When the 2002 XG350 sedan was introduced last fall, even the Koreans wondered whether America was ready for a $25,000 Hyundai. After all, U.S. buyers were more accustomed to cheap and cheap-feeling products from this part of Asia. Now, the answer to that question appears to be "yes."

With the prices of Japanese-brand near-luxury sedans rapidly escalating into the 30s, the XG350 is looking pretty tempting -- especially when you consider how much standard equipment is bundled into that price. As good as the 2002 edition is, however, the XG350 still needs some additional refinement.

He: Let me say right out in front that if I'm spending $25,000 of my own money on a new mid-size sedan, my preference is still a Toyota Camry or a Honda Accord. But I can make a strong case for the XG350 being a much better value for the same money. Hyundai's flagship in the U.S. really competes with more expensive cars, including the Toyota Avalon and even the Buick Regal. I say more expensive because by the time you price out those competitors with comparable equipment and features, they tend to cost several thousand dollars more than the XG350.

She: Ah, that's the intellectual argument. When I look at the XG350, I see a big Korean bottle of Geritol. How can a 2002 model look like an old car? And I don't mean retro, like the Thunderbird. I mean something your grizzled old uncle would drive. But you're telling me it's good for me and my pocketbook, huh?

He: My grizzled old uncle thinks you're a snob. And besides, he always drove Chevies. If you want to get philosophical, the whole concept of a $25,000 Hyundai is more believable than the $70,000 luxury sedan that Volkswagen wants to sell here next year. I just wish Hyundai would work a little harder on the execution. It's hard to envision the XG350 as a true near-luxury sedan when it comes with a cheap-looking plastic wind deflector on the roof that has exposed screw heads. Tacky.

She: I just can't imagine any of my friends going out of their way to buy this car, no matter how good a deal it is. And it is a good deal. For the money, you get a standard power moonroof, five-speed automatic transmission, power heated front seats, a CD player, Michelin tires and 16-inch alloy wheels. All good stuff. And you can't beat the standard safety features -- four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, traction control and side air bags. That's amazing. If you put all that equipment on a Camry or Accord, you'd probably be pushing $30,000.

He: The XG350 has a really comfortable ride, thanks in part to an all-independent suspension, but it steers and handles like an old-man's car. Hyundai dropped a bigger engine for 2002 -- a twin-cam 3.5-liter V-6 -- that feels a lot spunkier than the old 3.0-liter unit. But it only makes 191 horsepower, which is less than most of the competition. Nissan's twin-cam 3.5-liter V-6, for instance, makes 255 horsepower in the Maxima, which is a lot more entertaining to drive than the XG350.

She: Still, the Koreans beat the Japanese, the Americans and the Europeans when it comes to warranty protection and peace of mind. This biggest and most expensive Hyundai comes with a five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty, plus five-year unlimited roadside assistance. All of a sudden, taking Geritol sounds good. Especially since the car I own now has only a two-year warranty.

He: OK, we've established that the XG350 is a good value for the money, with really nice safety features. But how well-built is it? I think the kindest way to put it is that the XG continues to improve, but its quality is still not on a par with the Japanese competitors. We had problems with wind and engine noise. And while the cabin was spacious and nicely laid out, some of the plastic pieces didn't fit together that well, and the wood trim still looks fake and cheap. C'mon, guys. Just a little more effort, and you're going to have a really great near-luxury sedan for under $30,000.

My biggest issue is with the styling. I think the Korean designers ought to start hanging around the valet stands at American shopping malls. They'd get a better idea of style, or at least what passes for style in this country.

2002 Hyundai XG350

Anita's rating: (Acceptable)

Paul's rating: (Above average)

Likes: Great value at $26,000 for a fully loaded near-luxury sedan. Excellent standard safety equipment, including side air bags, ABS and traction control. More displacement and more power for 2002. Loads of standard features, including power moonroof and full power accessories. Novel five-speed automatic with manual-shift feature. Great ride comfort. Outstanding warranty.

Dislikes: Wood trim still looks fake. Still rather own a Camry or an Accord. Bland design looks too stodgy. Quality is improving, but still not up to Japanese levels. Engine is noisy. Steering feels vague and over-assisted. Exposed screw heads on moonroof wind deflector look tacky.

Type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger sedan.

Price: Base, $25,599; as tested, $26,245 (inc. $495 destination charge).

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6; 194-hp; 216 lb-ft torque.

EPA fuel economy: 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway.

12-month insurance cost, estimated by AAA Michigan: $1,377 (Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)

Where built: Korea