1991 Hyundai Scoupe

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chicagotribune.com
The premise was sound. Putting it into practice proved tricky.

After taking the market by storm with a low-cost economy car calledExcel, Hyundai of South Korea decided it needed to come out with a low-costbut good-looking subcompact sport coupe that would attract young buyers.

And to ensure it kept the cost down, Hyundai assembled that sport coupeby whittling it from the Excel to come up with the Scoupe (clever assemblageof sport and coupe pronounced scoop) for the 1991 model year.

Scoupe is aimed at attracting youthful buyers who consider the Excelrather blah. Youth isn`t as concerned as mothers and fathers might be that thecar is made in South Korea and not the U.S. or Japan.

When Hyundai brought out the little Excel, it became the darling of theblue-collar set because you could buy a new one for less than you could buy a used anything else. Once quality problems surfaced, U.S. buyers cooled to the line.

A midsize Sonata followed, a decent car that won back some of thefollowing. But if Hyundai was going to flex its muscles again, it needed a carwith some flair. The Scoupe has it, an attractive subcompact sportster.

A rear deck-lid spoiler is a modest but welcome styling addition. After test-driving the Scoupe, though, it`s apparent that it will take more than adeck-lid spoiler to put the car in the same league with its small-car rivals. Scoupe is eons better than a 1971 Chevy Vega or Ford Pinto, initial forays by domestic automakers into the subcompact fold.

Scoupe even has more allure than a 10-year-old Ford Escort or ChevyCavalier, successors to the Vega and Pinto.

But the Scoupe is not in the same league as a `91 Escort or Cavalier, inwhich quality and performance have finally been melded. And it comes in adistant second in the fun department to a Chevy GEO Storm. When talking price,all of the above plus the Saturn coupe offer more value for the dollar.

It`s nice that Hyundai expanded its lineup to include a new model, andit`s a relief to see a new vehicle on the market that doesn`t list for$40,000. Those who earn $20,000 a year need an opportunity to purchase a setof wheels, too.

But Hyundai needs some time to refine the car before it becomes a viablecompetitor. For example, the 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine puts out an anemic81 horsepower. Teamed with a 4-speed automatic transmission, you tiptoe fromthe light-but not quietly. We`ve criticized the Saturn with automatic forgrowling in setting out from the light. Press the accelerator real hard andthe Scoupe will drown out any nearby Saturn.

Want to slip into the passing lane? Allow yourself plenty of time andlots of pavement to work up to a running start. When it comes to existingtechnology, the 1.5 liter is fuel-injected, but unlike the majority of itscompetitor engines, the 1.5 is not a multivalve for increased performance,improved mileage and lower emissions.

Though the S coupe lacks punch, it delivers more than respectable fueleconomy. The rating is 26 m.p.g. city, 34 highway with 5-speed manual, and 25and 32 with automatic. In other words, Scoupe is another one of those sportylooking economy cars-with the emphasis on economy. Fiero comes to mind asanother in that mold.

Partially offsetting the lack of 0-to-60 m.p.h. performance is the factLotus designed the Scoupe`s fully independent suspension system. That meansgood road manners. Front and rear stabilizer bars contribute, as do 14-inchsteel-belted radials, though you have to move up to those tires from the 13-inch radials that are standard in the base model.

But while having Lotus bring it into the real world when it comes to thesuspension, Hyundai didn`t call out for help when it came to safety systems.Neither a driver`s-side air bag nor antilock brakes are offered.

Another gripe is the tinted windshield, a bronze coloring that makes thesky look like you`re stuck in perpetual state of approaching thundershowers.Look out the non-tinted side windows and you find the sky a crisp, clear blue.The color of the tinting needs to be revised.

And the cramped rear seat only serves a purpose if you fold down the seat backs and haul luggage or groceries rather than people.

The Scoupe is offered in base, LS and SE versions. We drove the basemodel, in which standard equipment included power brakes, all-season radials, rear-window defroster, intermittent wipers, digital clock, rear-windowdefroster, remote fuel filler door/hood release, trip odometer, tachometer,body-color bumpers/bodyside moldings/door handles and visor vanity mirrors.

When you move up to the LS, you get such goodies as power steering andpower windows as standard. Most options come in packages, such as sunroof and radio for $585 or air conditioning and radio for $1,110.

With its standard 5-speed manual transmission, the Scoupe starts at$8,495, a reasonable figure in today`s market. With automatic, you move up to $9,020.

Our test car came equipped with a $2,315 option package that included air conditioning, alloy wheels, AM/FM stereo with cassette, power steering andsunroof. The sticker read $11,335. That`s a rather hefty price for a carproduced in a country that still has a ways to go to be consideredtechnologically competitive with the existing players in the market.

On the positive side, the Scoupe we drove was finished in a bananayellow, a color that makes it impossible to lose the car in a crowd. And nottoo many rivals except those offering $30,000 to $40,000 luxury cars equalHyundai when it comes to offering a one-year roadside assistance program. The plan provides owners with a toll-free hotline to call for emergency service,towing or even trip planning.



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