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Click to view picture gallery“Hyundai’s SIII Coupé
  serves up a very
  nice blend of 2+2 style
  and performance.
  Better still, it does so
  at a price that’s also
  very ‘nice’
...”

THE AFFORDABLE COMPACT COUPE market is shrinking in the UK, due to a lack of new models and the change in buying trends towards 'super-minis' and retractable metal-roofed coupé-cabriolets.

Customers now prefer 'hot' versions of superminis from the Vauxhall Corsa and Peugeot 207 ranges. Coupé-cabriolets such as the Peugeot 207 CC, Ford Focus CC, Renault Megane CC, the Mazda MX-5 CC and the VW Eos have virtually replaced the affordable compact Coupé.

Other than the Hyundai three-door Coupé, what is the competition? Perhaps only the Mazda RX-8. Unless, of course, a customer wants
to spend considerably more. Think BMW Z4, Audi TT, Mercedes CLK
or Nissan 350Z.

The Hyundai Coupé SIII, as its name correctly suggests, is now in its third generation having been launched — initially for the American market — in 1996. Since that time it has received a number of facelifts and upgrades to keep it fresh and market competitive. To date, more than 43,000 right-hand drive models have been sold in the UK — not bad for a very niche product. And it still outsells the BMW 3 Series Coupé and Mercedes CLK.

The draw of a five-year unlimited mileage warranty, high levels of specification and keen, affordable prices attracted nearly 36,000 UK customers to Hyundai models last year, of which 4,500 were Coupés. The most popular model by far (80 per cent) are the two-litre petrol variants, a third of which are ordered with automatic transmission —
a rarity offering in a Coupé of this price and size. The 1.6-litre and
2.7-litre V6 petrol-engined models share equally the remaining 20 per cent of sales. The big V6 model also has the option of automatic transmission.

Prices range from £15,760 for the 1.6-litre up to £19,585 for the V6 auto. The best-selling 2.0-litre petrol variant costs an attractive £18,010 and the automatic gearbox, if chosen, will add £1,000 to that price.

On sale from 1 January this year, the Coupé SIII has been completely re-designed outside and features significant changes and enhancements inside.

The entirely new front end features elongated headlights with a more aggressive letterbox-like grille and new fog lights. New side air vents now incorporate the indicator repeater lights; while the re-shaped rear features a more sculpted look, with fully integrated twin tailpipes for the 2.0 and V6 models and restyled rear light clusters.

A new range of exterior bodywork colours is available, and there's a choice of red or black interior trim with leather a standard feature on all models — even the entry-level 1.6-litre model comes with half-leather trim. Both the Steel Grey and Stone Black variants come with
a red interior finish, while all other colours feature black interior trim.

New to the Coupé SIII is Hyundai's signature blue instrumentation illumination, which I actually find overpowering because there is too much of it used in too many places. It could also confuse the driver,
as the main beam headlight warning light is in a similar blue.

The centre console layout has been redesigned for a cleaner look and easier usage. It also has a sleeker, sportier look and feel with a new metal-look finish, tied-in with metal-look finishes on the steering wheel and air vents that together create an added sense of quality.

For music lovers, the new Hyundai Coupé SIII comes with an iPod compatible CD/Radio stereo. The iPod port, found in the centre arm-rest, is standard on all models in the range.

Hyundai models have always featured a high level of specification and the new Coupé SIII follows this tradition.

The entry-level 1.6 comes with half-leather trim, air-conditioning, a CD/Radio stereo with iPod port, driver, front passenger and side air-bags, engine immobiliser, height adjustable seatbelts, remote central locking, leather steering wheel, electric front windows and door mirrors and new 16-inch alloy wheels.

The 2.0 adds full leather trim, climate control, metal-trimmed pedals and footrest, 17-inch alloy wheels, twin exhausts, cruise control, electric sunroof and heated front seats.

The range-topping V6 models add more: a Thatcham category 1 alarm, automatic headlights, traction control, 6-speed manual gearbox and an automatic dimming rear-view mirror.

Engines and transmissions remain unchanged and offer a give-and-take mix of affordability and outright performance.

The entry-level model has a 1.6-litre, 103bhp, 4-cylinder 16-valve double overhead cam petrol unit — which is ideal for younger drivers venturing into sports car ownership for the first time, thanks to an insurance rating of just 8D. This engine is mated to a 5-speed manual transmission, which delivers a top speed of 115mph and a 0-62mph time of 11.9 seconds.

The mid-range, best-selling model has a 2.0-litre, 16-valve DOHC petrol engine developing 141bhp and can, in five-speed manual gearbox spec, cover the 0-62mph sprint in just 9.3 seconds and reach a top speed of 129mph. Automatic transmission is an option.

For the record, the 2.7-litre V6 DOHC 24-valve version has a power output of 165bhp (and 181lb ft of torque) giving a top speed nearing 140mph and goes from zero to 62mph in 8.3 seconds. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard or there is the option of automatic transmission.

Common to all models in the line-up is two-plus-two seating, wide opening side doors for ease of entry both front and rear and a useful tailgate accessing a good-sized 418-litre load area. Split/fold rear seats extend the boot's functionality. There are lots of sportingly-styled instruments, the windows and mirrors are operated electrically and the array of safety features is reasonable. The driving position
was good although, being on the tallish side, I found the headroom limited.

Ride and handling is competent: the Coupé rides flat and level with little roll and the steering is precise despite not offering a lot to the driver in the way of feedback. The ride is very comfortable and only becomes unsettled over potholed town streets.

The 2.0-litre's 141bhp is not enough to make it a ball of fire, and the engine becomes noisy if worked hard. That said, driven in a manner that our roads and regulations dictate these days, it is fine; and the 34.9mpg average fuel consumption was a nice bonus. Officially the combined consumption is given as 35.3mpg — and that's more than close enough to the figure I achieved in the real-world. The gear-change is slick and easy to use, and made more enjoyable by a set
of well-stacked ratios in the five-speed gearbox and which gives a responsive performance at all speeds.

Buyers like these 2+2 Coupés for a number of reasons: their scarcity value; 5-year warranty; value-for-money; and good looks. There is also a relatively roomy cabin and they drive pretty well — if not a totally inspiring drive for a sporty looking Coupé. However, the driving dynamics are okay; just not always a match for some of its sporting (and, generally, much more expensive) European rivals. The Hyundai Coupé is exactly what it is: well-sized, well-specified and well-priced. And just for the record, SatNav is an extremely reasonable £495 option.

This Hyundai does everything moderately well, and it looks pretty good. For many — and in particular a large number of coupé buyers in the UK — that's more than enough to keep smiles on their faces. And these days, anything that can do that deserves appreciation. — David Miles

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Hyundai Coupé SIII 2.0 | £18,010
Maximum speed: 129mph | 0-62mph: 9.3 seconds
Overall test MPG: 35.3mpg | Power: 141bhp | Torque: 137lb ft


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