- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2003

I never thought I’d use the words “Hyundai” and “luxury” in the same sentence. But that mindset changed when I test-drove the 2004 XG350.

I know what you’re thinking, “A luxurious Hyundai? Give me a break.” All right, it’s not a Lexus or an Infiniti, but the XG350 is inspiring. This flagship sedan shows that Hyundai is determined to win the hearts of consumers who are not just first-time car buyers.

My newlywed brother and his wife were my passengers one evening and she remarked about the supple ride, leather seats, moonroof, woodgrain trim, rear-seat leg room, and wanted to know how much the car cost.

When I told her around $26,000, she wanted to get one. Because her aging Honda Prelude needs to be replaced, my sister-in-law is in the market for a new car. She has placed Hyundai on her shopping list.

The 2004 XG350 has been significantly revised. It sports fresh front and rear styling, new woodgrain trim, electrochromatic rearview mirror and backseat reading lights. Also new is a full-size spare tire with an alloy wheel. The sedan comes in two models: XG350 and XG350L.

My tester was the L model that features newly designed 12-spoke alloy wheels, a memory driver’s seat, a premium sound system, a power tilt/sliding moonroof, plus a leather-wrapped steering wheel with woodgrain inserts and heated front seats.

I was impressed because these are features on luxury cars, but during my test drive it was something else that hit the home run for Hyundai in its quest for achieving luxury. The right sideview mirror tilts down when the transmission is put into reverse, so the driver can see below the car’s beltline. I expect this from Lexus, not Hyundai.

The XG is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine. It produces 194 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 216 foot-pounds of torque at 3,500 rpm. Mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual override, the XG achieves 17 miles per gallon city and 26 mpg highway.

Exterior revisions for 2004 give the XG350L a confident stance with the sophisticated restyling of the grille, bumper, and a new front air dam with projection fog lamps. The back end has a new taillamp design, a new bumper, and the center-mounted brake light has a brighter output.

The only thing I thought was cheap on the XG was the windshield-wiper blade assembly. The blades chopped across the windshield, failing to remove raindrops and leaving dirty water marks. If I were buying this car, I would replace the factory blades with a quality aftermarket product, such as ANCO or Trico.

There were several changes to small details on the 2004 sedan that made a big impression on me, such as the cover that concealed the child-seat anchors when not in use, and the new gas-operated lifters on the trunk lid that made it safer and easier to operate.

There are lots of comfort and convenience features that make owning the XG350 a source of pride for owners. The sedan comes equipped with a AM/FM/CD/cassette stereo system with six speakers, power-operated driver and passenger seats, power door locks, windows and heated side view mirrors.

Safety equipment on the XG includes anti-lock brakes with traction control and electronic brake-force distribution, keyless entry with alarm, and front-seat-mounted side-impact air bags, as well as dual front air bags. For the new model year, the front brake rotor has been increased.

For buyers who want a taste of luxury without paying more than $30,000, Hyundai has a worthwhile sedan to take for a test drive.

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