AS SUCCESSOR to the awkwardly styled and dynamically dull XG, the new Grandeur represents another solid step forward for ambitious Korean car company Hyundai.
Only the briefest of glances is required to establish the first key difference between the old and new models, for as was the case with last year's new Sonata, the latest Grandeur delivers clean, uncontroversial styling in place of an overburden of chrome.
Indeed, there is a strong visual resemblance between the Sonata and Grandeur about the nose. Aft of the bonnet, though, the larger Grandeur makes its own statement, albeit with lines that pay homage to Audi along the roof, and BMW about the tail.
Whatever the publicity blurb may say, though, the Grandeur is aimed fairly and squarely at the top-flight Japanese, Australian and American V6 saloons, rather than at the prestige Europeans.
That much is reflected most clearly in the $52,490 price tag. It is also evident in its size - the Grandeur is just a couple of centimetres shorter than a Ford Falcon - and a 3.8-litre V6 engine developed from the Sonata 3.3-litre unit.
With 194kW on tap, the Grandeur is indeed Hyundai's most powerful production car, and the most powerful non-turbo V6 in its class.
Delivered to the front wheels via a five-speed automatic gearbox, that power and 348Nm of torque endow the car with sufficient pep to knock out the 0-100kmh dash in just over seven seconds. The Grandeur is strong in the mid-range too, and possessed of a mechanical and aural refinement that puts its Australian rivals to shame, both round town and on the open road.
One hopes, though, that those who consider the Grandeur are not in the market for a great dose of dynamic sparkle. While it rides and handles much more competently than its predecessor, the best of the Grandeur's rivals (not to mention the Sonata V6) strike a ride-handling balance better attuned to Kiwi conditions.
The issue here is one of suspension softness which, while cossetting around town and acceptable for steady main highway work, fails to impress on moderate to tight roads. Attempts to maintain a quick clip on such routes are met with body roll and, over bumps, average body control. This in turn affects passenger comfort, and progressively blunts handling sharpness with front-drive understeer.
"Slow down" is the clear message the Grandeur conveys, and the chances are most drivers will adjust their driving in response, well before the car's electronic stability programming is forced to intervene.
Returning to a more sedate clip, there is plenty to admire in the high standard of fit and finish within the cabin, in the quality of the leather upholstery, and soft-touch controls and trimmings.
Standard comfort and convenience items include a premium MP3 sound system with a subwoofer and eight main speakers, dual-zone climate control, trip computers, power adjustments and memory settings for the driver's seat and steering column. Rear parking sensors are standard; there are auto headlights and wipers, cruise control, an antidazzle rear-view mirror, and side mirrors that tilt when reversing.
The safety package is a comprehensive one, with the ESP system co-ordinating the antilock brake and traction control functions, and eight air bags on hand to deploy if the worst happens.
The air bag complement includes curtain bags for the rear of the cabin, which is very spacious for two, and comfortable for three. There is a fold-down centre armrest, a power-operated rear blind, and 60:40 split-folding access to the 523-litre boot, which according to Hyundai meets the most important of big saloon requirements: the ability to carry four golf bags.
It is that extra space, both in the back and the boot, that adds up to the Grandeur's greatest edge over its big in-house rival, the $39,990 Sonata Elite V6, which is not quite as refined, but somewhat more involving to drive.
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