Enjoyable performance, attractive pricing, and good build quality make the Hyundai Tiburon a compelling choice among sport coupes.
The Tiburon GT is a quick and agile sport coupe. It's powered by a 2.7-liter V6 with a brusque exhaust note putting out 172 horsepower and complemented with crisp handling that makes it fun to drive. The Tiburon GS comes with a low-emission four-cylinder engine with adequate power for all traffic situations, and good handling that benefits from its sporty chassis design. Compelling pricing makes the Tiburon an attractive proposition. The Tiburon costs substantially less than a comparably priced Mitsubishi Eclipse, for example.
Hyundai freshened the front-end styling for 2005. There are no significant changes for 2006, though some option packages have changed and there's a new GT Limited model.
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 and 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.
Sleek and compact, the Hyundai Tiburon looks somewhat like the shark for which it is named. Hyundai's designers accented the front fenders with vertical louvers that look like shark gills. Subtle styling revisions freshened its appearance for 2005.
Tiburon is heir to classic GT coupes of the past, with a heavily raked windshield and a fastback coupe roofline that sweeps all the way to a high, abbreviated tail. Hyundai gave these traditional features a new look, however, with a distinctive sheetmetal crease that sweep upward and rearward from the front louvers. In the rear the fenders curve smoothly into the large, almost ovoid one-piece taillight clusters.
The rear styling is accented by a body-colored rear spoiler on GS and GT models that's so neatly integrated into the rear deck lines that it's almost unobtrusive. The SE has a larger rear spoiler, but it also 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 small 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 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 are fine in front, on par with other cars in this class of sport coupes.
Like most sport coupes, the Tiburon is really a 2+2, not a four-seater. 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.
Storage space is quite decent, apart from the space taken up by the stereo's ground-pounding subwoofer. The liftgate opens wide and the rear seat is split 50/50 and folds down to add 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 Hyundai Tiburon GT is a satisfying experience. The V6 engine revs freely to 6000 rpm, giving it a sporty feel, and its free-flowing exhaust gives the engine a pleasantly husky sound. Slam the gas pedal 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. Though boasting only 172 horsepower, Hyundai's V6 delivers good low-end torque. This makes for a different driving experience than that of cars 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. That's another benefit of a V6 with strong torque, it works well with automatics. When you're in a sporty mood, the Shiftronic manual control on the automatic allows more involvement in the driving fun.
The power rack-and-pinion steering is 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.) It's only noticeable when you take off real quick or stand on the gas at low speeds.
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).
On the race track and on autocross circuits, the Tiburon is easy to throw around. Like all front-drive cars, it tended to understeer (the front wheels lose grip before the rear wheels). However, we could easily compensate for this 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.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent John Rettie is based in Santa Barbara.
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