The 2005 Hyundai Tiburon sport coupe looks fresh with new front styling. It's a more attractive look, with a single large dark-meshed center opening in the grille flanked by fog lamp openings. Coupled with gill-like vents behind the front fender opening, the Tiburon has the look of a prowling shark, for which it is named.
The Tiburon GT is a sporty coupe with a brusque exhaust tone that makes the 172 horses from its V6 engine sound like Clydesdales. The 2.7-liter V6 is complemented with crisp handling that makes the GT fun to drive. The base Tiburon GS has a low-emission four-cylinder engine with adequate power for all traffic situations, and good handling that benefits from the sporty chassis design.
Compelling pricing makes the Tiburon an attractive proposition. The Tiburon starts at less than $16,000. A Tiburon GT V6 absolutely loaded with leather seats, sunroof, an Infinity audio system, and ABS, retails for $21,229, and the fully-loaded SE with six-speed transmission and Kenwood MP3 audio system lists for only $21,344. For comparison, the similarly equipped Mitsubishi Eclipse V6 and Toyota Celica GTS both list for over $24,000.
Hyundai has emerged as a low-cost producer of attractive cars with performance and panache. The quality of its products has improved tremendously in the past few years, according to the respected quality gurus at J.D. Power and Associates. Hyundai offers the best warranty in the business: 5 years/50,000 miles bumper-to-bumper and 10 years/100,000 miles for the powertrain.
The Hyundai Tiburon has been subtly restyled for 2005. Taking a cue from aftermarket suppliers of aero trim packages, the front bumper on the Tiburon now has a modish speed-racer look, with a single large grille opening filled by a black mesh flanked by complementary openings for the fog lamps. Sculpted edges molded into the bumper, picking up the existing feature lines on the doors and rear fenders, are echoed by similar lines in the new side mirrors. The smaller opening above the grille between the headlights now looks more like a hood scoop, suggesting a feeling of power. In the metal, the car is sleek and compact.
The Tiburon's profile looks even better when counter-pointed by the new front-end styling. A heavily raked windshield and a fastback coupe roofline that sweeps all the way to a high, abbreviated tail, is heir to classic GT coupes of the past. Hyundai's designers have accented the front fenders with vertical louvers that look like shark gills, borrowing from GT cars of the past. However, the Hyundai's distinctive sheetmetal crease sweeping upward and rearward from the front louvers gives these traditional features a new look. In the rear the fenders curve smoothly into the large, almost ovoid one-piece taillight clusters.
The rear styling on the GS and GT models is accented by a body-colored rear spoiler so neatly integrated into the rear deck lines that it's almost unobtrusive. The SE has a larger rear spoiler to differentiate it, but it too sits low on the rear deck, supported by sleek fins sprouting from the fenders and ending just where the taillights start.
Tiburon's interior trim is dark colored in the current tuner style, but bright trim around the center stack and switch panels on the doors relieves what would otherwise be a somber look.
The dashboard sweeps across the width of the cabin with just a smallish instrument pod and two heater vents to break up its 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 because they grip better and are cooler in summer and warmer in winter. Headroom and legroom in front are fine, on par with other cars in this class of sport coupes.
Like most sport coupes, the Tiburon is really a 2+2-seater, not a full four-seat car. Realistically, the rear seats are better used for storage than for carrying passengers, unless those passengers are shorter than five feet.
The optional 360-watt or 440-watt Infinity and Kenwood MP3 stereo systems all feature six speakers strategically located and a large subwoofer in the trunk. Crank up the volume and you're enveloped in sound.
Apart from the room taken up by the stereo's ground-pounding subwoofer, storage space is quite decent. The wide-opening liftgate and the 50/50 split folding rear seat add to its utility. A cargo net would be a helpful addition to help keep stuff in place when throwing the car around corners after a stop at the grocery store.
Driving the Tiburon GT with its V6 engine is a satisfying experience. Though boasting only 172 horsepower, the V6 revs freely to 6000 rpm, giving it a sporty feeling. The engine has a pleasantly husky sound thanks to its free-flowing exhaust. Slam the power down and the front wheels scrabble for grip, at least until the 215/45R17 Michelin Pilot tires get to work and the car sprints forward.
Shift up through the five gears and you're cruising. If you get lazy and forget to downshift as you putter around town, it's no problem as the 181 pound-feet of torque are available at low rpm. We found it'll pull reasonably well in top gear from 35 mph. The low-end torque of the Tiburon makes for a different driving experience than that of cars like the Celica GTS and Civic Si that thrive on high revs.
If you prefer an automatic transmission, go for the GT V6 and you'll not give up much in performance. When you feel like working out, the Shiftronic manual control on the automatic allows more involvement in the driving fun.
The power rack-and-pinion steering feels fine. It's precise, with just enough feedback for fast driving. With the power of the V6, torque steer in this front-wheel-drive coupe is inevitable, but it's controllable and actually kind of fun when you're driving round town. (Torque steer is a common phenomenon with high-powered front-wheel-drive cars and is usually experienced as a slight tug on the steering wheel during hard acceleration.) On the highway it's barely noticeable.
Handling is good, with little body roll. Up front are MacPherson struts, with lower links isolated by a subframe. A multi-link suspension with Chapman struts holds up the rear. All models get anti-roll bars and gas-filled shock absorbers. 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).
We found the Tiburon easy to throw around in an autocross circuit laid out in the infield of Las Vegas Speedway. Like all front-drive cars, with the engine weight over the driving wheels, it tended to understeer (the front wheels lose grip before the rear wheels). However, we could compensate pretty easily using the throttle, brakes, and steering wheel, and get the rear end to come around and help the car turn in for the tight corners. The four-wheel disc brakes worked well and stopped the car quickly.
Out on the highway, and on smooth roads, the Tiburon rides well. The sports suspension and low-profile tires tend to transmit excessive harshness into the cockpit on rough road surfaces, however.
The Hyundai Tiburon is a pleasant car, enjoyable to drive. It looks sporty and is backed by Hyundai's aggressive warranty. The Tiburon GT offers a lot of value among sport coupes, money that can be spent on other things or used for aftermarket tuner accessories to turn it into the shark that its sharp styling suggests.
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