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Click to view road test review picture gallery“Hot hatch, coupé-
  convertible… or 2+2
  coupé? With a budget
  of £20K and the desire
  for something sporty
  looking, Hyundai’s
  Coupé SIII — the latest
  incarnation of the
  popular Korean sports
 
coupé with V6 power —
  could be just the
  ticket...”


NOW IN ITS THIRD generation, Hyundai's popular Coupé is still a looker. The latest SIII model continues the sleek and sporty profile established by its forbears. And they've managed to do so while giving the Coupé a fairly comprehensive makeover both inside and out. The entirely new front end features elongated headlight units, new fog lights and a more aggressive 'letterbox' grille. On the way to the re-sculpted rear bodywork with its fully integrated twin tailpipes and restyled rear light clusters, there are new side air vents that now incorporate the indicator repeater lights.

Overall it's still unmistakably a Hyundai Coupé. Usually, it's the West that adopts Eastern philosophies. But in the Coupé's case it's clearly the opposite, with the Korean company obviously taking heed of the Western saying 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'. And they have good reason to because, since it was launched, Hyundai has sold more than 43,000 Coupés in the UK — where it outsells the BMW 3 Series Coupé and the Mercedes CLK.

Back in 1996 when the first-generation US-designed Hyundai Coupé made headlines — for the fact that many considered it as smartly styled as a famous Italian marque that cost many times as much — there were many more coupés around. Nowadays competitive coupés are notably fewer and its 'rivals' might be considered to be hot hatches and coupé-convertibles such as the Focus ST/SEAT Leon and Peugeot 207 CC/Vauxhall Astra TwinTop.

However, for a significant number of buyers a 2+2 coupé for the same money is a more attractive proposition than a lairy, body-kitted hot hatch.

When it comes to powerplants, Coupé customers can choose between a 103bhp 1.6, 141bhp 2.0 and 165bhp V6 2.7-litre. The range-topping V6 comes with a standard six-speed manual 'box or an optional Porsche-designed four-speed H-matic automatic transmission that offers both a 'stepped' manual mode and a full automatic — as tested here.

Swing open the door and drop into the comfortable bucket-style seat and you can appreciate the upgraded cabin. The new centre console
is smartly fronted by a metal-grain effect finish and there's cool blue
VW-style instrumentation backlighting and digital display screens. From the top down, there several 'layers' starting with two Audi TT-style air vents, a hazard switch flanked by two digital displays for time/external temperature, three ancillary dials for torque, instant mpg and volts — although keen drivers would almost certainly have preferred an oil pressure gauge instead of the 'torque indicator' dial.

If you're driving the V6 automatic you may not want to spend too much time looking at the fuel consumption dial although, to be fair, we averaged a not-so-scary 25.2mpg. Officially, the V6 Coupé should return 19.9, 27.4 and 35.3mpg respectively for city, mixed and touring driving.

Sitting immediately below the trio of secondary dials is the stereo and below that is another digital display and the two knurled knobs that operate the climate control air conditioning. The whole effect is one of quality — thanks to the slim chrome rings used on the air vents, dials, the hazard switch and the climate control knobs. Chrome bezels are also used to good effect on the heated seat switches and the selector lever gate surround on the central transmission tunnel.

The dash is logically laid out and, unlike some, you don't need a week away on an intensive crammer course to work out where everything is. The indicator stalk is on the right — not the 'normal' UK market left — but you do adapt to it very quickly. Major instruments, set in a ref-lection-preventing cowl, include two large dials (160mph speedometer and rev-counter red-lined at 6,500rpm) and two smaller ones for fuel and coolant temperature. The speedo and rev-counter are also enhanced by slim chrome bezels.

Also new is an iPod-compatible stereo with a port in the lidded centre armrest (standard on all models) along with better grade materials for the trim. As before, leather upholstery is standard on the flagship V6. Handy features include a convenient tailgate release, the ubiquitous cup-holders, a slot for the equally ubiquitous mobile-phone and a number of storage cubbies.

We found the driving position to be fine although taller (over six foot-ers) drivers could find it a tight fit. Due to the Coupé's low roof, head-room is at a premium. Having said that, there are a number of cars that will accommodate little more than average-sized drivers but if you don't fit then sorry, but — c'est la vie!

The driving position is low-slung but it doesn't take long to discover that the well-shaped seats are both supportive and comfortable — we drove over 600 miles in them without complaint. There is some height adjustment that allows you to tailor the seat base angle but it is pretty minimal and there is manual adjustment for lumbar support. The three-spoke leather-clad steering wheel only adjusts for rake/height but if you're already sitting comfortably this isn't a problem.

