EXPERT REVIEW

The Detroit Newspapers's view


Hyundai loves to talk about Lexus, especially when the conversation includes the 2007 Hyundai Veracruz, an all-new seven-passenger crossover.

When I sat down with a few Hyundai officials about a month ago, they often mentioned “Hyundai” and “Lexus” — Toyota Motor Corp.’s successful luxury brand — in the same breath. A current television commercial compares Hyundai’s premium flagship sedan, the Azera, to the Lexus LS 460. It emphasizes every shopper’s dilemma. Why pay more?

Why spend $40,000 on a luxury crossover when you can pay $27,000 on one that looks a lot like the Real McCoy?

But is the all-new Veracruz comparable to the creme de la creme of three-row big crossovers?

No.

The Veracruz fails to close the luxury gap in the crossover market in the same way the 2006 Azera did in the sedan sector. That car feels luxurious at a modest price. The Veracruz is just a photocopy of a photocopy.

It’s a heavily loaded knockoff that doesn’t hold its own against similarly priced crossovers such as the Honda Pilot, the Toyota Highlander and the Saturn Outlook. Those are the real competitors, not the Lexus RX 350.

While the Veracruz offers a number of options and accessories and excellent safety features, its Achilles’ heel is performance.

Correcting the corrections

Driving the Veracruz every day on Interstate 75 felt more like piloting a skiff on the Detroit River. Floating over the bumps only made the steering feel looser and more disconnected from the road.

During long sweeping turns like those on an exit ramp, I would over steer slightly, waiting for the vehicle to heed my command. That made the Veracruz’s body roll and sway heavily, causing me to correct the steering the other way — correcting my over correction. I must have looked like I was trying to spell my name with my drive line.

The 3.8-liter V-6, the same engine in the Azera sedan, pushes 260-horsepower and 257-pound-feet of torque but leaves the Veracruz, up to 800 pounds heavier than the Azera, feeling sluggish. A standard Asin six-speed transmission helps smooth out the acceleration, but to reach peak torque (at 4,500 rpms) I had to stomp on the accelerator — something you do on any vehicle. The reason most vehicles change gears before hitting top power is to smooth out the ride and improve gas mileage. The Veracruz gets 17 mpg in city driving and 24 mpg on the highway, according to the EPA. That’s on par with similar-sized vehicles, which all had smaller engines. The Outlook gets 17/25 with better horsepower; the Honda Pilot hits 17/22; and the Highlander, 18/24.

Additionally, the Veracruz offers clutchless shifting, called Shiftronic, so you can bypass the automatic and to push the engine harder.

Motivating interiors

The chief reason to buy a Veracruz is for all of its bells and whistles. The interior feels comfortable and offers lots of nooks and crannies to store items.

The selection of options seems very Lexus like: Sunroof, a backup warning system, heated front seats, 115-volt power outlet — that allows you to plug in a computer — rain-sensing windshield wipers and a power liftgate, a very convenient feature on these big people haulers, especially when unloading groceries. But these features have moved from just luxury vehicles and can be found on close competitors at comparable prices.

Some convenient features include controls on the steering wheel for the stereo and cruise control, a key fob that unlocks the door as you approach, and a third row that folds flat into the floor.

The 50/50 second row split bench seat folds easily, and when combined with the folding third row, works well to create 86.8 cubic feet of open space. Even the front passenger seat folds down to allow for hauling extra long items.

The third row, which felt cramped (I’m 6 feet tall), is fine for kids, and it’s easy to jump back there by sliding a single lever on the side of the second row seats.

The driver’s seat would not push back far enough for me to sit comfortably, even after adjusting the telescopic steering wheel.

I cannot find a flaw on the Veracruz when it comes to safety features. Aside from the standard Electronic Stability Control, traction control and standard anti-lock brakes, the Veracruz includes front airbags and side curtain airbags for all three rows. It also has active head restraints for the driver and front passenger. It’s the standard every carmaker should, and due to consumer demands, will, eventually follow.

Veracruz misses the mark

The Veracruz’s exterior resembles the RX 350. It’s the style of many past crossovers and seems dated as a 2007 model.

Standing on 17-inch tires, the 15-foot, 10-inch Veracruz adopts the oversized station wagon look more than an SUV. Its long lines and steep angled windshield keep with its car-like look; it’s a profile many vehicles possess on the road, blending into the cityscape instead of standing out. It’s the kind of vehicle you’ll walk by twice in a parking lot before you realize that, wait, there’s my car.

The Korean carmaker, which has been building a strong portfolio with its Southwestern-named crossovers — the bubbly Santa Fe and sporty Tucson — misses the target with the Veracruz. Where those vehicles spark an emotion and stand out as true alternatives, the Veracruz falls into the pack of new seven passenger crossovers.

Hyundai officials say they don’t see striking similarities between the RX 350 and the Veracruz, and cite the company’s industry-leading 10-year, 100,000 mile warranty as proof of their commitment to stand behind their work. The company did use the Lexus to set its performance goals for the Veracruz, but that’s common for any carmaker. Once the American public lets go of its bias against the brand, they say, it will learn how well their vehicles can perform.

That’s true with some of Hyundai’s vehicles, but not with the Veracruz.

Scott Burgess is the auto critic for The Detroit News. He can be reached at (313) 223-3217 or sburgess@detnews.com.

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