Circling its competitors with a teeth-baring grin.
by Jill Amadio
BALBOA ISLAND, Calif. - It's amazing how a Porsche look-alike (at least from the front end) that costs around $15,000 can look perfectly at home parked at the entrance to one of Southern California's toniest resorts, the Four Seasons Hotel in Newport Beach.
Hyundai's Tiburon sports coupe seemed to fit right in as the valet-parking attendant came to get my keys. Guests asked what it was and gaped when I smugly boasted of its low price though they seemed to sniff at the Hyundai name. "Sure looks like one of those German sports cars to me," said a tuxedoed young man with a debutante on his arm, shaking his head in disbelief.
His was a typical reaction wherever I drove the car in this beach town filled with SLK 230s, 911 Carreras and Z3 coupes. But what's rather puzzling about the impact of Hyundai's 2000 model is that it's been around awhile and while this is its first major revision since its introduction three years ago, though hardly a complete re-design, the new version isn't dramatically different from its predecessor: the same low, wide stance, aggressive grille, and power shoulders. Well, why mess with a great-looking design?
Restyling does, however, re-emphasize the sporty coupe's familiar, bulging, musclebound fenders and the SCCA Pro Rally racing-inspired front end. There's a new air intake and air dam, and the rear end has been updated though it's a lot less macho than the front end. In fact, the back of the coupe reveals its Asian heritage, with rather tame styling and similarities to the company's Sonata sedan. The trunk lid, at least, has some character: a sculpted ridge at the breakline.
Hyundai correctly describes the Tiburon as a solid, dependable and practical car cleverly disguised as a sleek, sporty coupe. While its rakish good looks hardly appear practical though aerodynamics assist fuel economy, the Tiburon (it's Spanish for shark), has a trunk that swallows a lot of stuff and is astonishingly large for a sport coupe, holding 12.8 cu ft of cargo, compared to 13.9 cu ft for a Lexus LS400. As for the back seat, which is relatively deep and comfortable though no place in which to spend days of touring, there's a bit more room than in many coupes of this size.
Inside the shark's den
Reasonably spacious, too, is the passenger compartment, which is a lot less snug than Honda's S2000 roadster and easier to get in and out. The frameless doors with flush-mounted glass open widely without having to squeeze or twist your body to enter and exit as with some roadsters, and headroom is sufficient for a pompadour hairstyle.
The dashboard very definitely has a cockpit ambience and is high-tech aviation-style all the way, with efficient, easy-to-read gauges that sit to the right of the steering wheel except for the tachometer, speedometer and fuel indicator. Car-to-driver messages include Tailgate Open, Door Ajar, and several others. There's enough elbow room to do a short version of the chicken dance and the contoured, six-way driver's seat holds you firmly. Many less expensive 2000 and 2001 models are short-changing us on the size of the seat squab (the part you sit on), which these days are a little shorter than one's thighs appreciate. I guess if the manufacturer has to cut costs somewhere, better under your legs than under the hood. Fortunately, Hyundai hasn't subscribed to that theory, and continues to design seats with thigh bolsters that are firm and supportive.
Impressive were the number of features that came with the $15,214 price of the Tiburon I tested. In addition to those listed below, they included a rear window defroster and washer with washer fluid sprayed onto the back window as long as you kept the button depressed, reclining front seats, a split-folding rear seat (unusual in a sports coupe), remote hatch, fuel door and hood releases, tinted glass, digital clock, and power review mirrors. The car is so loaded with features the only options are cruise control, automatic transmission, power sunroof and six-speaker CD player.
The edge on the teeth
The secret to the inexpensive Tiburon's surprisingly good handling and control is its sport-tuned fully independent suspension with gas-filled struts. While not as precise as purists would wish in a sports coupe, the front MacPherson struts with a pivoting arm at each wheel manage to control vertical movement well enough for enthusiasts on a budget to enjoy a quick-handling and smooth ride. The rear suspension has a multi-link attachment between the wheels and the body so that each wheel reacts independently to conquer potholes, bumps and other nasty road obstacles though it will bottom out a bit if you push it too hard.
No changes have been made to the Tiburon's engine from last year's model, probably a good decision if the 1999 price were to be maintained, which it is. The 2.0-liter, 16-valve four-cylinder motor delivers 140 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 133 lb-ft torque at 4800 rpm giving me highly responsive acceleration along the flat and when tackling hills, thanks to Hyundai's standard five-speed manual transmission with a pull-type clutch, which translates into less pedal effort. Stick shifts usually result in a peppier reaction from a powertrain than an automatic transmission and the Tiburon's was no exception. The automatic transmission with lock-up torque converter and driver-selectable overdrive mode costs extra.
There was nothing this small coupe couldn't handle, and it was sheer pleasure to drive anywhere and everywhere in this little car. There's good "road feel" feedback without having to put up with the sort of seat-of-pants jolting some of the pricier roadster manufacturers believe purists prefer.
There's only one coupe version this time around, but it has been upgraded to add many of the features found last year only on the other higher-priced, now-discontinued FX model. The base price is a buck under $14,000. My tester added a $130 console armrest, $75 carpeted floormats, a $450 rear spoiler, $125 California emissions, and $435 shipping for a total of $15,214.
So if you want to fake out the neighbors, it's easy with the Hyundai's good-looking and well-performing low-cost Tiburon.
2000 HYUNDAI TIBURON
Base price: $13,999
Price as tested: $15,214
Engine: 2.0-liter in-line four-cylinder, 140 hp
Transmission: five-speed manual
Wheelbase: 97.4 in
Length: 170.0 in
Width: 68.1 in
Height: 51.7 in
Weight: 2633 lb
Fuel economy: 23 city/32 hwy
Major standard equipment:
AM/FM cassette stereo
Rear window defroster
Tilt steering wheel
© 2000 The Car Connection