The selector knob is nicely shaped and finished in chrome and leather, with an easy-to-thumb push 'button' indent override. All four of the fascia air vents move accurately and stay where you set them. The auto-dimming mirror can, thankfully, be switched off to make it easier for reversing at night. Thoughtful touches include the one-shot auto tilt and slide functions on the electric glass sunroof (there's a sliding sun blind as well) and you can drive without buffeting at sensible speeds. The driver's window has a one-shot auto down function and, as this is an auto, it's good to find a large and well sited left-foot rest.

For a coupé, rear space isn't bad. The pair of well-shaped rear seats are comfortable for smallish adults with good access through wide doors, but a lack of head room and no head rests means they're best for youngsters. Pop open the tailgate and you'll find a large (418 litres) load area. We managed to fit in a couple of large garden tables with
a bit of jiggling. A luggage net is included to stop things sliding around and the boot capacity can be further enlarged by folding the 50:50 split rear seat backs forwards. In fact, used thus the load bay is surprisingly accommodating.

Standard kit is pretty good on the V6 and includes electric windows, power door mirrors, the already-mentioned iPod compatible Radio/CD player, climate control A/C, tinted glass, power steering, cruise control, 17-inch alloys shod with 215/45 tyres, auto-dimming rear view mirror, heated front seats, full leather upholstery, metal trimmed pedals and foot rest, speed sensitive wipers, automatic headlights, ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Electronic Stability Programme, Traction Control System and four airbags. And an electric tilt 'n' slide sunroof designed to effectively maximise the available headroom by opening and sliding back over the outside of the roof, rather than the inside. For the record, SatNav costs just £495.

Twist the key and when the V6 fires up you know it's a six-cylinder engine under the bonnet. The official zero-to-sixty-two figure is 8.6 seconds; top speed is 135mph. Not oh-my-gosh fast, but certainly lively enough given the automatic transmission. Step-off acceleration is crisp; but if you want to match Hyundai's figures you'll need to make full use of the accelerator travel as the V6's performance zone doesn't really kick in with full vigour until you've passed 3,600rpm on the rev-counter.

Sequential manual shifting is easy — move the selector lever to the
left from 'D' into the manual gate: push forwards to change up and pull backwards to change down. It also lets you double skip shift ie; 4th
to 2nd gear. Left in 'manual', it will automatically change up when the revs reach the red zone. It will also downshift for you when you slow down, and select first for you when you stop. The currently selected gear (P, R, N, D or 1-4) is, of course, always displayed in the main dash display and can be easily seen.

Driving, as we do, large mileages in automatics, we tend to use the selector lever (in manual mode) to come down a gear rather than stamp the loud pedal to make the auto 'box do it in Drive — and this
is probably the most entertaining way to drive the Coupé. Not that
it's not happy to do it for you in 'D'; but with only four speeds it's just that bit more instant when the driver intercedes.

The all-aluminium, 24-valve, double-overhead cam V6 pumps out a useful (and smooth) 165bhp along with 181lb ft at 4,000rpm. Work it hard and you'll hear a pleasing snarl as the revs rise. Besides, an integral part of the pleasure of driving is knowing — and hearing — what the car is doing: an experienced driver understands the right points to intercede or allow the car to do its thing.

On the open road, the 2.7-litre unit makes for a comfortable cruiser and at motorway speeds it rides smoothly. Although there is some occasional wind noise from around the tailgate on motorways, it is not intrusive. Around town the ride is generally comfortable but bumpy surfaces and potholes can sometimes make it kick back.

Fortunately the Coupé's front-wheel drive chassis is supple enough to be classed as 'up for it'. It's also fairly benign: you won't be calling on the standard-fit traction control too often. The steering is well weigh-ted — if a smidgen short on feel — but it does what your hands tell it to. It's helped by a tight turning circle and it feels, and physically is, easy to place.

A competent and well composed chassis, combined with compact dimensions means the Coupé turns in well. It's also a secure handler and can be hustled down a twisty B-road with confidence, knowing there aren't any nasty dynamic surprises waiting to catch you out.

No surprises from the brakes, either. At the front there are 11-inch ventilated discs with 10-inch discs at the rear. Anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and electronic traction control and stability systems ensure fuss-free stopping. Pedal feel is good, too.

While hot hatches and metal-roofed coupé-convertibles have done a pretty effective job of edging out 2+2 coupés, not everybody wants to run with the crowd. And the Hyundai Coupé is a smart way to stand out. Besides, it's a well-rounded car that rides and handles well, deliv-ers driving enjoyment when you're feeling game and gets you where you're going without any fuss for those easy driving days when you're alert but on auto-pilot. Want some icing on the cake? Hyundai's five-year, unlimited mileage warranty is another major benefit. Get it while you can.

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Hyundai Coupé SIII 2.7 V6 Auto | £20,597
Maximum speed: 135mph | 0-60mph: 8.6 seconds
Overall test MPG: 25.2mpg | Power: 165bhp | Torque: 181lb ft

CO2 247g/km

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--------------------------------------------------------------- Hyundai Coupe SIII