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Hyundai Coupe 2.7 V6 Roadtest

' It is no wonder that so many youthful belles find a Swallow just the very thing.' Writing in The Autocar in 1930, their correspondent clearly had some experience of flappers, who were the bright young things of the day and so called because of their, er... unconventional behaviour. This clearly extended to showing a less than lady-like interest in cars, especially the Austin Swallow, a distant forerunner of today's Jaguars and popular with the gels on account of it being light, easy to handle and modestly priced.

Seventy years on, women drivers are no longer a novelty but those driving Jaguar sports cars are notably few. Jaguars have long since moved beyond the reach of your average girl-about-town, who now find MGs and Mazda MX-5s '...just the very thing.' But in my experience, the Hyundai Coupe is also popular with the ladies - I know at least three who own one - for the very reason that the Swallow struck a chord with the belles. In fact, Hyundai state that almost twice as many examples of the previous model were sold to women than to men.

Launched in January 2002, the new Coupe strengthens its reputation for value and easy driveability. Better equipped than ever, it still manages to make the MG and Mazda seem expensive by comparison. Somewhat larger than either (and closer to the late Ford Cougar), the lead-in 1.6S Coupe is still only £14,499 on the road. That's £1,251 off the sticker price of the cheapest 1.6-litre MG TF and a useful £500 below the asking price of the base-model MX-5. More than that, the Hyundai attracts only a Group 8 insurance rating, at least three points below the smaller rivals for feminine affection.

And there's more. Being a 2+2 Coupe and not a 2-seater roadster, the Hyundai has a whopping 14.8 cubic-foot 'boot' accessed via a high-lifting tailgate. That sort of space comfortably exceeds that of the new 5-door Fiat Stilo and can be enlarged by folding down the rear seat backs.

You may wonder why I am comparing the Hyundai with cars that are not immediately obvious as rivals. I do so simply because if you are looking for a budget-priced sports car there is a limited choice and this latest Korean offering must surely represent a legitimate alternative as long you are content to stay out of the wind. The nearest like-for-like coupe alternative is probably the Toyota Celica, which starts at £16,980.

Its light and effortless driveability belies the Coupe's scaled-down, muscle-car looks. Designed in-house by Hyundai, the new model is both longer and wider than the car it replaces and the square number plate on the extended and rounded snout is like catching a quick glimpse of the stars and stripes, although the company like to claim it resembles a penny-packet Ferrari.

In addition to the 103 bhp, 1.6-litre model, the Coupe is also offered with the familiar 136 bhp, 2.0-litre mill and the company's latest 2.7-litre V6 that also features in the Trajet and Santa Fe line-up. It was one of the latter that arrived outside my door sprayed all over in Samba red, which nearly sold it to me on the spot. Developing 165 bhp and a healthy measure of torque, the V6 is offered with either a six-speed manual 'box or the Porsche-developed H-Tronic two-pedal system. I sampled the latter in the Santa Fe and, as these things go, it is very nearly the best, woman can get. I found I needed to use both feet so you may assume I had the stick-box version.

With six closely-spaced ratios to finely split the torque, on twisting country roads enthusiastic drivers might enjoy swapping cogs to stay within a shout of the 245Nm peak, which occurs at 4000 rpm. On the other hand, the over-square engine delivers sufficient spread of torque to allow chilled-out drivers to hold onto fifth or sixth and trade off a snappy throttle response for effortless progress. I prefer to keep a handle on things and the short-throw lever felt sporting enough although I think it would benefit from being an inch or two shorter. The narrow, 'double-H' gate is quite noticeably spring-biased into the 3-4 plane so casual downward changes from sixth might result in sudden drop to third if concentration lapses.

Two things slightly spoilt the fun. The bite-point on the long clutch pedal was very close to the top of its travel and once or twice I noticed momentary clutch drag as I mistakenly moved my foot onto the large foot-rest in the belief that drive was fully engaged. Also the steering wheel was overly large and chunky, and would be more at home on the Sante Fe.

