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Hyundai's meteoric rise in Australia to become the number one importer of passenger vehicles has resulted very much from selling well specified cars at attractive pricing levels and the model that been responsible for the bulk of this success is the Excel.
Two out of three Hyundais sold are Excels and with sales of the all-new Excels now in full swing, Hyundai is confident of building further on last year's 46.3 per cent sales increase over 1993.
In this report on an LX sedan and a GX three-door hatchback I'll look at what else the Excel offers other than an affordable price ticket and see what you miss out on by not buying a more expensive car.
This time around, Hyundai started with a clean sheet and not one single component is said to carry over from old to new Excel. To complement its contemporary styling, the new Excel claims improvements in many areas, including more interior space, a stronger but lighter body, improved quality, improved NVH, increased engine power, better fuel economy, improved ride and handling, and new comfort and safety features.
Buyers have a choice of three body styles in the new Excel range - four-door sedan, three-door hatchback or five-door hatchback. The five-door hatch and sedan come in LX and GLX specification levels, while the three-door hatch is available as the entry level Sprint or the better equipped GX version.
Prices start at $13,990 for the Sprint and rise to $18,990 for the two GLX models. The LX sedan and five-door hatch cost $16,990, while the GX three-door costs $15,490. Add $1,700 for automatic transmission and $990 for a driver's airbag (both available on all models). Air conditioning is a dealer-fitted option at around $1,800.
Though basically the same capacity as before (1494 cc v 1468 cc), the new Alpha series 11 engine boasts more power and torque, and it returns better fuel economy. The design now utilises three valves per cylinder (two inlet and one exhaust), roller rocker arms and distributorless ignition. A Bosch multi-point sequential fuel injection setup is used and there's a new knock control system.
As is the standard for this class nowadays, drive goes to the front wheels via a five speed manual or a four speed automatic transmission. The auto features electronic control and dual Economy and Normal modes.
Safety lock systems on the auto include not being able to remove the ignition key unless the transmission is in Park and having to apply the foot brake before it's possible to shift into drive or reverse. The manual can't be started unless the clutch pedal is depressed.
The four-wheel independent suspension has been refined and modified for better ride and handling characteristics and the tyre and wheel size has gone from 155/70 on 4.5 inch rims to 175/70 on 5.0 inch rims.
Brakes are ventilated discs up front and drums at the rear. Power assistance for the rack and pinion steering is standard on all but the entry level Sprint model.
Naturally enough, the list of convenience and luxury features increases as the price goes up, but even the base Excels are reasonably well equipped, with things like a radio/cassette player, rear fog light, remote releases for the fuel filler and boot, heated rear window with timer, intermittent wipers with timing adjustment, a fold down rear seat (except LX sedan), front map pockets and a digital clock.
The GX and two GLX models have height and lumbar support adjustments on the driver's seat, a 60/40 split on the folding rear seat, full cloth seat upholstery, four-speaker sound system (instead of two), passenger's vanity mirror and rear heating ducts.
Extra items exclusive to the two GLXs include power front windows, central door locking, electrically adjustable external mirrors and an electric radio antenna.
In all three body styles - three-door, four-door and five-door - the emphasis is on smooth, rounded lines that bring the Excel into line with current trends in small car design.
The four and five-door models will no doubt appeal to the older, more conservative buyer, while the three-door Sprint and GX have a more youthful appeal, particularly when painted in some of the bold, vibrant colours available. The GX stamps a sporty image with its rear spoiler and fairly outlandish front under-bumper air dam.
Though the Koreans are getting better at quality with every new model that appears, the Excel has still got some way to go to match fully imported Japanese cars. The body feels solid enough and paint quality looks good, but there were variations in panel and trim fit on the two test cars, and things like the poor quality of floor coverings give the impression of cutting corners to save costs.
Overall, these new Excels offer good occupant and load space for this class of car. All models provide good front leg room and head room, but the four and five-door models are better suited to carrying rear passengers.
One irritating aspect of the three-door is that the front seats lack a "memory" facility. When tilted forward to allow rear seat access and then folded back, they don't go back to the original position. The left seat slides forward when the backrest is tilted for access but it doesn't slide right back again. What this means is that you have to re-adjust the front seats every time they're tilted.
Space is more generous in the back of the four and five door models and the shape of the seat allows a centre occupant to travel in better comfort than is usual for this class.
