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Hyundai Coupe TSlll Roadtest

Not as quick as it looks, the new, range-topping Hyundai Coupe is dogged by an ageing powertrain.

An output of 141 horsepower and a peak torque of 186 Nm

In my post yesterday was a leaflet. Its authors offered: 'Stone Cladding for House's of every Description', and went on to describe how '...quite Ordinary House's can be Transformed into a Country Cottage Look for the Discerning'.

Which country was not made clear, although the accompanying photographs depicted a few terraced houses got up to look like a cross between Caernarfon Castle and something from Disney World. Oddly enough, all the houses boasted satellite dishes.

A friend of mine, who lives in Essex, had his medication changed recently, and subsequently sought a quotation from a stone-cladding company. A representative duly turned up at his home, driving a modest Ford Fiesta.

The company in question has obviously missed a trick. In order to advertise its wares, it should provide its representatives with cars that embody the stone-cladding principle. In other words, Ordinary Car's that have been given Tasteless Makeover's without adding Anything of Substance. I know just the car.

For years the Hyundai Coupe has occupied a niche in the market almost of its own making. In many ways a latter-day MGB, it exemplifies the attraction of vaguely dare-devil motoring without the burden of high running costs, excessive power or the need for extraordinary driving skills. Even the 2.0-litre version of the Hyundai Coupe has no more power or performance than a 2.0-litre Focus, and it falls a long way short of the performance delivered by the new Volkswagen Scirocco, which also has a 2.0-litre engine, but turbocharged.

Within the context of its chosen market, the comparatively modest performance of the 2.0 litre Hyundai Coupe is an advantage. An output of 141 horsepower and a peak torque of 186 Nm is sufficient to deliver a 0-62 time of 9.3 seconds, which is quick enough to feel the part without attracting a 'too hot to handle' epithet. Hyundai Coupe owners want a sexy Focus rather than a blue-cross Porsche. Even the MX-5 is arguably a bit too extreme.

Yet Hyundai, in its wisdom, has decided that even more customers will be attracted to the Coupe marque if its luke-warm looks are heated up. And the company has done a good job: the lowered suspension, anthracite wheels, quad exhaust pipes and raised spoiler certainly up the Celsius rating; but on a car that can't keep up with an ordinary looking BMW 120d, such embellishments emerge as superficial and more likely to invoke derision than desire.

The Tslll Has Been Given An All-Over Facelift

Yet I am sure that the engine of the Hyundai could be tuned to deliver a higher output so that the Eibach sports springs could be given a proper job to do, and the wing something to hold down. Even a modest re-chipping of the engine could have a marked effect, given that the base-line hardly constitutes stretching the envelope. (There are other, more important, things that could also be done to the engine, more of which later). And the platform could cope with an uplift in performance: the handling and roadholding clearly signal reserve capability.

To complement the rear wing, et al, the TSlll has been given an all-over facelift that marks its status as the third-generation Coupe. For example, the front end has new headlights and a 'letterbox' grille, and the tail is 're-sculptured' and has re-styled lights. It is ironic that these changes for the better are offset by trifles apparently bought on eBay.

The interior, too, has been subjected to the attention of a makeover stylist, who has been given leave to add pronounced quilting to the otherwise excellent leather-faced upholstery of the figure-hugging sports seats. The same quilting is present in the door trims, and the sickly effect resembles that of a rally car interior designed by Barbara Cartland. Having said that, the seats are supremely comfortable, and add to the pleasure of driving this fundamentally enjoyable car.

The TSlll logo is embroidered into the seat backs and also appears on the kick plates, just in case you fail to notice the other bits and bobs. You are unlikely to miss the wing, however. Whenever you look in the interior mirror, there it is: in a way mocking the owner for driving about in a carnival float.

Some attempt has been made to rejuvenate the dashboard, most particularly the centre stack, although the metal-grain 'effect' surround and blue lighting do nothing to conceal the fact that the constituent controls and displays are an agglomeration rather than a cohesive whole. The word 'cluttered' springs to mind.

