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Hyundai Coupe F2 Evolution Roadtest

Hands up those of you who bemoan the decline of the British motor industry and think it's all down to cheap imports. OK, keep your hand up if you bank at Barclays. Aha, more than a few, Little do you know that some of you may have helped them put the 'car' into Barclaycard when they bank-rolled the fledgling Hyundai Motor Company back in the Seventies.

But If they carry on turning out cars like the 2.0-litre F2 Coupe then I say good luck to them. Outselling the likes of the ageing Vauxhall Calibra, the Hyundai Coupe is yours to drive away smiling for as little as 14,029, drop-dead gorgeous looks included. The F2 Evolution, as tested, has all the bells and whistles you could wish for, and a 2.0-litre engine, but still manages to hit the streets for 19,299, and with a better warranty deal than any of its competitors.

With its Lotus-designed suspension, front-wheel drive, and (for a change) the sort of tactile feedback that lets you know exactly what's going on, I would put this down as a driver's car and there aren't too many of those around these days - especially at the price.

This is a sports car first, a coupe second, and, thirdly, a surprisingly sophisticated life-style statement into the bargain. The lifestyle bit is probably where most people would look to interpret Hyundai's claim to value-for-money motoring, and the F2 begs the question; how do they do it for the price? Air-conditioning, electric sun-roof, cruise control, leather upholstery, CD player, remote central locking and alarm, immobiliser, 16-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, high-level brake light.... the list goes on. Driver's airbag, four-channel ABS and 10-inch ventilated discs all round are standard, and still its the cheapest of the bunch. A real coup, if youll pardon the pun.

OK, so the interior is cheap and tacky with the aesthetic appeal of a Bradford taxi? Nope. It has to be one of the most ergonomically appealing cars I have driven in years with all the major and minor controls arranged in logical clusters and none of which look like afterthoughts. Everything matches and the leather upholstery and trim completes the picture of integrated thoughtfulness that other designers could do worse than study. More than that, the vertical seat adjustment and variable steering-wheel rake mean that it feels as good as it looks - a near perfect driving position from which to exploit the not inconsiderable performance envelope

The F2 benefits from a fat exhaust which improves engine breathing and consequently, acceleration. 60 mph comes up in 8.1 seconds, a full half-second quicker than the standard 2.0-litre SE although they both manage a slightly conservative top speed of 125 mph.

The large steering wheel, fairly low gearing and heavy-ish, but power-assisted, rack-and-pinion steering give an initial impression that the Coupe might prove to be a bit of a handful off the beaten track. Far from it. The social engineering has stopped short of dialing out feedback from the wheels, steering and suspension and the result is predictability. When there is enough feel to eliminate nasty surprises, exploring the outer limits of the performance envelope becomes serious fun and the emotional dividend that results should be bottled and force fed to sad people who rely on black boxes to control their reactions for them.

Slick, quick gearchanges matched to the responsive, Korean-designed and built Beta engine complete a package that is marred only by a rather pedestrian engine note that belies the eagerness of its high-revving enthusiasm. The downside, for sensitive souls, at least, is the ride quality which errs in favour of handling rather than bump-soaking comfort. Fast cross-country driving on tertiary lanes does reveal the rather harsh nature of the ride and keeping the engine high on the cam for maximum response means that noise levels are more pronounced than some would find acceptable. But in my experience, sports cars have never been for the faint-hearted and if letting your hair down is at the expense of outright finesse, so what?

Some cars generate the impression that the final part of the specification is the driver. That every other nut and bolt, that every line of the shape and form remains unfinished, incomplete without the one remaining dynamic component that glues together all the others. The MGF possesses this quality and so does the Hyundai Coupe. But why all the praise? Because not so long ago Pacific Rim cars were generally dreadful. Cheap, but poor relations to European products. All of a sudden they have come of age and their investment in, and occasional purchase of, European design know-how is paying off. Korean and Malaysian companies could be tomorrow's Volkswagen, and the latter company have proved just how successful they are at overtaking. In short, if Hyundai are prepared to make the effort, they deserve the praise.

The Sports Coupe sector of the market place represents big bucks these days and now there are some fifteen manufacturers competing for the attention of ever-more knowledgeable customers. In this sector, probably more than any other, looks can kill. If they are not just so, they can kill off an otherwise promising car, which is no doubt why the Hyundai is a long way removed from a 'never mind the looks, feel the price' design strategy. Even if the Coupe were not such a good drive, I can imagine success arising from its seductive, up-for-it styling. Thankfully bereft of the overweight, oldest-swinger-in-town looks of some of its nearest but dearest competitors, the F2 manages to look both youthful and experienced, a powerful combination calculated to win the hearts of all but the straightest laced.

Terms such as ' a mixture of threats and promises', 'muscular wheel arches' appear in the Hyundai press material, alongside phrases like 'sheer motoring pleasure' and 'discerning enthusiast'. Commonplace rhetoric in the world of public relations but nonetheless truthful for all of that.

However what really impresses me are the facts. The company have gone to great, and apparently honest, pains to demonstrate just how well the vital statistics of the flagship F2 Evolution compare with its rivals. For example, amongst the top-selling coupes, the 137 bhp of the Hyundai is bettered only just by the BMW 318I and both are significantly more powerful than any of the others. Warranty cover at 36 months and unlimited mileage is not matched by any other manufacturer. The only area where it appears to fall short is in the 2+2 seating arrangement which, although it is hard to actually quantify, looks too intimate for all but consenting adults. Children would certainly be more comfortable, although the triangular portholes that serve as rear passenger windows would be rather remote from a strapped-in child.

I have driven most of the current crop of sports cars and coupes, from the modest to the magnificent and although many of them will outclass the Hyundai Coupe in specific areas, few, if any, of them can match this young pretender for all-round, rakes progress ability at such an honest, down-to-earth price. If the badge said Toyota, Mazda or MG most punters would gladly stump up another couple of grand and still be chuffed to bits.

The third-rate, Marina-esque Pony has long been forgotten, if indeed, any of the current crop of Hyundai customers were ever aware of its presence in the first place. As it is, Hyundais ship has come in, and continues to, I imagine, every month - and its no doubt loaded with Coupes which will continue to outsell many of the great and wonderful. And If anyone in Korea is listening, I would have one today, if only my Barclaycard bill werent so high.

Posted on 01.03.1999 by Graham Whyte
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