- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2001

The intensity of my admiration has softened, yet every time I get behind the wheel of one of the new generation of Hyundai automobiles I marvel at how much they have improved. It wasn't always that way. Just a few short years ago Hyundai had a questionable reputation. Thankfully that has changed and changed in a big way. To varying degrees Hyundai vehicles have crossed over to become vehicles I recommend to my friends, especially when price and value are high on their list.

Today, the Hyundai Elantra, is worthy of a look. Though many of my cohorts in the motoring press continue to diss this car, I think that the car has so improved that it is an excellent contender in its class. And now with the introduction of the Elantra GT we have a sportier version that zips about and handles the corners just like the more popular compacts on the street. One of the factors that has helped give Hyundai a boost is the extensive warranty. With a five-year 60,000 bumper-to-bumper warranty combined with a 10-year 100,000 mile power train coverage, Hyundai has taken a great deal of risk out of buying a Hyundai. They have done this by backing their product and showing that they are so confident that they are willing to take the risk along with their customers.

But buying a car is more of an emotional proposition than it is a practical one. So the vehicle must fulfill all of the needs we want in our vehicles. After all, you can have a wonderful warranty but if your vehicle's reliability is consistently on your mind it isn't a good experience. As Hyundai President and CEO Finbarr O'Neill says, "It's about product."

I've just returned from a Hyundai introduction where along with the Elantra GT they allowed me to drive an all-new Sonata and a revised XG350. Each of these vehicles show how much progress Hyundai has made in just the last few years.

The Elantra GT five-door hatchback adds some spirit to the entry-level car, not only by increasing driving enjoyment, but giving the car an even sportier look. The Elantra engine is still a bit buzzy at higher speeds, but quieter than it was. During my drive the Elantra handled curving country roads much better than I remember and seemed to be quite happy making quick left and right turns. It almost felt as though the car was happier here than on the interstate where it will make a good commuter car. Adding to the new look that the Elantra received last year, the GT gets sporty suspension system including gas-filled shocks, larger front and rear sway bars as well as a tighter rack and pinion steering. Added to the package are leather seats with leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. All this starting at $13,999.

The XG350 gets a new number designation to indicate that the engine in this mid-sized sedan is larger, up from 3.0-liters to 3.5-liters. With this large size comes more power, 194 horsepower and 16 lb-ft of torque. Coupling this extra power with the Porsche engineered, Hyundai-built Shiftronic automatic transmission gives the XG350 a personality you would expect from more expensive European sedans. One feature the XG350 has that those euro-sedans don't is a fully equipped price tag of $25,599.

Getting the largest number of changes, along a new model, is the Sonata sedan. Along with the Sonata and Sonata GLS a more luxurious LX model comes to the lineup. The LX is equipped with standard leather seats and fully automatic climate control, not available on the other models.

The Sonata is attractive with a new look that brings it closer to its European competitors. The sleek hood and front fenders slope down to redesigned headlight assemblies and grille. The front valance has a large center air duct that funnel cooling air into the engine compartment. Fog lamps are suspended in openings on either side adding a nice touch. New 10-spoke alloy wheels continue the sporty look.

Sporty looks does not a sports car make, and I am not saying the Sonata is close to being a sports car. What Hyundai has given the Sonata is improved handling. By lowering the roll center, the Sonata becomes more adventurous on twisty roads. And with an admirable 181 horsepower from its optional 2.7-liter V-6 you will not be the slightest bit ashamed to drive the Sonata. In fact, I will go as far to say that with the changes Hyundai has gone through in the last few years I wouldn't be embarrassed to drive any one of these vehicles home. Your neighbors will certainly know that you can spot an automotive value when you see one.

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