Hyundai first entered the sport-coupe market in 1997 with the first-generation Tiburon, which joined the South Korean companys line of value-priced sedans. A second-generation edition emerged for the 2000 model year.
After sitting out the start of the 2002 model year, Hyundai had a new Tiburon ready for introduction during the first quarter of the 2002 calendar year as an early 2003 model. First seen at the Frankfurt Motor Show in Germany in September 2001, the latest Tiburon made its North American debut at the South Florida International Auto Show a month later. Prices start at $15,999 with a four-cylinder engine and $17,999 for the GT V6.
First-generation Tiburons descended from Hyundais HCD-I and HCD-II concept cars, which were built with flowing lines and abundant curves. Hyundai says the second-generation models adopted a harder edge. The 2003 Tiburon is built on a new and unique platform, and a V-6 engine and six-speed-manual transmission are available for the first time. Previous Tiburons were built on the same platform as the Elantra sedan.
Styled in South Korea, the 2003 Tiburon blends straight and curved lines in what Hyundai calls an effort to emphasize vitality and strength. The body features a high belt line and a chopped greenhouse, with a steeply raked windshield and back window. Large, low-profile, high-performance tires help to impart an aggressive stance. Tiburons have all-disc brakes, a fully independent suspension, and front and rear stabilizer bars.
In addition to producing a stiffer chassis, engineers have added a front subframe. At 99.6 inches, the Tiburons wheelbase is 2.2 inches longer than before. Its overall length has been increased by 2.1 inches to an even 173 inches. The Tiburon also has grown a little in height and width, to 52.3 and 69.3 inches, respectively. A power moonroof is optional.
When equipped with the V-6 engine and six-speed gearbox, the GT coupe gets a handling package that includes 17-inch tires and a revised suspension, with spring rates increased by 10 percent and stabilizer bars that are larger in diameter. The standard tires are 16-inchers. A body-colored rear spoiler is installed on the GT V6 coupe.
Headroom, legroom and shoulder room are said to be larger than in prior Tiburons, and cargo volume totals 14.7 cubic feet. Leather seating surfaces are standard in the GT V6 coupe. A six-speaker stereo with a CD player is standard in the base Tiburon, while the GT V6 gets a seven-speaker Infinity CD system. Standard equipment in all models includes air conditioning, remote keyless entry, power windows and door locks, and a tilt steering column.
Under the Hood
Hyundai borrowed the Tiburon GT V6s 2.7-liter dual-overhead-cam V-6 engine from the Sonata sedan and Santa Fe sport utility vehicle. Rated at 170 horsepower, it mates with one of three available transmissions: a four-speed Shiftronic automatic, a five-speed manual or a six-speed manual. The base Tiburon carries a 140-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that mates with either the four-speed Shiftronic automatic transmission or the five-speed manual. Side-impact airbags are standard, and antilock brakes are optional.
Shapely lines dont translate to quite as appealing a driving experience as expected. The GTs ride is bouncy on rough pavement, but rebounding is well controlled. Even though the car stays properly on course, it doesnt impart a full sense of security.
Handling is good, as the GT coupe steers easily and maneuvers with some nimbleness in corners. It is stable on the highway, and takes curves reasonably well, but the Tiburon falls short of some rivals. Road and tire sounds are prominent, but the engine is, if anything, too quiet for a car of this sort. Minimal noise can actually make it harder to shift gears properly. The six-speed gearbox is notchy and somewhat stiff, but the clutch engages smoothly for easy takeoffs.
The seats are supportive, legroom and elbow space is good, but headroom is meager. Recessed gauges can be hard to see if sunlight comes from the rear.