Friday, 13 January 2012

Co-Pilots' Notes #1:- '07 Hyundai Coupe

Globally, magazines and blogs devote endless column inches to how a car is to drive. The driver, these days, is richly rewarded during his time behind the wheel. The passenger can only sit there and watch the helmsman having fun.

For me, being a passenger can be a fairly alien experience. I cover so many miles during my average working week that it can be a little disorientating to find myself in a chair without pedals nor something round in front of me. Today, though, I found myself in the co-pilots position, second in command of a Hyundai Coupe. I thought I’d record the Coupé experience and illustrate it with blurry photos taken while travelling on the A12.

It was established years ago that the Hyundai Coupé is an excellent looking piece of kit. Metaphors have been drawn likening the body styling to a Korean Ferrari 456 so many times that it has become a throwaway remark. It’s true, though. There are actually some details that, while they might have looked a little crass on an actual Ferrari, are impressively upmarket for a machine from Seoul.

I’ve commented before on the Coupé, as far as I’m concerned this car was the first machine from Korea to arrive on these shores and actually mark itself out as a desirable machine to own. It sold well, too, doing a great deal of good to Hyundais image in the market. It even appears on joyriders Playstation title of choice, Need For Speed Underground. It is, as near as makes no difference, quite a cool car.

Step from the outside to the interior and the Ferrari influence, er, disappears entirely. All is darkness within the Coupé. The driver sits behind a nice, clear, sporting little pod of dials, but we’re not talking about him. From where the passenger sits he gets a view of a sweeping swathe of sweaty looking plastic. It’s actually reasonably pleasant to the touch, but looks like the kind of material that graced the interior mouldings of an interurban coach of mid ‘80s vintage, with such a sheen to it that it’s almost wet-look.

I started off by feeling glad that I didn’t have any pedals in front of me, the footwells really aren’t very deep and my ridiculous clown feet found it a snug fit down there. I didn’t make any notes about the seats, they obviously did the job reasonably well as I can’t remember a single thing about them.

Carrying out a quick visual stock-check reveals heated, leather seats, climate control and an automatic gearbox. The screen for the climate control is an odd thing; the most unnecessarily stylized component in the entire car. It denotes an image of a seat in side profile, but reclined to such a point as to be almost recumbent. In fact the occupant looks to be in a hammock. Thirteen out of ten for imagination, but the stylists pen could probably have been better employed elsewhere.

The dashboard vents are purely functional; to a basic design that has served the industry well since what seems like the beginning of time, and displaying the “email and bacon” symbols that became a worldwide internet meme. Function before beauty, in other words; absolutely nothing wrong with that but a shame that the passenger environment can’t live up to the rakish promise of the outside.

I knew only that this was a Hyundai Coupé, there was some mystery shrouding any other detail, including just what engine there was powering it. I would have to guess, based on exhaust note and perceived performance. I soon had my answer. My driver (let’s call him Geoff) fought the gear selector into the Drive position, released the handbrake and tickled the throttle into life. And all hell didn’t brake lose.
The soundtrack was definitely that of a four, and not an especially inspiring one at that. Pulling from our minor road and into the express traffic of the A12 took quite a lot of effort from the mill, it buzzed frenetically with the needle in the tacho’s upper sector, a substantial amount of noise being issued but none of it especially enjoyable.

It’s a familiar experience; that of a car with an uncooperative automatic gearbox that conspires to sap all the excess power the engine doesn’t have. The driver agreed, citing that “it doesn’t have a lot more to give”. I asked him to perform a kickdown; he did, it came after a short delay but didn’t exactly slingshot the car towards the horizon. This, here, isn’t a sports car.

And this makes the ride quality difficult to forgive. I know that you can get a genuinely sporting Hyundai Coupé, with the 2.7 V6 engine, I’ll venture that the two-litre machine can be a lot of fun with a manual gear box. But as an auto, even with that obviously BMW influenced shifter, it doesn’t begin to justify the firm throw-me-into-a-corner suspension we’re sitting on. As a passenger that makes life pretty miserable.

The drivers perspective is probably somewhat different. On more rural roads, even though there’s not a massive amount of performance to be had, maintaining speed through the twisties is childsplay thanks to plenty of grip and very little body roll. The whole package gave the impression of a very capable hull lumbered with a disappointing power plant.

A look at the owners manual revealed that certain markets could buy the Coupé with a 1.6 litre engine. The mind boggles as to what that must have been like to drive, let alone be a passenger in, but the manual then went on to charm me with a very sweet little bit of Engrish, blurrily photographed below.

That dial is one of three that sit in the position that a Sat-Nav would be bolted into if the car were so equipped. It’s a volt gauge (no common old voltmeters here) and it sits next to an economy gauge (a vacuum gauge, I imagine) and, ahem, a torque gauge. It’s a bit silly, that’s for sure, especially as it appeared to be calibrated to 400NM. I imagine that it’s probably another vacuum gauge but with the needle operating in the opposite direction, I can’t imagine it being any more sophisticated than that.

Yeah, I know, It's blurry. It's the suspension's fault
I'm now going to steal a great big swathe from the Wikipedia entry for the MIG 25 Foxbat, then I'll explain why. It concerns information discovered about the aircraft after one was dismantled and analysed following the defection of its pilot from Russia to the West:

“...The majority of the on-board avionics were based on vacuum-tube technology, not solid-state electronics. Although they represented aging technology, vacuum tubes were more tolerant of temperature extremes, thereby removing the need for providing complex environmental controls inside the avionics bays. In addition, the vacuum tubes were easy to replace in remote northern airfields where sophisticated transistor parts might not have been readily available. With the use of vacuum tubes, the MiG-25P's original Smerch-A (Tornado, NATO reporting name "Foxfire") radar had enormous power – about 600 kilowatts. As with most Soviet aircraft, the MiG-25 was designed to be as rugged as possible. The use of vacuum tubes also makes the aircraft's systems resistant to an electromagnetic pulse, for example after a nuclear blast”.

This, in a strange way, reminds me of the Hyundai. If we forget about the damp squib that is the engine and gearbox combo, the Hyundai Coupé is the basis of a pretty damn good sports car. With a decent, powerful engine like the 2.7 V6 installed it becomes a fast one, and that combined with the rough and ready nature of much of the interior makes it feel like quite a raw, visceral one. The link with the Foxbat is that the Hyundai goes without the use of modern thinking on the inside. It doesn't need fancy-pants interior appointments or avantgarde surprise and delight touches. It does its job perfectly well without them.

It just rewards the driver a lot more than it does the passenger.