Another drawback of the three-door as far as occupants are concerned is that the rear side windows are fixed, thereby restricting the availability of fresh air. Also on the subject of ventilation, the optional air conditioning that was installed in the GX test car didn't prove to be very effective when ambient temperatures rose to around 26 deg. C.
Boot space is good in all models and each has a low loading lip, to make the loading and unloading of heavy items easier.
The new Excel has moved a lot closer to adopting the typically straightforward "Japanese" layout of instruments, controls and switches, making these cars easy to drive, and to operate the ancillary equipment.
One aspect of the controls that I wasn't comfortable with was the closeness of the manual models' pedals to each other. I could envisage drivers with larger feet possibly hitting the wrong pedal in an emergency.
Good vision in all directions, coupled with power-assisted steering and a reasonably compact turning circle, makes these Excels easy to park and manoeuvre in tight spots. You need to be cautious entering driveways and crossing dips in the road as it's fairly easily to scrape the front tie-down hook, or the front spoiler of the GX model.
Though it's generally not as smooth, quiet or refined as the twin-cam multi-valve engines found in most Japanese cars, the Alpha 11 engine in the Excel gives a good account of itself on both performance and fuel economy.
On timed acceleration runs, the two test Excels proved to be very competitive with other 1.5 litre cars and the good low-down torque of the Alpha engine makes for good response around town.
Not unexpectedly, performance suffers when the car is loaded, and steeper hills soon have you changing back a couple of gears in the manual versions. The extra load on the engine when the air conditioner is switched on, is also apparent.
Though our "real life" fuel consumption testing didn't replicate the fairly incredible highway consumption figures quoted as a result of Government's testing in accordance with the Australian Standards, the Excel still qualifies as a very economical little car.
Overall consumption was virtually the same for both test cars at 8.1 and 8.2 litres/100 km, while the LX sedan just edged out the GX hatchback on highway running with a rate of 6.6 litres/100 km (compared to 7.0 for the GX). Around town, the two cars were again very close, with 9.4 litres/100 km for the GX and 9.9 litres/100 km for the LX.
Despite the work on NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) outlined by Hyundai, this is another area where they're not quite up with current Japanese products. The GX hatch in particular, exhibited quite a lot of road and tyre noise at low to moderate speeds.
Aside from a tendency towards understeer when pushed hard, and steering that's too light and lacking in precise feel, the Excel handles acceptably well compared to its opposition. It's nowhere near as sharp as the Mazda 121, which has the benefit of higher-quality low-profile tyres, but it's a lot better than the Daewoo, which cries out for some expert suspension tuning to suit our conditions and tastes.
Braking is adequate for the job in hand but again, the Mazda 121 performed better in emergency stopping tests with less of a tendency to lock its wheels, and with better resistance to fade under heavy use.
Yet another area where the Excel doesn't match its Japanese opposition is in the quality of its manual gearshift. I first tested an Excel sedan late last year and noted that the gearshift was vague and sloppy, and sometimes didn't fully engage. Unfortunately, this more recent test of the GX hatchback showed it to be little better in this regard.
After an initial service at 1000 km, maintenance is scheduled each 15,000 km or twelve months, with an engine oil and filter change recommended every six months or 7,500 km for cars operating under severe conditions.
The latest range of Hyundai Excels are neat, modern-looking cars that represent very good value for money compared to current Japanese offerings of similar size. These new Excels also perform well, provide ample space for families with younger children and are backed by one of the best warranties in the business.
There are still some areas, such as interior trim and exterior panel fit and finish, and suspension refinement, where Hyundai doesn't quite reach the standards of the Japanese competition, but overall, the new models are a big improvement over the old Excels on all aspects. The Excel range is certainly worthy of consideration in this market segment.
Test vehicle supplied by Hyundai Automotive Australia Pty Ltd.
|Model||Excel LX & GL|
|Body type||3-door hatchback|
|Price of vehicle tested||$20,690 auto|
Low fuel consumption
Poor quality manual gearshift
|Country of manufacture||Korea|
Sprint - three-door hatch
The five-door hatch and sedan come in LX and GLX specification levels, while the three-door hatch is available as the entry level Sprint or the better equipped GX version.
Sprint - $13,990 manual, $15,690 auto
|Number of cylinders||4|
|Engine size||1.5 L|
|Fuel capacity||45 litres|
NRMA Theft Rating
Acceleration - Test results
|0 - 80km/h||6.1 secs|
|0 - 100km/h||12.9 secs|
|Best recorded during testing||6.6 L/100km|
|Worst recorded during testing||9.9 L/100km|
|Average on test||8.2 L/100km|