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New Car Test - Piloting the 1999 Hyundai FX Coupe

For only 30 grand, Hyundai's new FX coupe is a great sporty car with heaps of eye-catching qualities. The only problem is it can be a bit of a handful when you're really pushing it...

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar and Michael Knowling

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Do you have what it takes to pilot the new 1999 Hyundai FX coupe? Hyundai's mission statement says "to be a great pilot you need to be able to think quick and act even faster" - a trait AutoSpeed discovered to be very much the case when at the controls of the FX fighter (see the breakout at the end of the article). You see, it's a machine that manoeuvres very well up to a point - but once you venture beyond that, you'd better have Top Gun credentials. Certainly, to get the very best handling out of the FX you need to be a better-than-average pilot with plenty of flying hours. In the wet, we fear things might be even more extreme.

But for someone more inclined to gentle banks rather than barrel rolls, the FX is a friendly place to be. Nestling into the cockpit, the pilot is fronted with an array of clustered metallic gauges, a sports trimmed steering wheel and gear knob and a dash layout that's fully sculpted and fresh. There are controls for power windows, power mirrors, cruise control as well as a dinky-looking rotary knobs for ventilation control. However, during our FX mission, we noticed the controls for the fog lights were difficult to locate and comprehend. Try finding the fog light switch in the dark and you'll probably fly into a mountain...

Included in the spec list is an explosive CD/tuner unit with front door speakers and tweeters, and large oval-shaped rear speakers. It sounds great and is easy to use in the heat of combat, with simple to understand markings and buttons. And for those cool fly-boy movie types, there's even a pop-down sun-glass holder on the ceiling. Those long distance flights are made easily bearable by a pair of deeply-contoured front seats that also offer good lateral support - without having huge side wings that are difficult to get past when getting in and out. A comfortable driving position is achieved by adjusting both the driver's seat height and steering wheel angle. But the FX does lose points by having some windscreen reflections - directly in front of the pilot.

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With the 2 litre power plant at full thrust, in-cabin noise in the coupe is kept low through added body strengthening, sound insulation pads and foam filled pillar cavities. However, our test car did develop some annoying squeaks from around the top of the starboard frameless door. Your head will be pinned back (?) when the multi-point injected, DOHC, 16 valve engine releases all of its 102kW (at 6000 rpm) and 180Nm (at 4800). Being a good little performer, it'll also pull all the way to 6800 rpm without noticeably dying off. Under load the engine is a bit rough, though. No expensive diet of high-octane fuel - let alone contaminated avgas - is required, with just conventional 91 RON octane unleaded being sufficient. Drinking from a 55 litre tank, we averaged around 8.2 litres per 100 kilometres - equating to an effective strike range of 670 kilometres.

Directly behind the co-pilot's seat the FX carries on the theme of comfortable seating and good space utilisation - however, headroom for the two rear passengers is very limited at 875mm. The seats are of the 50:50 split fold type and even with these in the up position, there is a reasonable 362 litres of cargo volume to be filled. Lift up the boot floor and you'll also see Hyundai haven't skimped with the spare wheel - it's a 15 inch alloy, just like the rest of 'em.

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The '99 Coupe uses a revised independent suspension system. Coil springs are under each wing with lower A-arm MacPherson strut fronts, plus quad lateral and twin longitudinal links at the tail. Stabiliser bars are fitted to front and rear. Tuned to high performance specs by "a German specialist", the car turns in crisply and holds its line well. But if you need to ease off the throttle, expect the back to move around. In the wet, we feel it could border on being dangerous.

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Power assisted rack and pinion steering gives an ideally weighted feel, good feedback and good response at the straight-ahead position. The Coupe does tram-track on daggy roads, though.

You can always rely on the FX pulling up powerfully and without fade thanks to its dual diagonal, split circuit, power assisted four wheel disc braking system. The more basic strike SX version makes do with rear drums. The FX also sports 15" alloy wheels with 205/50 V-rated Michelin Pilot SX tyres that can easily be made to squeal.

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The standard transmission for the FX is a relatively long-throw 5-speed manual. Mostly it's got a nicely positive feel, although we were caught on occasions slipping it into third when we were looking for first. The clutch action is light, although its take-up point is a little too high in the travel. But for those who are more into leisurely commercial flights, an electronically controlled dual-mode 4-speed automatic is optional at extra cost. Our test car (with its 5-speed 'box) was timed to reach 100 km/h in mid 7 seconds and it felt like a car capable of mid 15 quarter miles - as some other testers have demonstrated.

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Safety features for the FX include dual side intrusion bars in each door, impact absorbing front and rear bumpers (good for up to 8 km/h) and height-adjustable front seat belt top anchor points. A rigid body with integrated front and rear crumple zones further increases the likelihood of survivors in the event of disaster. There is no ejector seat option. The FX is secured from enemy hands by a remote control alarm system that's wired to the central locking.

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"Like an F-16 super jet", the coupe's low, one piece nose, sleek shape and flush trims give it a competent Cd figure of 0.33. Styling wise, it's got "muscular lines which sweep back to a wedge tail and rear wing spoiler on the FX". Roll it all together and a couple of people we showed the car to commented that it looks like a Toyota - namely a previous shape little Celica. Some people love it - others find its styling details ghastly. Those talking-point new "integrated projection" headlights work well, putting out a very intense light. Another thing we noticed about the FX's exterior is how thin and flimsy the rear spoiler felt and sounded. It's definitely not the sort of spoiler you'd want to push down on to close the rear hatch...

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So what does a ticket cost for your very own FX coupe?

Well most independent young cadets with a steady income should be able to afford the reasonable A$29,990 asking price (with the automatic version a little more at A$31,852). In the Australian marketplace, the Hyundai dogfights with the 1.8 litre Mitsubishi MR Lancer coupe (A$24,490), Toyota Paseo 1.5 (A$26,990) and the aging Honda Integra (A$34,950). On top of that basic price, there's the option of the Luxury Pack (leather trim and sunroof) and Safety Pack (ABS with four wheel discs and driver's airbag). These add an extra A$2300 and A$2400 to the investment. You can also select whether you want metallic or mica paint - at an extra A$165 and A$198 respectively. Oh, and the choice of colours ranges to the very, very bright! On top of this, a full five year/130,000km warranty covers the beast.

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For those wanting contemporary sporty looks, a long warranty, excellent practicality and sufficient get-up-and-go, it's a great buy. But if you want a jet fighter with predictable and delightful handling, go elsewhere.

Anyway, you can always suit up and take one for just a test flight....

Spin, Spin, Spin!

Take one around a few suburban corners and the Coupe feels good. The turn-in is crisp and the body sits flat - both traits in a FWD of very high rear roll stiffness. But another trait of this set-up is lift-off oversteer, or, in the case of the Hyundai, even just trailing throttle oversteer....

Fifteen corners down my favourite stretch of twisty, narrow, rural road and the Coupe felt competent. At the speed I was going there were no slides, little tyre squeal - all felt comfortable and relaxed. You could sense the load being borne by the outside rear tyre, but it never felt excessive.

I approached a double-apex corner, marked at 35 km/h and bounded on one side by a guardrail overlooking a plunging valley, and on the other, by a vertical rock cliff. The Hyundai was settled and stable after negotiating the first apex - after all, it was all happening at only about seven-and-a-half-tenths - and then on a trailing throttle, I turned into the next part of the corner.

With terrifying speed and zero warning, the back arced out in a massive oversteer slide.

I grabbed a huge turn of opposite lock - then realised almost instantly that the car was still going to spin - and figured that stopping before I either went through the rail or into the rockface was vital. I ABS'd to a halt in the middle of the narrow road, facing the way that I'd come and with the car scarcely any further down the road. The Coupe had spun in almost its own length, with incredible luck touching nothing on the way....

What had happened? Just where had that outside rear tyre been when the back had suddenly and irretrievably lost traction? I drove back and forth, examining minutely the scene of my near disaster. And then I saw it: there was just a scattering of gravel on the outside edge of the bitumen...

In an emergency swerve-and-recover, in a this-corner-is-sharper-than-I-thought throttle lift-off, through an oops-there's-a-diesel-spill-here roundabout, or yes - as in my case - when a driver misses a change in road conditions, the Coupe can be an enormous handful.

It's the only car that I have ever spun...

Julian Edgar

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