A Hyundai? Yes, the company has been working hard to produce attractive cars with performance and panache, and it looks to have succeeded with the all-new Tiburon.
More important, the quality of Hyundai cars has improved tremendously in the past few years, according to the respected quality gurus at J. D. Power and Associates.
Tiburon means shark in Spanish. This Tiburon may not look like a mean machine but the GT V6 version is surely going to stir the waters as it swims among established fish such as the Mitsubishi Eclipse, Toyota Celica GTS, Ford Mustang, and Honda Civic Si.
Apart from different wheels and spoilers both models have the same sexy lines and enjoy a comprehensive list of standard features: air conditioning, power windows, mirrors and door locks, keyless entry with alarm, four wheel disc brakes and dual exhaust.
Tiburon ($15,999) is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 134 horsepower; it's available with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. There are just three option packages: automatic transmission ($900), an upgraded stereo system with a power sunroof ($948), and an anti-lock braking system ($499). Go for all the options and the retail price is $18,346 plus the destination charge ($495).
Tiburon GT V6 ($17,999) is powered by a 170-horsepower 2.7-liter V6 engine.
Three transmissions are available: six-speed manual, five-speed manual, and four-speed automatic. Those who don't want to do their own shifting in the GT V6 only have to ante up $750 for an automatic transmission but they lose the 17-inch wheels. The sunroof option costs $649.
In addition to all the standard features on the base model, the GT V6 adds 17-inch wheels, leather seating surfaces, sport tuned suspension, and a rear spoiler. It also gets a premium Infinity stereo system complete with a 360-watt amplifier, six speakers and a large subwoofer.
Pricing for the GT V6 is a little more complicated but there are two versions available for $17,999 with the five-speed manual. One keeps the leather seats, while the Sprint package gives leather up for anti-lock brakes and aluminum foot pedals.
The most exciting setup for enthusiasts is the GT V6 with the six-speed manual transmission. There are three packages, called UltraSports 1, 2, and 3. The UltraSports 1 package only adds $250 to the GT V6's base price of $17,999 and you get a taller spoiler and aluminum foot pedals but you have to give up the leather seating. UltraSports 2 keeps the leather seats but costs $850. The ultimate package is UltraSports 3, which costs $1,998 and adds the sunroof and anti-lock brakes to all the other options for less than $20K.
Hyundai says that the price of the top level Tiburon is $2,800 less than an equivalent Mitsubishi Eclipse and $3850 less than the Celica GTS.
Remember also that Hyundai offers the best warranty in the business: 5 years/60,000 miles bumper-to-bumper and 10 years/100,000 miles for the powertrain.
Although there is nothing exceptionally different looking about the new Tiburon, Hyundai's own in-house designers have managed to put together a derivative style that looks good from every angle. The car looks bigger in photographs than in real life. It is actually a few inches larger all round than the previous Tiburon and is comparable in size to the Eclipse and Celica.
At the front the four headlights are hidden behind plastic covers with large turn signals that lead up into the false fender line that is actually part of the hood. The front of the hood leads down into a small horizontal grill that is swamped by a large bumper. A much larger five-part radiator grill opening is nicely integrated into the lower part of the bumper and includes two small round projector spotlights.
The car's side profile is the best. It follows the classic lines of a sports car with a heavily raked windshield and a roofline that sweeps all the way to the back of the car. We used to call them fastback coupes! Hyundai's designers have added pizzazz to the profile by adding two false vent grilles and sculptured creases that flare back from behind the front fender along the doorsill and across the upper part of the door. The creases lead into the rear fender, which is flared and has a top edge higher than that of the front. In the rear the fenders curve into the large almost ovoid shaped one-piece taillight clusters.
The tailgate (yes, it really is a hatchback) has no spoiler on the base model but comes with a small lip-type spoiler on the GT V6 with a five-speed manual or automatic. The six-speed gets a bigger spoiler that helps differentiate it.
The stereo system is located in a flat center console panel with large knobs for heating and ventilation located beneath. The manual transmission shifter has a short throw and is well situated for smooth shifting. A proper parking brake is located on the left side of the center console leaving room for a cupholder and a small storage tray.
