By Jim Bray
If anyone still has doubts that Hyundai is serious about being taken seriously
as a real player in the automotive marketplace, their new Tiburon should dispel
The version of the new Tiburon that I drove for a week is not only terrific
looking, its fully equipped and, best of all, its fast and fun
to drive. It was the top of the line GS-R model (you can also get base, SE,
and GT models) and if there was something Hyundai had forgotten to put in it
never leapt out at me.
Now, it may not be quite as refined as competitors such as the Acura
RSX Type S and Toyota Celica GTS, but those other models are from carmakers
whove established their pedigrees over decades. To be fair, when Honda
and Toyota were as young in the marketplace as Hyundai currently is they
were a lot more down market and far less sophisticated than they are now.
So by merely keeping in the same league as these other world beaters, Hyundai
deserves some kudos.
And dont think I was unhappy with the Tiburon during my test. Far from
it; the cars a blast to drive, plenty fast, and comfortable and plush
enough to please those in the market segment at which the Tiburon is aimed.
The all new for 2003 Tiburon is lovely to look at. My samba red tester,
besides being a radar cop magnet, lived up to the cliché that it looked
fast even standing still; parked in front of my house on a slight angle that
let me look down slightly at the drivers side front corner it looked
terrific, evoking a little late 90s Toyota Supra in the roofline,
with its Shark (Tiburon is Spanish for
shark) gill motif on the flanks adding to its overall appeal.
The new styling gets rid of most of the bumps and bulges of the previous model,
yet still looks like a Tiburon - albeit a leaner, more muscular one, and thats
fine with me. In short, the car looks as if its been to the gym and,
though I never had the pleasure of driving the previous model, when you drive
it it feels as if its been flexing its pecs as well.
Inside, the driver and front seat passenger are treated to comfortable and
supportive buckets that bolster your sides very nicely for cornering. And since
the car is a 2+2, you also get a back seat - but unless youre planning
to haul nothing more than ankle biters youd best put a for emergency
use only label on the rear part of the cockpit. The split/fold seats
themselves arent bad, and the knee room is probably adequate for this
class of car, but the fastback hatch descends from the roofline so quickly
that if youre over three feet tall (well
) youre guaranteed
to bash your head on the rear window.
No kidding. Hyundai even puts a warning sticker on the rear of the hatch,
near the handle by which you lower it, warning you not to crack someones
skull when you close it, and in practice we found that if you didnt want
to rattle your skull against the glass when you're sitting in the rear seat,
you had to sit crouched forward.
So be warned.
But sports coupes arent about rear seat room, theyre about front
seat fun, and in this area the Tiburon does very well. The driver is treated
to full instrumentation (though I must admit that I found the gauges a little
hard to read when I had my sunglasses on) and a control panel design where
every knob, button or gewgaw is easily in range of a sweep of the arms or an
extension of the fingers. The lone exception was the cruise control lever,
which is mounted about 4:30 on the steering column - and though its definitely
nitpicky, I found I had to stretch my fingers farther than I liked in order
to use it.
I also had trouble finding the perfect driving position, though
it was no big deal. I had to put the seat up close enough to let me keep my
left, clutching foot to the floor, which made the gas and brake pedals - and
the otherwise wonderful left foot rest - a little too close for my liking.
To be fair to Hyundai, however, the situation is exactly the same in my sons
Honda Prelude, so even the big, established guys can build cars without bothering
to call me up for my leg measurements.
The black interior has been called drab and Spartan by some, but I found it
a nice change from the multi-hued and overly busy interiors of some cars. It
isnt distracting, and it imparted a serious sports car feel rather than
reminding one of a vehicle that tries to balance fun with practicality - often
at the expense of both. Meanwhile, you get the usual cupholders and storage
thingys, though the glove compartment is rather small, and theres a nice
little storage thingy on the center console thats perfect for holding
a cellular phone. And you cant complain about the sporty aluminum pedals.
The materials seem to be of good quality and the buttons, knobs and geegaws
have good tactile feel, something I found lacking in Hyundais Santa
fe sport ute.
