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The all-new 2007 Hyundai Entourage is the Korean automaker's first minivan. Compared with the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, the Entourage offers attractive pricing and a load of safety equipment, elements that should appeal to anyone with common sense.
Its safety equipment includes established life-savers such as electronic stability control (skid control) and air curtains to cover the side windows and offer head protection in a side-impact crash. The Entourage has also gotten the top minivan rating for crash protection from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety which conducted frontal, side and rear-impact crash tests. But what minivans are all about is practicality and the Entourage offers that. There is just enough room for six in pleasant yet functional surroundings. Seven would really be a squeeze unless the kids are small.
The ride is comfortable and yet the Entourage has no barge-like tendencies when it comes to handling. It has a five-speed automatic transmission to help get the best fuel economy and performance out of its V6 engine.
Another attractive feature is Hyundai's long warranty. The bumper-to-bumper coverage is five years or 60,000 miles while the powertrain is covered for 10 years or 100,000 miles. That's more than either Honda or Toyota, but those Japanese automakers have a superior track record when it comes to reliability.
Some independent studies have shown Hyundai's quality has improved considerably although on a long-term basis it does not yet match Honda or Toyota. But attractive features, performance and pricing make the Entourage worth a serious look.
In overall length the Entourage is similar to its major competitors. There's nothing mini about today's minivans. Unlike competitors such as the Nissan Quest, Hyundai hasn't gone for a startling design for the Entourage. The visual approach is mild and calmly appealing, much like the Honda Odyssey and the Toyota Sienna.
It is clear that before designing the Entourage, Hyundai officials spent some time checking out the Honda Odyssey. Or, the coincidences are amazing.
Like the Odyssey, the Entourage has a tray between the front seats that folds down. Even the inside door handles for the second row seem the same. The Entourage's third row folds flat into the floor, too, a feature first introduced with the Odyssey.
The Entourage's basic controls are pleasingly simple and easy to operate. The leather upholstery on the Limited model contributes to the feeling that the Entourage is aimed at some pampering and not just day-to-day transportation.
The Entourage's second row uses individual captain's chairs, each of which can be moved forward or rearward seven inches. That is a helpful feature that allows some flexibility with legroom and cargo capacity.
Flexibility is a good thing for anybody planning to sit in the third row. Like most third rows it is designed for small to mid-size children.
But it is worth noting that Hyundai measures what appears to be a generous 34 inches of third-row legroom with the second-row captain's chairs in their forward-most position. The reality is 27 inches of third-row legroom if the people in the captain's chairs insist on their maximum legroom.
The third row can easily be folded into the floor and a spring-loaded mechanism makes it easier to pull up than the third row on the Honda Odyssey.
Hyundai rates the cargo capacity behind the third row at 32 cubic feet. That's about twice the size of the trunk of a mid-size sedan but such calculations typically involve stacking stuff to the roof. With the third row folded flat, the cargo capacity increases to 80 cubic feet, according to Hyundai.
While some people disdain minivans as being less appealing than a big truck-based SUV this involves a moderate amount of delusion. Those people haven't driven a modern minivan.
The Entourage is a lovely highway cruiser, quiet and stable. It handles rough surfaces well, which is a good plan for a vehicle intended as a people carrier not a sports sedan.
But a particularly deep pothole sends a quiver through the body that suggests the structure isn't as solid as it could be. Driving the Honda Odyssey on the same roads shows it has a better structure. On the other hand, the Odyssey does not ride as comfortably.
Like most modern minivans, the Entourage is front-wheel drive and with all the serious mechanical pieces up front that puts a lot of weight in the nose. That contributes to the locked-down and reassuring feeling on the interstate. But it also means the Entourage pauses a bit when asked to change direction and head into a turn.
This isn't a problem but it doesn't feel as crisp and quick to turn as the Honda Odyssey. However, most adults eventually realize that nothing is free and the downside to the Odyssey's quicker reflexes is the less-comfortable ride.
Like its competitors, the Entourage has a V6 engine. It is a 3.8-liter rated at 242 horsepower and it uses a five-speed automatic transmission. Five-speed automatics are becoming more common and done thoughtfully they are a good thing. The reason is that the extra gear makes it possible to have improved fuel economy as well as better acceleration.
The Entourage's five-speed automatic can also be shifted manually by tapping the gear shift lever. This would be most helpful in mountain driving when the driver could easily shift to a lower gear helping to slow the vehicle. But it also opens the door to the driver who from time to time simply enjoys working through the gears.
The Entourage's powertrain is capable and handled a load of luggage, two adults and two small children without trouble whether traveling a mountain road or cruising the New York State Thruway. But it isn't quite as smooth as the 244-hp 3.5 liter V6 used in the Honda Odyssey, which comes with a five-speed automatic that seemed quicker to respond when the driver hits the gas.
During about 300 miles of highway cruising with an Entourage and an Odyssey at a steady 65 miles per hour the Honda got significantly better fuel economy. The Odyssey got 26.3 mpg compared to 24.5 mpg in the Entourage. Both use 87 octane fuel.
Considering the 2007 Entourage is Hyundai's first minivan it is a remarkable vehicle with good safety equipment and good crash protection at a competitive price. Neither Honda nor Toyota did as well with their first minivan efforts. Short-term studies have shown Hyundai's quality has improved considerably but the unknown is its long-term quality often defined as a minimum of three years. Meanwhile, Honda and Toyota are known quantities. For consumers the issue is whether all the Entourage's attractions offset that unknown reliability. A long warranty is a comforting thing but if a vehicle has problem after problem knowing each problem t will be repaired for free may lose its appeal.
Chris Jensen test drove the Entourage in New York.
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