going down hills, or in a higher gear for starting out in snow. The five-speed automatic transmission itself is very gentle and quiet, seemingly reading the driver's mind and getting the most from the engine so you hardly notice that it makes most of its power in the higher revs. The only time this becomes clear is when you're at highway speeds and have to wait for a gentle downshift for power to come - which happens quite rapidly. The 210 horsepower 3.5 liter V6 is a capable performer in the heavier Kia Sorrento, and does nicely in the XG350 as well. Gas mileage is not bad, particularly for a sedan, largely because of the vehicle's relatively small size and weight.

The XG350 provides a strong sense of luxury, but does not have the cavernous interior of the traditional American luxury car, which is not necessarily bad; it allows for good handling and relatively good economy for those who do not need huge amounts of rear seat room. The trunk is sizable and very accessible, with a low threshold to make loading easy, and the front seats have generous headroom and hiproom. It is only the back seats that suffer from relatively little legroom. Entry and exit are easy from any door.

The XG350 has many standard features, including four-way antilock disc brakes, traction control, the aforementioned five-speed manumatic, leather, woodgrain, an automatic rearview mirror with garage door openers built in, a CD cassette player, and automatic climate control. There is a clear, easy to use trip computer that provides average speed since the last engine on, time elapsed since the last reset, and distance to empty (but not, oddly enough, gas mileage). Overhead, there are dual map lights and a sunglass holder; the dome light has three easily located and well marked buttons (on, off, door-controlled). Front passengers get a dual-level center console, cigarette lighter, map pockets, spacious glove compartment, low-capacity coin holders, a pullout, felt-lined, shallow tray, and cupholders hidden from sight underneath a little door; rear passengers get map pockets, and a fold-down center console of their own with a covered storage area and simple but useful cupholders that can be slid into the console. There is also rear heating via a separate duct. Parents with LATCH child seats will find the clever "hidden latch" handy - a flap of leather covers the bar; lift up the flap, and it's easy to attach the child seat. (Most seats make the parent fumble through the seats, trying to find the right bar and latch onto it).

There are also electric remote trunk and gas cap releases in an easily accessible location on the driver's door, and both driver and passenger electric-adjustment seats.  We like the lighted keyring (common to many cars), especially mounted in the instrument panel, where it is easy to see and use - and not so expensive to replace if needed.

The standard stereo has very good sound, and we like the easy to use knobs for bass, treble, balance, fade, and volume. The controls are easy to figure out and use, and the huge stereo face means you don't have to peck carefully at tiny buttons. We do wish it had a knob for changing the station, too. Stereo separation is excellent, and bass is there when you want it - and gone when you don't.

The climate control system is also easy to use, and the vents are relatively quiet even when the fan is on full blast. There is a button to find the outside air temperature, and you can override any part of the automated system.

Visibility is very good in all directions except for a moderate blind spot in the rear quarter, a common problem which is not especially pronounced in the XG350. The headlights are bright and powerful. We appreciated the slide-out visor extenders, which can help when the sun is in an odd and awkward spot.

The interior is well lit at night, with the two-bulb dome light, dual map lights, and a standard glove compartment light which, oddly, is activated only when the headlights are on. There is also a light for the ashtray. The doors have side lights to warn passing traffic of their presence, a nice safety feature long included on luxury cars.

There are some quirks to this very pleasant and not overly expensive car. As with most Korean imports, for some reason the driver controls all locks: unlock the driver's door with the remote, and all doors unlock. Lock the driver's door, and all doors lock. Perhaps violent crime does not exist in Korea, at least for those who own cars. Pressing the window lockout disables all power windows except the driver's window for everyone - not just the passengers, but the driver too. The cruise control is activated via a button on the left side of the dash, though the cruise itself is set and controlled from the right side of the wheel (and, unlike the Kia Sorrento, you must activate the cruise each time you start up - it doesn't retain the setting).

Handling is generally good, if not great. The tires tend to squeal easily on takeoff, and though the car can handle tight turns, the standard tires on our test model were prone to squealing at times. Tires are easily replaced, fortunately, with the Tire Rack offering many good deals, and sometimes dealers providing discounted "tradeups" on new cars. The XG350 generally felt nimble and ready for the twists and turns of both normal driving and emergency maneuvers. Combine that with the responsive powertrain, moderate size, luxury cues, and comfortable feel, and you have one very pleasant car.

With the best warranty of any car sold in America, Hyundai's increasing scores on quality surveys, and the relatively low price, the XG350 is a bargain - as long as you don't need generously sized rear seats. If you do, you may want to consider the spacious Dodge Intrepid, which has surprisingly good handling, or the Chevy Impala, which has (with the optional engine) good straight-line punch; both are quite large inside, and you can get them at a very good price now thanks to massive incentives. But we think the average Accord and Camry buyer would, if they would condescend to test drive one, be very, very happy with the XG350.

Competition in the $24,000 price range includes the roomy Dodge Intrepid, and Chevy Impala; and the similarly sized Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

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