The stereo, too, is a wonderful upgrade. Its a relatively high end AM/FM/single
CD unit by Infinity, including a big subwoofer in the hatch compartment, and
it sounds splendid. It goes pretty loud, too, which is a good thing considering
the road noise that makes its way inside when you have the sunroof open.
Powering the Tiburon GS-R (and the GT) is Hyundais 2.7 liter aluminum
alloy DOHC V6 engine, the same as found in the lovely Sonata and
the Santa fe. Its a good choice; while it pumps out a comparatively modest
181 horsepower @ 6000 rpm, dont let that fool you: its very torquey,
with 177 lb.-ft @ 4000 rpm. When attached to the GS-Rs standard issue,
relatively shortly geared six speed manual transmission, you regularly get
pushed back in the seat most delightfully. A four speed automatic pretend
manual shiftronic is also available - but get the 6 speed!
Sixth gear is easy to find, too, which isnt always the case with 6 speeds.
On the downside, it isnt the easiest car to shift smoothly. The Acura
RSX, for example, positively glides from gear to gear, while the effort required
to shift the Tiburon reminds me more of a sports car from decades past. Perhaps
a retro feature designed to cash in on todays retro frenzy?
Tiburon feels just a tad sluggish from a stop, but only for a half second
or so - then the revs get up to 2500 and beyond and it positively leaps forward.
I found myself regularly leaving traffic behind at stop lights (well,
"go lights") and am convinced that if I were to own a Tiburon the
first aftermarket investment would have to be a good radar detector.
Having plenty of get up and go is one thing, and Tiburon indeed has plenty
of that in its 6 cylinder version (the base models get a 140 hp/133 lb.-ft.
four banger), but theres more to life than acceleration and cruising
speed. Fortunately, Hyundai realizes this and has equipped the Tiburon with
power assisted four wheel disc brakes fitted with ABS and traction control.
Steering is power assisted rack and pinion and though it didnt impart
the best road feel I've experienced its fine overall.
The turning circle is very good as well.
The suspension in the GS-R and GT is sport tuned and includes
independent MacPherson struts with coil springs up front and Independent Multi-link
with coil springs in the rear. They combine to give a very sporty and confidence-inspiring
feel, though when you go over a bump you feel it in every bone of your body.
Perhaps Hyundai could have sport tuned it a tad less.
On the other hand, the engine emits a nice sporting growl when you prod it;
it doesnt impart the same delight as, say, the Acura
TL Type S, but its also about twelve grand cheaper - and a more true
sports coupe than the Acura.
We took our favorite road trip into the mountains to see how the Tiburon handles
twisty bits and found it more than adequate, though unfortunately traffic prevented
us from really giving the car the workout it deserves. It devours hills and
its performance Michelin 215/45 ZR sport radials, mounted on pretty 5 spoke
17 inch wheels, bite into the curves very nicely.
As one might expect gas mileage suffers as your driving becomes more spirited.
I didnt actually figure out my mileage, but I wasnt impressed.
To be fair, however, I must mention that I had the air conditioning on most
of the time I had the Tiburon (thanks to a combination of extremely hot weather
and the cars black leather interior), and this not only has a noticeable
effect on mileage but on engine performance as well.
According to Hyundai, the EPA rates the V6 Tiburon at 18/26 miles per gallon
Priced at $20,500, the fully loaded Tiburon GS-R undercuts a reasonably comparable
Toyota Celica GTS ($22,740+) and Acura RSX Type S ($23,670+). Will the Tiburon
last as long as one has come to expect from Honda/Acura and Toyota, and will
its resale value be comparable? Its impossible to say at this point,
but Hyundai does offer a terrific warranty in the US (its more comparable
to the competitions in Canada), which could take some of the uncertainty
out of the buying decision.
To my eyes, and to my right foot, the 2003 Hyundai Tiburon seems like a very
well-built and wonderfully performing vehicle, and so while it may not offer
all the world class refinement of some competing sporty cars, it still manages
to give you a lot of bang - and a lot of fun - for your bucks.