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2002 HYUNDAI XG350 Review - Base Price $23,999

New name, more performance.


2002 hyundai xg350 Review

Hyundai's XG sedan offers mid-size roominess and practicality with styling and appointments that place it firmly in the near-luxury class.

Yet, as you might expect of Hyundai, the XG350 is stickered closer to the $25,000 price of a workaday family hauler. Add Hyundai's five-year/60,000-mile bumper to bumper warranty (and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain coverage) and the XG350 represents a terrific value.

When we drove the new Hyundai XG300 last year, one of our few complaints was the lackluster performance of its 3.0-liter V6. Now Hyundai's flagship has returned with more torque, thanks to a 3.5-liter V6. With the larger displacement comes a new badge: XG350.

The Hyundai XG350 is no pauper posturing in a prince's clothes. This is genuinely a cool car, an aspirational car in the current marketing lingo, although it's not especially original or unique. The XG350 shows Hyundai has left the bad old days behind to become a serious contender among quality mid-size cars.


This is a roomy car. Tested by a tape measure, the XG350's interior is more than merely competitive. Only the Ford Taurus and Nissan Maxima offer more front seat headroom, and by less than an inch. Only the Maxima has more front seat leg room, with the XG350 besting the rest by more than an inch.

The XG350 also offers more rear-seat headroom than what's found in the Taurus, Maxima, Chevrolet Impala, Dodge Intrepid or Toyota Avalon.

From the driver's seat, almost everything about the XG350 is friendly and familiar. A smooth, quiet dashboard houses easy-to-read gauges in a well-shaded recess. All of the necessary controls for the sound system and air conditioning fall readily to hand, with the stereo properly positioned above the ventilation panel; although audiophiles will likely note that the stereo lacks dynamic range.

Faux-wood trim accents suggest luxury. The leather-clad seats, front and rear, are comfortable, balancing on that fine line between firmly welcoming and aggressively hard. They are flat like a Mercedes seat, but lack support in the seat bottom. Rear head restraints lock into their selected positions for improved safety, ratcheting forward for comfortable adjustment. When in position, they block rearward vision somewhat, but can be removed (with a struggle) when not being used. A center head restraint in the rear seat would reassure the rare fifth passenger, but the XG350 does not have one. It does have the new, ISO-specification anchors for child safety seats across the rear bench, however.

The one category in which the XG350 brings up the rear is trunk space, where it gives up more than half a cubic foot to the next smallest trunk, the Maxima's. At least the XG350's boot has an inside release, in deference to growing concerns about children locking themselves in car trunks. A nice plus is that the release doubles as a pull-down for closing the lid, sparing your hands from the road grime that commonly attaches itself to a car's back end.

Garment hooks inside reflect thoughtfulness. Instead of being suspended from roof-mounted, rear-seat assist grips, they fold out from the headliner, making them much more user-friendly, and less likely to dump the week's dry cleaning onto the floor. Why hasn't anyone else thought of this?


In appearance, the Hyundai XG350 blends the fresh with the familiar.

A softly sculpted front end showcases an upright grille, flanked by clear-lensed, multi-component headlights. A smoothly integrated, monochromatic bumper houses nicely Frenched foglamps. The side view offers a modestly crisp beltline blending into gently rounded shoulders at the rear. The boot proffers the only clear Hyundai indicia: taillights reminiscent of the Sonata and a bold, horizontal strip of brightwork beneath the trademark Hyundai logo.

The glass house balances openness with structure. The slim windshield pillars minimize blind spots. High-ceilinged side windows add to the airy atmosphere. The outside door handles are very well designed: attractive, comfortable, and easy to grab.

Close visual examination reveals hints of the Infiniti Q45, the Lincoln LS and even the Jaguar S-Type. The Hyundai shows a bit more bevel in the rear quarters than on any of those. The front end, though, could fool all but the most discerning viewer. That there's no obvious Hyundai logo helps.

Before its introduction last year, Hyundai stripped the badges off of an XG and asked focus groups to rate its desirability. In these anonymous appearances, the big Hyundai bested the Oldsmobile Intrigue and Nissan Maxima, and gave the upscale Acura TL a run for its money. When the XG appeared with a Hyundai logo, the focus groups deep-sixed it. This would seem to indicate that (1) the XG is a competitively handsome near-luxury car, but (2) Hyundai hasn't yet established a credible reputation in this upscale market. The new XG350 should go some way to change that perception, though perceptions are often much slower to change than reality. Hyundai has been hard at work on improving the quality of its products for the past several years and it shows.


With its 108-inch wheelbase and over-3600-pound mass, the Hyundai XG350 is a substantial automobile, pushing the large end of the mid-size envelope. As you should expect from a car of its size, its all-coil, all-independent suspension smoothes out sharp pavement ridges and coddles the body through abrupt directional changes. On bumpy pavement, however, the XG350 doesn't quite match the sophistication of, say, a $30,000 Infiniti I30. Road and tire noise seemed a bit loud for the class.

We found last year's 3.0-liter engine smooth and quiet, willing and free-revving. Its relative silence added to the pleasant ambience of the interior, allowing for comfortable conversation or quiet reflection. But it came up short on acceleration, particularly in this competitive class. The new 3.5-liter unit should be better. Its horsepower rating isn't much higher, edging up from 192 at 6000 rpm to 194 at 5500. But torque has swelled from 178 foot-pounds at 4800 rpm to a Taurus-beating 216 at 3500. Torque is the force that actually accelerates the car, and having it peak at a lower engine speed should translate into a snappier throttle response around town.

Returning behind the bigger engine is Hyundai's five-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic control. It shifts smoothly enough, but it always upshifts at a pre-programmed engine speed, rather than holding a lower gear when you open the throttle wide. That's unfortunate, because the XG is fun to drive, and we would enjoy holding a lower gear and pushing the engine to its redline. When left in the auto mode, the transmission is slow to downshift; and upshifts are on the long side.

The placement of the Shiftronic gate to the right side of the lever, away from the driver seems counterintuitive, but that's the way Infiniti does it, too. It would feel more natural to tug the lever toward the driver to activate the Shiftronic function as it's done in an Acura.

A hefty steering wheel invites spirited inputs; and the shape of the hood emphasizes the direction in which the car is pointed. In fact, the XG provides the driver with mostly positive feedback. The variable power assist to the steering is mostly invisible, materializing only when the transmission upshifts before you expect it to, as in exiting a turn. At that point the assist increases as the engine speed drops.

Braking is reassuringly linear.


Why would anybody pay $24,000 for a Hyundai? It's a valid question. And it's quite possible you may not be able impress people by telling them you drive a Hyundai. But you'll feel impressed enough when you're behind the wheel of this new sedan. The XG350 drives like an elegant luxury sedan. And each month, you'll feel like a smart shopper when you're sitting at your desk writing a check for the car loan.

Find more reviews at New Car Test Drive. The wolrd's leading provider of Automotive Reviews.

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