1986 Hyundai Excel hatchback coupe

Hyundai was new to the United States in 1986, and the first product they sold was the Excel, available in hatchback coupe, hatchback sedan, and sedan versions.

The Excel L‘s standard powertrain was a 4G15 68 bhp 1.5 liter/90 ci inline four with a carburetor paired with a four-speed manual. The GL and GLS upmarket trims included a five-speed manual and had a three-speed automatic available as an option. Whichever transmission was chosen, the Excel was not exactly fast: Car and Driver reported a 0-60 time of just over 16 seconds.

Fuel economy by 1986 standards was 28 city/31 highway with the four-speed manual—24/28 by current standards. Predictably, the five-speed manual was better on the highway, while the three-speed automatic was worse. With a 10.6-gallon fuel tank on all but the GLS/automatic combination, Excel owners could expect a range of between 235 to 300 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

1986 Hyundai Excel advertisement

Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Excel’s styling was pleasing, if somewhat anonymous. At the time, some Hyundai executives were concerned that it looked a little too much like the concurrent Izuzu I-Mark/Chevrolet Spectrum—also designed by Giugiaro.

With a base price of $4,995, the Excel L was the second cheapest car for sale in the United States—the Yugo GV was, of course, the cheapest. One of Hyundai’s strategies was to differentiate with standard equipment compared to the economy car competition. Thus, standard exterior and mechanical equipment included halogen headlamps, an electric rear window defroster, front wheel drive, rack-and-pinion steering, power front disc/rear drum brakes, and name-brand Goodyear Corsa P155/80R13 all-season tires (a size still available) on 13-inch styled steel wheels. Inside, a lockable glove box, a color-keyed dash, vinyl reclining front bucket seats, and split fold-down rear seats were included.

Moving up to the $5,895 GL added tinted glass, styled steel wheels with hub covers and wheel trim rings, a remote hatch release, dual remote control rearview mirrors, an analog quartz clock, a full center console, cloth/vinyl front bucket seats, and Luxury door trim with cloth inserts.

The top-of-the-line $6,395 GLS included full wheel covers, thicker carpeting, a color-keyed Luxury steering wheel, cloth front bucket seats with driver’s side height and lumbar adjustment, and a Panasonic ETR AM/FM stereo cassette deck with auto-reverse and two speakers.

Individual options were few—a power sliding sunroof, Goodyear Corsa P175/70R13 all-season tires on aluminum alloy wheels, air conditioning, and a Panasonic ETR AM/FM stereo cassette deck with auto-reverse, Dolby noise reduction, and four speakers. Initial reviews of the Excel were decent and initial sales were quite strong, with 168,882 sold in the 1986 model year.

The view of the Excel from today is not so kind. The Excel turned out to be notably less reliable than the Yugo and also had significant rust problems—even compared to other mid-1980s economy cars. Hyundai now barely acknowledges the Excel, though it occasionally gets a mention in press releases. I haven’t seen a first-generation Excel in many years.

Make mine Medium Red Metallic, please.

This post is my first Hyundai article, but one of many on vanished vehicles.