Just about everybody would agree that Ferrari makes some of the best looking cars. What if you could drive a car with Ferrari 456GT looks for under $20K? Okay, the 2003 Hyundai Tiburon is not a Ferrari clone but there's' no denying that it has Ferrari 456GT styling cues in its sleek new design. It also has some Ford Mustang, Mercury Cougar and Toyota Celica as well, which is not all bad.
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.
A car's looks are always important -- few people want to be seen driving an ugly car. More than anything this is true of sport coupes. This is where the Tiburon competes and it looks delightfully attractive compared to the awkward styling of the old Tiburon.
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.
Compared to the old Tiburon the interior is slightly less sporty in appearance. The biggest drawback is that everything is finished in black making it a bit somber. The dashboard sweeps across the width of the cabin with just a smallish instrument pod and two heater vents to break up the shape. The fuel and water temperature gauges separate the round tachometer and speedometer.
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.
Great looks are important but a great driving experience is really more significant. Fortunately the Tiburon GT V6 does really well. Hyundai is convinced that most Tiburon buyers will opt for the GT V6 evasion and most of them will opt for the six-speed manual version. We couldn't agree more. That's why we tested this version with the Sprint package.
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.
Hyundai has been on a roll for the past couple of years in the US. Its cars are remarkably better than they were a few years ago, both in quality as well as in style. Nobody needs to be embarrassed driving around in a Hyundai anymore.
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.
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2008 HYUNDAI TIBURON$10,999 | 98,216 mi
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2008 Hyundai Tiburon$12,999 | 49,775 mi
2007 Hyundai Tiburon$9,000 | 71,557 mi
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