Hyundai’s Tiburon is like a teen-ager who has matured overnight. The difference between this model and its predecessor is startling.

The previous Tiburon was created with bold strokes, and some thought the styling was a bit overwrought. Its separate round headlights, arched fenders and round nose gave it a distinctive look, to be sure. Generation two, however, has definitely gone to finishing school.

The new Tiburon looks as slick as any sports coupe in the segment. The low top and side window design looks classically Italian. There are two versions, the base Tiburon with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine and the Tiburon GT V-6. I drove the latter. It had a sticker price of $18,744, which is pretty remarkable for a car with a V-6, six-speed transmission and 17-inch wheels.

From the chassis up, Tiburon is all new for 2003. The wheelbase is 99.6 inches, up from 97.4. The new chassis is also longer, and that yields a bigger interior. The front seats have plenty of room. The low roofline and low seating position is not as handy for older folks, but kids wonÕt even notice. The back seat is still quite small, but it folds forward to open up the hatch area for cargo. The generous trunk also houses a large stereo subwoofer that pounds out lots of bass, a feature that is important to many young buyers.

The interior is as understated as the exterior. Nice textures and simple gauges are complemented by rubber-trimmed knobs for climate control. Heated outside mirrors, power windows, power locks, air conditioning, cruise control, tilt wheel and fog lights are standard on the GT. The test carÕs UltraSports package, a $250 option, includes aluminum pedals, rear spoiler, six-speed transmission and black cloth seats. A power sunroof is optional. With all options, the GT falls $3 short of $20,000.

Not only is the body new, but this is the first time a V-6 has been offered. This 2.7-liter engine is the same as that used in the Sonata and Santa Fe. It has 181 horsepower. Coupled to a six-speed manual gearbox, it gives the Tiburon energetic performance. Aside from an occasional shudder from the test car’s clutch, the manual transmission enables the drive to get the most out of this engine. This DOHC unit is smooth and refined. It makes good power at low and middle speeds so it doesnÕt have to be flogged every moment to get it moving.

The powertrain is warranted for 10 years or 100,000 miles.

Driving enthusiasts will like the ease with which the transmission shifts, and having six ratios instead of five gives a gear for almost every situation. Sixth gear is relaxed for quiet highway cruising, although wind and road noise were noticeable at 70 mph. The Tiburon is not as quiet as some of the other cars in this class.

The low-profile tires on 17-inch rims looked great, but they created some thumping over choppy pavement. Very low profile tires look cool but they tend to ride harshly and are easily damaged by potholes in the winter.

Handling was on par with other cars in this segment. The multilink rear suspension absorbs bumps easier than a beam axle. The GT V-6 has slightly stiffer springs and shock absorbers. The steering was light and the body sat fairly flat in turns. On a racetrack, the Tiburon would probably feel too soft, but in daily city driving it was fine.

Four-wheel disc brakes are standard, but anti-lock is optional.

Sports coupes are generally the province of young buyers, and offering up one this attractive and well-equipped, at such a reasonable price, is sure to attract youngsters to the Tiburon.

Our test car, a GT V-6, had a base price of $17,999. The UltraSport package and freight brought the sticker to $18,744.

Five years or 60,000 miles.

Point: The new Tiburon is handsome beyond its price. The mature design is clean, understated and attractive. A V-6 is offered for the first time, along with a six-speed transmis ion. Low-profile tires and a sports suspension give responsive handling and a performance stance.

Counterpoint: Like all sports coupes, the back seat is not really meant for adults. The ride from the low-profile tires and sports suspension is a little harsh over choppy pavement.

Engine: 2.7-liter, 181-hp V-6
Transmission: Six-speed Rear-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 99.6 inches
Curb weight: 3,023 lbs.
Base price: $17,999
As driven: $18,744
Mpg rating: 18 city, 26 hwy.
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