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Used Hyundai S Coupe review: 1990-1996

It was early days for Korean carmakers when Hyundai unveiled its SCoupe in 1990. Hyundai was the first Korean company to arrive here and was still finding its feet in a sceptical market in the years before the Excel X3 broke through in 1994.

The SCoupe brought another dimension to the Hyundai brand with its cute two-door coupe shape and impressive array of standard features at an affordable price.

It represented an important step away from the Korean image of cheap basic transport and introduced some much needed emotion to an otherwise bland brand.

MODEL WATCH

When first launched there was just a single model which came with standard power steering, power windows, alloy wheels, a sporty tachometer, colour coded bumpers, and an AM/FM radio cassette player.

Power was delivered by a Mitsubishi-derived 1.5-litre fuel-injected single overhead camshaft four-cylinder engine, which put out 62 kW at 5500 revs and 120 Nm or torque.

Although modest the coupe’s performance was surprisingly spirited, while at the same time it returned amazingly low fuel consumption.

There was a choice of a five-speed manual gearbox and a four-speed automatic transmission with a floor shift, with final drive going through the front wheels.

The single model was replaced by a two-model line-up in July 1991. The base model was stripped of its power windows and alloy wheels, while the LS retained them and got tinted glass as well.

A further realignment followed a couple of months later when the base model was rebadged the LS and the LS became the GLS. Both had steel wheels and wheel caps as standard, alloy wheels were then an option on both models, and both featured a rear spoiler.

A facelift in 1992 brought a new narrow slot grille and slim line headlights, along with a small power increase, to 68 kW and 132 Nm, and a hot turbocharged engine which boasted 84 kW and 168 Nm.

The LS base model then had power steering, rear spoiler, tachometer, split-fold rear seat, with cloth trim and carpet. On top of that the GLS had power windows, colour-coded bumpers, alloy wheels, and four-speaker sound.

If you stepped up to the Turbo you also got central locking, fog lamps, sports seats, sports suspension, and a leather wrapped steering wheel.

IN THE SHOP

The best advice for anyone contemplating buying an SCoupe is to hang back and think about what it is you’re buying. Park your emotion for a moment and remember that you’re buying an old car, one that was cheap and cheerful when new and is now nearing the end of the road.

Have it checked carefully by a mechanic or a motoring organization before you purchase it. A few dollars spent on a pre-purchase inspection could save you the nightmare of a troublesome car later on.

Hyundai build quality was questionable and certainly variable back when the SCoupe was launched so listen carefully for squeaks and rattles when driving your prospective purchase.

Also listen carefully for knocks and clunks in the suspension and driveline when driving, the SCoupe’s drive shafts are a known problem.

Same with the gearbox, which can be noisy in the intermediate gears, and weak synchros can make second gear difficult to select.

The engine is a Mitsubishi unit similar to that used in the Lancer and Colt. It’s relatively trouble free although it has been known to crack cylinder blocks, so carefully check around the engine for water stains that might indicate a leak.

The SCoupe was nicely equipped given its low price, and included full electrics as standard on some models. Unfortunately Korean electrics were troublesome back then which can mean trouble today.

Early Korean paint quality wasn’t great and many are suffering from paint fade, particularly some of the bright colours that are prone to fading anyway. Lack of regular cleaning and the occasional wax and polish exacerbates the problem.

IN A CRASH

The SCoupe was given an average rating in the recent used car survey, which means its crash performance, both in protecting its occupants and its likely impact on other drivers, was quite good.

There were no airbags fitted to the S Coupe.

OWNERS SAY

Campbell Laidlaw bought his SCoupe in 2001 with 113,000 km on the speedo. It now reads 215,000, and he says it’s fun to drive, handles quite well and servicing has been limited to book services.

Tina Lazaridis drives a 1996 SCoupe and loves the styling, the performance, and roominess. It’s a great car and very affordable.

M. Hargreaves bought a 1990 SCoupe when it was seven years old and with 147,000 km on the clock. Although told not to buy it because of the high km she loved the look and feel of it, and the extras. It was red with a sporty look without the sports car price, just right for a young girl looking for her first car. She drove it for five years pushing the odo reading up to 250,000 km before selling it when it became too small for her growing family. At the time of sale it was still going strong.

LOOK FOR

• Sporty styling still appeals

• Spirited performance with good economy

• Holds value quite well

• Affordable first car

• Mitsubishi mechanicals quite reliable

• Average build quality

• Troublesome electrics

THE BOTTOM LINE

Stylish and affordable first car for beginner drivers, but rising kays mean increased risk of trouble.

RATING

50/100

Pricing

Year Price From Price To
1996 $1,980 $3,630
1995 $1,980 $3,630
1994 $1,980 $3,630
1993 $1,980 $3,850
1992 $1,980 $3,850
1991 $1,980 $4,070
1990 $2,420 $4,070

View all Hyundai S COUPE pricing and specifications

Graham Smith
Contributing Journalist

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