The bucket seats are okay but not as sporty as one might hope for as they could do with some more side support for spirited driving. We liked the cloth seats much better than leather as they grip better and are less sweaty in summer and warmer in winter. Headroom and legroom in front are fine, on par with other cars in the sporty coupe class.
Like most sport coupes, this is really a 2+2-seater not a full four-seater car. In reality, the rear seats are better for storage than for carrying passenger unless they are shorter than five feet tall.
In keeping with the expectations of most buyers for this car the stereo system on the GT V6 is right on target. There are six speakers strategically located inside and a large subwoofer in the trunk. Crank up the volume and one is enveloped in good sound. Okay, it may not be up to standards found in $50K luxury cars but it's surely far better than anything one would expect in a sub $20K car from Korea.
Apart from the space taken by the subwoofer, storage space is quite decent especially thanks to the wide opening tailgate and the rear seat backs that fold down. A cargo net would be a valuable addition to help keep stuff in place when throwing the car around corners.
The first thing you'll find out about the GT V6 is that it's got a great engine that revs freely to 6000 rpm. Put the (aluminum) gas pedal to the metal and the front wheels scrabble for grip. Not for long though as the 215/45R17 Michelin tires get to work and the car sprints forward. The engine has a pleasant husky sound thanks to the dual exhaust. Shift into second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth and the car's cruising. If you get lazy and forget to downshift as you putter around town, it's no problem as the engine has plenty of torque at low rpm. We found it'll pull reasonably well in sixth gear from 35 mph. It's a very different driving experience from cars like the Celica GTS and Civic Si that thrive on revving over 6000 rpm.
The power rack-and-pinion steering feels fine, it's precise with just enough feedback for fast driving. Inevitably there's torque steer but it's controllable and actually kind of fun when you're driving round town. On the highway it's barely noticeable. Not unexpectedly the car tends to understeer, what with the weight of the aluminum V6 engine mounted transversely between the front wheels.
During a brief test drive among pylons laid out in the infield of Las Vegas Speedway we found the Tiburon easy to throw around. Like all front-drive cars, it tended to understeer, but it was easy to compensate by using the throttle, brakes, and steering wheel.
The four-wheel disc brakes worked well and stopped the car quickly.
Out on the highway the ride is good on smooth roads but the sports suspension and low-profile tires tend to transmit excessive harshness into the cockpit on rough road surfaces. The handling is fine with little body roll. It's nothing exceptional but more than adequate to hold its own against other like cars. It would be pretty easy to tune the suspension still further to get a really good handling car. Tuners are undoubtedly working on it as you read this.
They've got a good basis to work from: MacPherson struts up front on a subframe and a strut-type multi-link suspension in the rear. All models get anti-roll bars and gas-filled shock absorbers all round. The sport tuned suspension on the GT V6 has 10-percent stiffer spring rates, stiffer compression in the gas-charged shocks and thicker anti roll bars front (23mm vs. 20mm) and rear (19mm vs. 18mm).
If you prefer an automatic transmission, go for the GT V6 and you'll not give up much in performance, especially as the automatic includes Shiftronic manual control.
Indeed, driving a 2003 Tiburon GT V6 will elicit smiles all round. For under 20 grand it is a great car. Spend the cash saved on accessories and one could have a super cool car for less money than a stock version of one of its competitors. Perhaps the Tiburon is a shark after all -- it may well eat some of the other cars it's swimming with.
Model as tested
Tiburon GT V6 ($17,999)
5 years/60,000 miles
Gas guzzler tax:
Price as tested
Options as tested
6-speed manual transmission, cloth seats, high spoiler ($250)
Model Line Overview
Tiburon ($15,999); Tiburon GT V6 ($17,999)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front airbags
Safety equipment (optional)
2.7-liter dohc 24v V6
Specifications as Tested
tilt steering wheel, power steering, air conditioning, AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo, power windows, mirror and locks, cruise control, remote keyless entry with alarm, 17-inch alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes, dual exhaust, leather seating surfaces, sport-tuned suspension
Engine & Transmission
2.7-liter dohc 24v V6
front engine, front-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
170 @ 6000
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear