Korea prospects

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There was a time when Hyundai’s most notable achievement was building something which, from the back, was virtually indistinguishable from the Maserati Biturbo. It’s just that the original Stellar was somewhat less powerful than the Maserati. And wholly less charismatic.

Since the marques arrival in the UK back in February 1982, 15 years after it debuted in its native Korea, Hyundai’s tenet has always been to provide a lot of car for a modest outlay. There were neither pretensions of dynamic splendour nor fancy claims of new hi-tech frontiers. Hyundais were simply regarded as workmanlike and, relatively speaking, affordable.

The arrival of the slightly curiously named Scoupe (pronounced ess-coupé, not scoop) in 1990 enhanced the marque’s image to a degree. The rakish, naturally aspirated, three-valve-per-cylinder coupé certainly wasn’t a perfect sculpture, but it marked a radical departure from previous policy.

It wasn’t particularly fast, but it was a step forward.

By late 1992, two things had happened. Firstly, there was talk that Hyundai was considering a works British Touring Car Championship programme (which has yet to be realised). Secondly, the Scoupe had evolved further with the announcement of the MVTi. This features the same 1.5 ‘Alpha’ engine as the MVi, albeit with substantially reduced compression ratio (down from 10 to 7.5:1) and the addition of a low mass turbocharger. Performance has been boosted by around 30 per cent, so the MVTi accelerates from rest to 60 mph in less than nine seconds, according to its manufacturer’s claims, and goes on to a top speed in excess of 120. Power has risen from 87 bhp to 114 (at 5,500 rpm) and torque is up from 94.8 lb ft to 126.6 (at 4,300).

Sure, to most manufacturers such figures are, nowadays, vin ordinaire. The Scoupe MVTi is impressive though. If the extremities of its performance won’t knock your teeth out, the manner of its delivery is a welcome surprise. It picks up cleanly and smoothly from low revs. Initially, it feels torquey and responsive, impressions which last until the mid-range, where the impetus fades. It’s a bit like coming down a motorway slip road in an Escort RS2000 only to find that it turns into a 1.6 LX by the time you reach the carriageway. . .

The Scoupe understeers in true front-drive tradition, and it also loses grip rather earlier than you might expect. This, surely, is a function of too little rubber? The MVTi shares 185/60 tyres and 14 inch rims with the lesser MVi, albeit on alloy rims. That said, the MVTi’s handling is generally sound, and always predictable.

Its other dynamic attributes are similarly satisfactory. There are no major vices. The steering is a trifle woolly, but you soon get used to it and the car is easy to place with accuracy and confidence. The brakes appear a little spongy, but the car always stops in time. The interior looks cheap, but there are no irritating trim rattles. There is, however, a lot of equipment: electric mirrors and windows, adjustable steering column, leather trimmed steering wheel and gear lever knob, pull-out drinks holder in the centre console (not so daft as it sounds), front fog lamps and remote alarm/immobiliser. The latter, incidentally, does not actually lock or unlock the doors.

After a long drive on a route comprising the M4 and some of its twistier lorry-filled tributaries, the onset of thigh ache was noticeable, and no amount of fiddling could produce a more comfortable driving position. That, really, was the only gripe I had.

The Scoupe MVTi is no world-beater, but is is a pleasant small car, whose striking looks have been enhanced by a recently lowered bonnet line and, arguably, the neat rear spoiler. Perhaps the next generation of Hyundais will spearhead a charge onto the same dynamic plane occupied by the best of Europe and Japan, but for the time being this represents an encouraging effort at a reasonable price. S A