Hyundai Coupe SIII: Still very fit and light on its feet

This facelifted Ferrari tribute might not have car snob value, but it hits the mark for Sean O'Grady
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Let's not beat about the bush. The Hyundai Coupé SIII has its work cut out. If you want to buy a compact, stylish coupé there are some excellent contenders out there: the new Audi TT, or the striking Alfa Romeo Brera; then there's the Nissan 350Z, still looking cool; and the Mazda RX-8, a furious and clever four-door variation on the theme.

You might even stretch to BMW's enjoyable new 3-Series coupé. You might even think of the Chrysler Crossfire. Most keen drivers, however, probably wouldn't even think about putting the Hyundai on their list of potential purchases. That's maybe because they've never heard of it, though it's been around for a while (since 1996).

Or, if they have heard of it, they might not realise that Hyundai still makes it and has just gone to the trouble of treating the the old thing to a teensy weensy facelift. Or perhaps they just don't want a no-image Korean car. Or they don't like the depreciation. Or something. It's an emotional thing, choosing a £20,000 coupé.

To each their own, and all that. However, if I could just persuade you to open your mind for a moment.... The Coupé still has one or two features to commend it, even in the face of such accomplished competition. Yes, really.

Oddly for a Hyundai, perhaps, it is quite a beautiful piece of machinery. There's a certain amount of Ferrari inspiration evident in the lines, but it's all very nicely done. The proportions are pretty much perfect, the lines muscular and lithe, the stance of the car, so important on the move, seems also very well judged. To whom the credit for this should go seems unclear. The Italian house of Pininfarina might like to claim that a little of its DNA has crept in somehow. But, as a Ferrari tribute, I have never seen a more lovely attempt.

Bigger rims and a nice Mica Stone Black paint job on our test car emphasised the look. I happen to think that it can hold its own against the current crop of coupés, perhaps even including the Alfa Brera.

Indeed, the Coupé must be the only Hyundai that could realistically lay claim to a future classic status. If you're worried about that steep depreciation, then just keep your little Coupé for ever and enjoy watching it mature.

Which brings me to the second main selling point for this car. It's dirt cheap, and much less costly than its notional rivals (and it comes with a five-year warranty, too). You can have this mini-Ferrari phenomenon for a modest £15,145. For that money, you'll be getting the less-than-scorching 1.6-litre version, however, in the spirit of those underpowered Ford Capri 1.3s of yesteryear, who cares when you're that handsome?

Aficionados recommend the 2.0-litre version, which offers a 0 to 60 time of 9.2 seconds, because its lighter engine provides a better balance than the 2.7 V6, which will take you all the way to 165mph. I don't really mind about that, because to me the Hyundai is more of a relaxed tourer; the optional automatic box on the V6 brings the list price to a tad over £20,000, but is the optimal choice. And since the Coupé can't really mix it with a TT or an RX-8 anyway, why bother?

The Coupé is way off the pace indoors, too. It's got some nice new blue dials and iPod compatibility, but when you clamber into Seoul's finest, be ready for a bit of a retro experience. The materials are mostly decent quality and the red leather on my test car nicely reminiscent of a 1950s Jaguar (that's a plus point, by the way).

So its not bad, and it will, just, seat four. But, for example, you won't find any steering-wheel-mounted buttons for the stereo, or a sat-nav built into the dash, or dual-zone climate controls. Look elsewhere, and spend more, for that.

Old can be good, though, especially when it comes to body size. You really get an impression of the pace of current inflation in car weight and size when you sit in a design like this that's only a decade or so old. Its dinkier proportions make the Coupé a touch more agile and distinctly easier to park, and we all know how tricky that is getting these days (mainly because cars are getting so much bigger).

The next generation Coupé, with us in a year or two, will probably be fatter, and could scarcely be as gorgeous. But, as before, Hyundai may surprise us.

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