The huge, semaphore-like exterior mirrors provide a clear picture of what's going on behind but the nearside fitting conspires with the adjacent A-post to create a sizeable blind spot. Measuring some 18 inches across at its widest point, it is enough at a T-junction to obscure a sizeable truck approaching at a distance from the left. "I didn't see him coming, M'Lud ", could be a reasonable defence for drivers of the new Coupe.

But you'd have to be completely blind not to notice just how much of the familiar Hyundai largesse finds its way into the V6 specification. At £18,499 it is more or less the flagship model although the H-Tronic version will set you back a further £1,000. For that very reasonable sum, the specification leaves little wanting. Full leather upholstery, cruise control, climate-control air conditioning, electrochromic mirror, and an electric sun-roof are the most obvious cabin embellishments. Tucked away are front and side airbags. Outside, 17-inch alloys, a rear spoiler and large, twin exhaust pipes reinforce the sporting lines and beneath the skin, ABS with EBD and traction control, and all-round discs (vented at the front) add a decent measure of active safety. In all 60-something features comprise the standard specification.

The dark leather upholstery, which extends to the +2 seats, best suited to kids, is matched by dark-grey trim with the odd touch of brushed aluminium to introduce a fashionable touch of high-tech styling. The centre stack includes four switches, which unusually, are flush with the surface, but would be more impressive if two of them were not blanks. Mid-way down the stack, above the electronic climate control, is a trio of instruments each about the size of a wrist watch to indicate torque (unusual), instantaneous fuel consumption and battery voltage. Good idea but completely useless as the only time they can safely be consulted is in the garage.

With a top speed of 136 mph and 62 mph from standstill coming up in 8.2 seconds, the performance of the V6 cannot be said to be earth-shattering. Red-lining at just 6500 rpm, the engine might best be described as refined, a feeling underlined by a less-than-hearty sound signature that scarcely breaks wind until at least 5000 rpm. But the firm and occasionally rattle-inducing suspension feels right for the job and taken holistically, the package will satisfy all but performance-car purists. Handling is better than the Celica but falls short of the mid-engined MG TF, although a direct comparison with the mod-engined car in these terms is arguably unfair.

Ride quality is exceptionally good and a lengthy run on minor roads with little traffic revealed the car's strongest link. With little drama it mopped up the twists and turns, mainly in third and forth gear, and proved itself a latter-day Gran Turismo car - comfortable, manageably fast, stylish and with plenty of space for luggage.

The upside of the under-worked V6 is a reasonable fuel consumption. I recorded almost 34 mpg on my cross-country test route, which closely reflects the official extra-urban figure of 35.3 mpg, a fairly small price to pay for a decent-looking car loaded with serious credentials. The urban figure of 19.8 mpg is less impressive but the combined figure of 27.4 mpg is about on par with other V6 coupes although they are either bigger or vastly more expensive, or both.

The absence of a direct comparison serves to underline the stand-alone position occupied the Hyundai, which can best be described as having six-cylinder panache at a four-cylinder price.

Although almost half a century apart, some comparison can be drawn between the Swallow period in Jaguar's history and the fledgling years of Hyundai. Just as the Swallow cars were little more than locally bodied assemblies of other manufacturer's cars, so did Hyundai in the late 1960's break into the motor industry by building re-bodied Fords under licence. But bankrolled by Barclays, and under the direction of Englishman George Turnball (who worked at Standard Cars about the time they were building chassis for Swallow), Hyundai eventually moved into full-scale design and production.

When in 1994 they launched the S-Coupe, Hyundai could almost have called it the Swallow. Cheap and good looking, it offered accessible performance at an affordable price. Ignoring extensive intermediate makeovers, it is now in its third generation and better than ever. And just like the ladies' Swallow, it should go down well.

Posted on 16.04.2002 by Graham Whyte
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