Renault and Peugeot at least have the relative security of strong domestic demand for top-of-the-range models, justifying their major research and development investment costs. But smaller importers to the European market have always faced an uphill struggle, and one which only Lexus appears to be winning. This has not deterred new entrants, however, and next month Hyundai's XG30 becomes the latest executive model to make a pitch for the top slice of the market, dominated by company buyers.
The Korean manufacturer has adopted the only route really open to it by specifying the distinctly American-looking XG30 to the gunnels while maintaining a cut-throat pricing structure. Acres of leather stretch across comfortable seats and provide a comfortable vantage point for gadget-fans to play with a host of buttons and switches.
A trip computer, electric front seats with two memory settings, electric folding door mirrors, climate control, electric sunroof, cruise control, CD autochanger and Sony MiniDisc player are all standard. And the good news for hi-tech devotees is that the smart thinking goes even further in the XG30.
A presence detector, for example, avoids the unnecessary inflation of the passenger airbags, the heated door mirrors automatically tilt when reversing, and the headlights even have an automatic setting to switch on and off when driving through tunnels. Further safety options include twin front and side airbags, ABS with electronic brake force distribution, and five three-point seatbelts.
Under the bonnet, drivers also enjoy the benefits of a new 3.0-litre, 24-valve V6 engine that generates 192bhp and maximum torque of 192lb-ft at 4,000rpm. Indeed, such is the low-down power of the engine that it was turning at well below 3,000rpm while cruising at a legal 80mph on French autoroutes.
Official statistics show the XG30 has a top speed 140mph, and a 0-60mph time of 9.3 seconds, although the car seems to gain momentum rather than accelerate. For higher performance, drivers can move the dual-gate, five-speed transmission from a smooth-changing automatic to a superb clutchless 'manual' where gear changes are affected by nudging the gear lever forwards or backwards.
This gearbox was developed in tandem with Porsche, and there is a heavy, well-engineered German feel throughout the XG30. Unfortunately, our test model developed a fault in its ABS system that illuminated three warning lights - the ABS, handbrake and cruise control. A dealer insisted that 'only' the ABS was faulty, but 'only' and braking faults do not sit easily together, especially after less than 1,500 miles.
At least the XG30 comes with three years' unlimited mileage warranty and three years' RAC cover as standard. But perhaps the best thing about the XG30 is its £20,999 price tag. Hyundai claims that a similarly specified 3.0-litre Vauxhall Omega would cost 28% more, although as canny fleet operators will know, it's not always the up-front price that dictates a car's cost effectiveness.
CAP Motor Research forecasts that the Hyundai Sonata, a car below the XG30 in size, will be worth 29% of its list price at three years and 60,000 miles - the same percentage as the Vauxhall Omega 3.0-litre Elite. If the XG30 can match the Sonata (residual value forecasts for the XG30 were not available at the time of going to press) at 29%, then its depreciation will significantly under-cut that of the Vauxhall that has much further to fall.
The XG30 certainly appears a competitive proposition for drivers seeking an 'all-singing, all-dancing' 3.0-litre executive car for under £25,000, even if the same price band also includes some of the most desirable upper medium sector cars from prestige marques. The 'budget' appeal of the XG30 also sits awkwardly with its EU combined fuel consumption figure of 26.4mpg - which fell to just 21mpg on a 600 mile motorway charge to Geneva.
Hyundai claims the XG30 will appeal to chauffeur firms looking for value-priced luxury, and there is no faulting the car's front and rear legroom and huge boot. The car also provides a smooth ride and refined motoring, although there is discernible wind noise from the A-pillar, perhaps due to its frameless front windows. The question remains, however, over how the car will appeal to the UK's badge-sensitive company car drivers.
In the current climate of escalating fuel costs and carbon dioxide-based vehicle excise duty and benefit-in-kind tax, the XG30 is a throwback to the US gas-guzzlers of yore, and in more than just its styling. Yet my 600 mile drive to Geneva proved ache-free and relaxing, and drivers prepared to face the fuel bills and BIK charge are assured a very pleasant partnership with the XG30 - there is certainly no doubting its cabin luxury or the smoothness of its engine.
Hyundai insiders see their company as the new Honda, and it's easy to see the XG30 as a rival to former, if not present generation Legend models. All the luxury is there, the engineering is catching up with the best in the sector, and only the badge needs a lift. In the meantime, the XG30's competitive price tag (cheaper than Fleet NewsNet's long-term test Honda Accord 1.8SE) is a definite step in the right direction.