Hyundai is hardly what springs to mind when considering luxury cars. The South Korean automaker is better known as a less-expensive alternative to the major brands. Moderate price, not luxury, has built this brand in the United States. Yet
here is a Hyundai that puts it all on the line, offering a full cargo of luxury features in a midsize sedan for those who crave the scent of leather upholstery and the sound of premium audio without going into hock to pay for it. Starting at about
$24,000, the XG350 does what Hyundai does best: offer a lot of car for the money. The XG350L tested here comes in at about $26,000, which may seem like plenty of cash for a Hyundai, but comparable sedans from U.S., Japanese or European automakers are
likely to cost thousands more. Recently, Hyundai has shed the shoddy image of its early U.S. imports, steadily improving quality and gaining a reputation for decent, if not inspired, products. It's still hard to imagine a luxury Hyundai as
something aspirational. XG350 delivers the goods but without the bragging rights. What it is Laden with luxury features and electronic enhancements, Hyundai's flagship gets a mild face-lift and greater refinement for 2004. The styling remains
conservative but with some added flair inside and out. There are two levels of trim, with the upper-tier XG350L tested here. Either version comes completely equipped without adding any options. Engine and transmission The standard
3.5-liter, 194-horsepower V-6 provides plenty of pull and brisk acceleration. The sedan jumps off the line even under light throttle, which is annoying at first, but the engine settles into an even thrust up to highway speed. The four-cam V-6 is
smooth and quiet, tractable around town and unobtrusive on the freeway. With 216 pound-feet of torque, the engine feels plenty strong. A five-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual control is also standard. The transmission includes a
sophisticated electronic control that adapts shifts to the driver's style, a feature usually exclusive to higher-end cars. Handling and drivability XG350 feels eager and maneuverable, even though the multilink suspension is tuned for a softer
ride rather than crisp handling. Cornering is balanced, but nobody is going to mistake this family car for a sports sedan. The rack-and-pinion steering is responsive but numb, again tuned more toward comfort than performance. The four-wheel disc
brakes have been upgraded for 2004, with larger discs up front, and stopping power is excellent. The brakes come standard with four-channel anti-lock brakes enhanced with Electronic Brake Force Distribution, which balances braking to each wheel. This
is another feature usually found in higher-priced cars. Styling Modest changes for 2004 make XG350 look better finished and ri
cher looking. A new grille, headlights, fog lamps and bumper up front and new deck lid, bumper and taillights in back give the sedan a more-integrated look. Still, XG350 is hardly exciting to look at and barely noticeable in traffic. It would benefit
from more adventurous bodywork. The L model includes a good-looking set of 16-inch alloy wheels. A nice touch: The spare is full-size and mounted on the same alloy wheel instead of the usual dorky space-saver spare found in almost every other car.
Interior The driver and passengers are treated to a richly furnished cabin, though some clinkers, such as overtly fake wood trim, detract from the overall effect. Included in the base price for the XG350L are leather seats and steering-wheel
rim, a 210-watt audio system with six Infinity speakers and CD, a trip computer, full power accessories, power driver's and front passenger's seats and moonroof. Also standard are front
side-impact airbags, climate control, cruise control, keyless entry with alarm, automatic headlights and heated mirrors. XG350 is roomy and comfortable, even for backseat passengers. As a tall driver, I found plenty of headroom and legroom, but I
wish the power seat went down another inch so I wouldn't feel perched so high. Gauges and controls are clear and simple, although the trip control located smack in the top center of the dashboard is unsightly and inscrutable. I never did figure out
how it functioned. Pricing Base price of $25,599 for the XG350L included everything, with the only option added to the test car being an eight-disc CD changer at $500. Even shipping was included in the base price, bringing the total to $26,099.
The base XG350, also well-equipped, starts at $23,999. Bottom line Hard to beat the price for the XG350L's impressive level of standard luxury and drivability features, though $26,000 also buys a lot of Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Buick
Regal, Chrysler Concord or Mercury Sable. An added incentive is the excellent warranty, 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain, five-year or 50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper, which underscores Hyundai's newfound reputation for reliability. Hyundai
XG350L Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door sedan, front-wheel drive. Base price: $25,599. Price as tested: $26,099. Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 194 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, 216 pound-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm. Transmission:
Five-speed automatic. Wheelbase: 108.3 inches. Curb weight: 3,651 pounds. EPA mileage: 17 city, 26 highway. Highs: Luxury features. Moderate price. Sizable warranty. Lows: Staid styling. Soft suspension.
Weird trip computer.