QUEBEC CITY, Quebec - This is not your father's Hyundai. At least, that's what the Korean automaker would like American car buyers to think. The company is working hard to scrap its image as a producer of low-cost and low-quality entry-level small cars.

That image largely was earned because of the Excel of the 1980s.

Hyundai Motor America is counting on its 1999 Sonata midsize sedan - and a new extended warranty program - to at least give customers cause for hesitation before blowing off the idea of buying a car from the maker of the infamous Excel.

The Sonata is completely re-engineered. It has a stiffer body, two new engines (a 2.4L 4-cyl. and 2.5L V-6, both usefully DOHC), three new transmissions and a new double-wishbone suspension at each corner, as well as standard side air bags and a passenger-presence detection system.

The V-6/automatic combo delivers only middling performance, but there are other things that Sonata does well. General Motors Corp.'s Saturn has proven that a lot of buyers don't really need high performance - just reliable, inexpensive transportation.

For these customers, Sonata presents a strong case. It's quiet, comfortable, stylish, and the interior is appealing. If Hyundai has expelled its quality demons, then Sonata is good value, with the base at $14,999 and the GLS at about $16,999.

For buyers who are tuned in to the price but remain skeptical, the company offers its "Hyundai Advantage" warranty: a five-year/60,000-mile (96,000-km) limited bumper-to-bumper coverage, 24-hour roadside assistance and 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain coverage. That's serious. - Tom Murphy