Hyundai takes another giant step forward with its quick, enjoyable Tiburon sports coupe.
Tiburon for 2003 has been significantly changed and upgraded from a bland little cruiser to a fast and attractive craft that performs as good as it looks. In the Tiburon GT V6, there’s a hot little V-6 engine with a sweetly aggressive exhaust note, an optional six-speed transmission, handling that is lithe and balanced, and a well-equipped interior with supportive seats and an excellent stereo.
All for $18,000. In this price range, most automakers flounder with low-end base models that often offer little more than image, while Hyundai brings in a satisfying performer with few complaints.
Tiburon continues Hyundai’s march from obscurity, when it was building lumpish, unremarkable economy cars with a sour reputation for falling apart. In the past couple of years, Hyundai has moved up into the big leagues, with decent products and booming sales.
From the highly successful Santa Fe sport utility vehicle, the Sonata family sedan, XG350 luxury sedan and now Tiburon, Hyundai keeps raising its standards and undercutting the competition.
Hyundai seems to have its quality problems under control, but one thing had me wondering. That was the shift knob, a two-piece assembly held together by what seemed like a sheet-metal screw. It kept coming loose and spinning around, even coming off in my hand. Nothing that a dollop of epoxy wouldn’t fix, but it made me question how the rest of the car was put together.
Other than that glitch, I was pretty well impressed with the Tiburon. It’s really an object lesson on how much car can be offered for how little.
Part of the budget equation is Hyundai’s reliance on existing components, such as the platform from the Sonata, which was tweaked by suspension engineers for greater response. Or the 2.7 liter V-6 from the Santa Fe and Sonata, still putting out 181 horsepower but delivering more spark in this lighter vehicle.
The base model Tiburon still soldiers on with a 140-horse four cylinder, with the base price around $16,000. That certainly would be adequate, but there’s no way the strong, flexible V-6 should be passed up, considering the performance edge it represents.
The optional six-speed – a five-speed is standard – shifts nicely, and the close gear ratios help keep the engine’s power band right in its sweet spot. There’s also an available four-speed automatic.
Although the Tiburon is front-wheel drive, the torque-steer effect is negligible, and understeer is well-controlled. Handling is excellent, but the tradeoff is a stiff ride and tires that rumble and thump. On the freeway, the tire noise gets annoying. On city streets, formerly unnoticed irregularities become significant thuds.
But you have to admire engineers who chose handling over comfort for this sports coupe. On tight, two-lane roads, the Tiburon dances through turns, with quick steering response and so lid suspension control.
The look is sporty and distinctive with deeply grooved character lines on the hood and classic proportions to the fastback cabin. The 45X17 Michelins bolster the look , though they do contribute to that harshness and road noise.
Being a Tiburon, which is Spanish for shark, the gills behind the front wheels are both fun and appropriate.
The interior is roomy for two, but forget that tight back seat with its complete lack of legroom or headroom.
At its base price of $17,999, the Tiburon GT V6 includes all the goodies, including sport-tuned suspension; fog lights; 17-inch alloy wheels; power windows, locking and side mirrors; eight-speaker stereo with booming subwoofer; side air bags; leather seats and steering wheel; and cruise control.
The only options on the test car were in an UltraSports package, which included the six-speed, racy aluminum pedals and a towering rear spoiler (anyone over 18 should skip that affectation), all for $ 0. Freight and handling cost $495.
It adds up to a successful new entry among small sports coupes, affordable yet without compromises in performance or style. Plus, think of the amusement factor as your friends stare wide-eyed and exclaim, “That’s a Hyundai?”
Hyundai Tiburon GT V6
Vehicle type: Four-passenger, two-door hatchback, front-wheel drive.
Base price: $17,999.
Price as tested: $18,744.
Engine: 2.7-liter V-6, 181 horse power at 6,000 rpm; 177 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed manual.
Wheelbase: 99.6 inches.
Curb weight: 3,023 pounds.
EPA mileage: 18 city, 26 highway.
– Nice performance.
– Sporty styling.
– Value pricing.
– Weird quality glitch.
– Harsh ride.
– Worthless back seat.