- The Washington Times - Friday, June 8, 2001

Bear with me. I'm having a little trouble putting the words "Hyundai" and "luxury car" in the same sentence. But clearly, that's what we have in the new XG300 a midsize sedan that fits the definition in every way except price.

At $23,499, the new flagship is the largest, most luxurious and most expensive Hyundai ever sold in America. While I doubt the ambitious carmaker from South Korea will steal many buyers from Lexus, the new XG300 provides an alternative for drivers who never dreamed they could afford a car this nice.

"It provides the next step up for our Sonata owners who love their Hyundais but are looking for a car with more room and more luxury features," said Finbarr O'Neill, chief executive of Hyundai Motor America.

Yes, believe it or not, there are actually some repeat buyers of Hyundais these days. Having dispelled the quality qualms that tainted Hyundai's explosive entry into the American market in 1986, the company is assembling an absolutely amazing fleet of vehicles.

If you're troubled by lingering skepticism, drop by the Hyundai store and check out the new Santa Fe sport utility that really outclasses more expensive veterans of the segment.

At the entry level, Hyundai is building some of the most beautiful little coupes and sedans to grace the highway. After a week in the new, third-generation Elantra, I'm beginning to believe that the South Koreans really can challenge the Japanese in the import market.

But the XG300 certainly ranks as the most uppity social climber ever to wear the Hyundai name tag.

Blessed with a potent 192-horsepower, 3-liter, 24-valve V-6 engine and five-speed automatic transmission, the XG300 carries every bit of standard equipment found on its luxury rivals from both Asia and Europe.

We're talking about leather upholstery, disc brakes on all four wheels with anti-lock, air conditioning, cruise control, keyless entry, projector beam headlamps, alloy wheels with Michelin V-rated tires, front and side air bags.

With a long wheelbase of 108.3 inches, the XG300 rides like a luxury car and handles curves like a pro with its well-sprung independent suspension.

The underpinnings include double-wishbone connections up front, with a multilink rear suspension with dynamic toe control and anti-roll bars fore and aft. Nitrogen-filled shocks with low-velocity control improve the ride and handling further.

"We want to offer an extremely well-equipped vehicle that provides everything a driver would want at a price that represents an outstanding value," Mr. O'Neill said. "As we expand our model line, our goal is to introduce new vehicles that advance the Hyundai brand and image in the minds of car buyers."

What convinces me that Hyundai is for real is its attention to features that only astute buyers would consider. Take the disc brakes, for instance. Most people probably don't care whether they have a combination of discs up front and drums in the back. But anyone shopping for a BMW would expect only discs on all four. The five-speed Shiftronic transmission that can be shifted automatically or manually is another area where Hyundai could have shaved some costs. And even the luxury brands make leather upholstery optional, not standard.

But what makes the XG300 fun to drive is that impressive V-6 engine, which runs as quietly as many V-8s and consumes fuel at the modest rate of 19 miles per gallon in the city and 27 on the highway.

The V-6 breathes through 24 valves (another sign of luxury) operated by double-overhead cams. Torque reaches a peak of 178 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm.

To put this sedan to the test, I took a spin up some of Colorado's most challenging hillsides and came away impressed with the performance.

For those who have lingering doubts about quality, Hyundai offers what may be the most generous warranty in the business. With a bumper-to-bumper warranty that lasts for five years or 60,000 miles, Hyundai backs up its powertrain for 10 years or 10,000 miles.

Yes, Hyundai does have plenty of competition, primarily from its South Korean neighbors Kia and Daewoo. But neither of those rivals offers a lineup nearly as complete as Hyundai's.

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