WITH the introduction of the mid-sized Elantra saloon and the sporty Scoupe Turbo, Hyundai has made a serious bid for a niche in the Hongkong market. Offering good value at the affordable end of the territory's car jungle, the South Korean carmaker has singled out the consumer who does not have unlimited cash to spend on personal transport. The latest addition to the Hyundai line-up and its least expensive model to be sold in Hongkong is the Excel, available either as a four-door saloon or a five-door hatchback. Korean International Motors has wisely brought the Excel to Hongkong powered by the 1.5-litre engine, declining to offer the smaller 1.3-litre powerplant available elsewhere. The four-cylinder inclined engine, which incorporates multi-port fuel injection, produces 83 brake horsepower and drives through the front wheels via a five-speed manual transmission. Hyundai stylists have made the most of what is a practical, people-moving package. Compared with the original model, made available abroad two years ago, the Excel is more aerodynamic by virtue of a lower, sloping nose. The subsequent profile is more wedge-shaped and every attempt has been made to bring sleekness to the angular lines, including body-colour door handles, mirrors and bumpers. Styled wheels complete the package. The test car was the five-door version and the rather blunt look at the rear dictated by the hatchback design was softened by side-quarter windows (which also provide better over-the-shoulder visibility). A rear spoiler also helps de-emphasise the squared-off rear. Inside, the Excel is utilitarian, as you might expect, but what you might not expect are a number of standard touches not often found in base-model packages. First there are power windows and central electric door locking, the controls for which are conveniently located in a small panel behind the gear lever. Air-conditioning is standard, as is an adjustable steering wheel and a driver's seat with tilt-adjust and lumbar support. In the entertainment department, the little sedan boasts a deluxe audio system with four speakers, a CD player and an automatic power antenna. The Excel's tall cabin gives generous headroom front and back, and only long-legged individuals will have any complaint about leg accommodation. At the touch of a remote release, the large door to the boot opens to reveal a luggage area of substantial proportions with a spare tyre stored beneath the floor. With the rear seats folded forward, the cargo carrying capacity more than doubles. While the Excel is not a lightning performer, the manual gearbox and willing four-cylinder engine are an adequate combination. The automatic transmission could not do the Excel justice and it is doubtful it would be worth the $10,000 to have it fitted. The Excel's manual gearbox is a small, easy-to-handle package that feels at home in city traffic despite the bother of shifting gears. The four-wheel independent suspension is stiff without being rigid. Ventilated discs in the front and drums in the back do an adequate job of arresting the Excel, despite the absence of ABS. Pedal pressure is good and a great deal of effort is necessary to lock up the wheels. At $98,000 the Hyundai Excel is one of the least expensive ways in Hongkong to put yourself behind the wheel of a new car. Considering it delivers on its promise of good basic transport with a perk or two thrown in, it is also good value for your money.