The Hyundai Coupe first appeared in 1996, and I would hazard a guess that the five-speed manual 'box (as fitted to the test car) has not been replaced during the intervening years. There is also Porsche-designed H-Matic transmission available as an option on 2.0-litre models, but apart from resting your left foot, nothing is gained.

This is, of course, a four-seater car, with just sufficient legroom to avoid its being labelled a 2+2. But it is also quite a low car, and clambering in and out of the back calls for a degree of athleticism, which would not make the Coupe popular with ladies from the bowls club. But not only is it a four-seater car, it has a four-seater boot. Considering its overall size, a boot volume of 14.8 cubic feet is commendable. Although you would never guess it from the outside, the Coupe has a larger boot than a Focus, by a considerable margin.

At £19,705, the TSlll version of the Coupe costs some £3,600 more than the lead-in 1.6 model, and £1,310 more than the regular 2.0-litre Slll. I have puzzled over the differences between the S and TS variants, and can discover nothing of substance that qualifies for the considerable difference in cost.

High Levels Of Ride Comfort

For example, both 2.0-litre models get climate-control air-conditioning, leather seat facings, 17-inch alloys, metal-trimmed pedals and foot rest, ipod connectivity, and so on. The much cheaper 1.6 model does without some of these things, but the 2.0-litre Slll and TSlll share the same specification. It appears that it is only the rear wing, anthracite-coloured alloys, Eibach springs, quilting and logos that account for the extra £1,310.

Although the Eibach springs lower the suspension by a few millimetres, the effect on the handling and driveability of the car is negligible. This is not to criticise the springs, but rather to praise the inherent dynamic qualities of the standard car.

Hyundai clearly understands its market, and although the suspension on the TSlll efficiently controls roll and pitch, it remains compliant enough to deliver the high levels of ride comfort that I suspect the average Coupe buyer would prefer. I drove the test car along my most punishing 'ride' route and found it to be no less comfortable than a large estate car I had driven along the same route a week before - another car rather long in the tooth.

Along with most of the mechanical aspects of this car, the suspension, dynamics and general ride quality, whilst inherently comfortable, relate more to carry over components surviving from the late 1990s, rather than to forward development. This is an old-fashioned car that drives in an old-fashioned way, and thus is entirely suited to the middle-of-the-road retired school teachers and suchlike who, I suspect, represent the Coupe's core market.

And whichever model Coupe you choose - from the base 1.6 to the extrovert TSlll - it is not only the ride-quality that is comfortably middle of the road. Regardless of the bling, the TSlll attracts only a modest Group 10 insurance rating, the same as the Slll, and only two groups above the 1.6 model. Compare that with Group 13 for the 2.0-litre MX-5, and Group 16 for the new 2.0-litre Scirocco. An Alfa Romeo Brera is Group 18. Perhaps more significantly, a 2.0-litre Focus is also Group 10.

Unfortunately comparing statistics with the Focus reveals what might be considered the Hyundai's weakest link: fuel consumption. Given that this is not a particularly fast car, a combined fuel consumption of 35.3 mpg is poor, and the urban figure of 25.9 mpg, no better. The Ford manages 39.8 on the combined cycle, and 28.8 mpg around town. And the Ford is not particularly good: the BMW 320i, for example, achieves 46.3 and 33.6 mpg, respectively.

The same poor comparison applies to the CO2 rating. The 2.0-litre Hyundai Coupe (either model) is rated at 193 g/km. The 2.0-litre Focus is rated at 169 g/km and the 320i, at 146 g/km. And guess which car is the quickest? The fact that in 2009 it will cost £140 more for the Coupe's road-fund licence than for the Beemer's simply underlines the point, succinctly admitted by Hyundai, that '....powertrains remain unchanged'.

Instead of wasting money on confectionery, the company should have invested in some lean-burn technology. Given its ties with Mercedes-Benz and others, that shouldn't have been too difficult. After all, if your plumbing was leaking, would you spend money on stone cladding?

Posted on 27.10.2008 by Graham Whyte
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