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Back in the Eighties and early Nineties, when the Japanese manufacturers were aiming to attract buyers by simulating American luxury, they came up with cars like the first Nissan Maxima, Mazda 929, and Toyota Cressida. They were stuffed with shiny phony wood, plush velour upholstery, and stereos with tiny little buttons that minutely adjusted apparently nothing at all. But the Japanese got the BMW religion some time in, like, 1995, and their big sedans now (with the exception of the Toyota Avalon), while they’re dynamically superior, are decorated with tasteful reserve and coldly logical controls. So Hyundai steps in to fill the void with their own near-Buick, the XG350.
While the XG350 has been updated for 2004, the basic car was actually launched as the XG300 in 2001. When Hyundai increased the displacement of its V-6 from 3.0 to 3.5 liters for 2002 the name changed to reflect that.
The XG is the biggest car Hyundai has yet sold in America. Stretching out 191.9 inches long, it’s 0.6 inches shorter than an Acura TL and exactly as long as a Toyota Avalon. It also weighs in at a chunky 3651 pounds, which is 113 pounds up on the TL Type-S and 212 pounds more than what Toyota claims for the heaviest Avalon XLS. Hyundai still makes plenty of small cars, but this isn’t one of them.
Changes for the 2004 XG350 are mostly cosmetic. Up front there’s a new grille framed by projector beam headlamps and in the back the bumper and taillights have been revised and the license plate moved to a recess in a new trunk lid. This is a conservatively tailored car whose lines are as instantly forgettable as a Buick LeSabre’s, but also eerily similar to Mercedes’ Maybach — lines on a $25,000 car that are probably too similar for those titans of commerce who paid more than $300k for a Maybach.
Inside the design is just as conservative. Dead cow covers the seats and most of the power accessories that are standard in most near-luxury cars are, no surprise, standard both the regular XG350 and the slightly snootier XG350L. The dashboard design looks a bit aged compared to the austere appearance of so many other cars today, but the materials are high quality and the assembly seems well done. It would be nice if there were an in-dash CD changer instead of a single disc player, but there is an optional eight-disc changer that can be bolted into the trunk. Naturally, there’s plenty of phony wood around. Fortunately it’s new phony wood for 2004 that’s slightly more plausible than that previously used.
2004 Hyundai XG350Enlarge Photo
Also new for 2004 are rear seat reading lamps incorporated into the C-pillar trim, the Homelink remote control system, an "electrochromic" rear view mirror (much better than those crummy manually chromic mirrors) and a cargo net for the trunk. The trunk lid’s gooseneck hinges have also been blessed with new hydraulic pistons.
The XG350’s old-school appearance covers a mostly old-school mechanical package. Hyundai’s 3.5-liter “Sigma” V-6 derives (distantly) from an old Mitsubishi design, uses a heavy iron block and is unencumbered by variable valve-timing technology. It does have dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder and a variable intake manifold however and, in pure 21st century fashion, feeds a five-speed automatic transaxle that in turn drives the front wheels. Producing just 194 horsepower and peaking at 216 pound-feet of torque, the Sigma’s output is significantly behind more contemporary, all-aluminum 3.5-liter V-6s like the Nissan Maxima’s 265-horsepower VQ35, or even the 240-horsepower 3.5 in the Honda Odyssey minivan.
2004 Hyundai XG350Enlarge Photo
By today’s standards 195 horsepower may seem lazy, but in 1991 that was a big number. Someone getting out of, say, a “four-door sports car” ’91 Maxima SE (190 horsepower and 205 pound-feet of peak torque) won’t find the XG350 particularly lagging in verve. But up against similarly priced competition like the 245-horsepower Nissan Altima or 240-horsepower Honda Accord LX V-6, the XG350 feels somewhat lethargic.
It is however quiet and rides well on double wishbones up front and a multi-link suspension in the rear. Engage the cruise control at 70 mph on a freeway and the XG settles into an admirably hushed road float with little wind or tire noise impinging on the 210-watt Infinity sound system’s output. Sure it doesn’t dive into corners with much enthusiasm, the steering is only reluctantly communicative and the 205/60HR-16 all-season Michelin tires don’t offer an abundance of grip, but if you want a sports sedan shop elsewhere. And if a driver does find himself driving into trouble, the newly enlarged front (12.0-inch diameter) and rear disc brakes with ABS will stop him at the brink of catastrophe.
To say that the XG350 is a throwback to the Japanese near-luxury machines of yesterday doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for it today. Those old cruisers were solid bricks of dependable and comfortable transportation that offered relatively high content for relatively modest money. That’s still a valid and attractive formula, especially when it’s backed by Hyundai’s 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
2003 Hyundai XG350
Base Price: $24,600 (est.)
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 194 hp
Transmission: Five-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 191.9 x 71.9 x 55.9 in
Wheelbase: 108.3 in
Curb weight: 3650 lb
EPA City/Hwy: 17/26 mpg
Safety equipment: Front airbags, side-impact airbags, anti-lock brakes
Major standard equipment: Leather upholstery, tilt/telescope steering wheel, A/C, power windows
Warranty: Ten years/100,000 miles powertrain; five years/60,000 miles comprehensive and corrosion