The way to impress is to offer more for less.
Japanese automakers used that formula to take market share from the Americans. Now, Korean car companies are employing that strategy to grab sales from the Japanese.
Nuts and bolts
Hyundai needs to work on the brakes in this one. They feel a bit soft, a tad squishy. Squeeze and hold down the pedal on this one. Don't pump.
An overall excellent piece of work. I'd love to know how and where Hyundai cut production costs on the XG300. (The company had to do something to keep the sales price low.) I looked hard but couldn't find any of the cheapness tricks, such as second-rate materials, used in other low-cost cars from Korea.
"That's a Hyundai?" Yep. Believe it or not, that's a Hyundai.
Ride, acceleration and handling:
Very competitive in all three categories. A viable alternative to the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
The XG300 is equipped with a 3-liter, 24-valve V-6 designed to produce 192 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 178 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm. (Torque measures the amount of twisting force the engine produces to turn the drive wheels.)
The XG300 seats five people, though it seemed a bit crowded on a test run with four adults. The fuel tank holds 18.5 gallons of gasoline; regular unleaded is okay. Cargo volume is 14.5 cubic feet.
I got an average of 26 miles per gallon in mostly highway driving.
Base price is $23,499. Dealer invoice price on the tested base model is $21,018. Price as tested is $23,994, including a $495 destination charge. Price does not include taxes and fees.
It's a buy. Period.
Tops among the Korean practitioners is Hyundai Motor Co., which is becoming as formidable a player as Toyota Motor Corp. or Honda Motor Co. Anyone doubting that should examine Hyundai's latest car, the five-passenger, near-luxury XG300 sedan. It's a winner.
Assuming that regular production quality matches that of the test model, the XG300 is going to pick up buyers in a hurry. Compare it with any car in its category -- mid-size family sedan priced from $25,000 to $35,000. You'll see why.
First, Hyundai very cleverly kept the manufacturer's suggested retail price below $25,000. It charges $23,499 for the base XG300, this week's test car. It asks $1,000 more for the fully loaded XG300 L.
"Fully loaded," here, is more than a term of art.
Even the base model comes with a five-speed "manumatic" transmission, which can be operated automatically or manually. Standard equipment also includes a 192-horsepower V-6 engine, side-impact air bags, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock protection, cruise control, power windows and locks, leather-faced power seats, and air conditioning.
The L model adds a power tilt/slide moon roof, heated front bucket seats and a "premium" sound system as standard equipment. The components are contained in a well-built, though dubiously designed, body.
Road performance is acceptable to all but the most exacting automotive pedant. Suffice it to say that the car meets or exceeds the handling and acceleration expectations of most normal drivers.
But there is something overdone about the XG300's exterior. Perhaps it's the wide waterfall grille, which is bordered by strobe headlamps and rounded fenders. Or maybe it's the curiously bent rear end, which simultaneously mimics Jaguar and Rolls-Royce in a stylistic flirtation with the Mercury Grand Marquis.
It is as if, in its determination to prove its legitimacy in the automotive mainstream, Hyundai felt the need to borrow as many luxury design cues as possible. But the plagiaristic mix, though it borders on the baroque, is a success. The car attracts attention.
More than that, the XG300 gets the kind of notice that is sure to please Hyundai's marketers. Many spectators thought it was a new Infiniti or Lexus. They were shocked to learn that it was a Hyundai, and several people were incredulous when told the XG300's price. Most spectators thought it would cost about $5,000 more.
Fifteen years ago, when Hyundai entered the U.S. market with its trashy Excel subcompact, nobody expected the company to amount to much. The exit doors were opened.
Today, Hyundai is growing -- accounting for most of the 40.2 percent increase in Korean auto sales in the United States in 1999 -- while two of its once-strong domestic rivals, Chrysler and Oldsmobile, are struggling or shutting down.
Auto industry analysts predict that U.S. sales of new vehicles will fall to 16 million this year, from 17.5 million in 2000. Many auto executives are worried, but the people at Hyundai, at least for the moment, are not among them. Judging from the public's reaction to the XG300, the company has found a way to keep sales up in a down market.
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