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The Hyundai Tiburon has been freshened up for 2007, and the SE, our test model, has gotten a suspension that's meant to carry it with the big boys, the European sports cars. The entry-level Tiburon GS, the one that goes for less than $17,000, uses a four-cylinder engine with a five-speed gearbox, but the SE moves up to a 2.7-liter V6 with a six-speed manual.
All Tiburons are equipped with anti-lock brakes, a tire pressure monitor, side airbags, and a 220-watt Kenwood MP3 sound system; other models or options include a four-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual control, electronic stability control, and a 440-watt Infinity sound system.
The lines from the side are rakish, and the 12-spoke SE wheels look great. The seats are comfortable and well bolstered, and the instruments are back-lit in a cool blue, with sharp gunmetal accents on the instrument panel.
Hyundai compares the Tiburon to the Honda Civic Si and Scion tC, but we don't see much similarity to those coupes. It seems like the Tiburon is more like the Mitsubishi Eclipse or maybe even the Mazda RX-8, both of which cost thousands more, but also make much more horsepower.
Hyundai is fairly new at the sports car game, but they've done good job, especially considering the price. The V6 engine makes a modest 172 horsepower, but it also makes a nice throaty sound when you rev it to redline, 6500 rpm. When you look into the rearview mirror, the high spoiler reminds you that you're in a sports car.
The engine's torque comes on low, so it's easy to drive. The SE's six-speed gearbox is good, and the clutch is smooth, but the shift lever has too long of a throw to feel tight. Heel-and-toe downshifts are almost possible because of the pedal locations.
The SE suspension is firm, but not uncomfortable. The payoff comes in the corners, as the front-wheel-drive SE grips the road better than the Mitsubishi Eclipse, although not as well as the rear-wheel-drive RX-8. The Tiburon SE also stops well, having 12-inch cross-drilled front rotors.
Hyundai claims its warranty is America's best, with five-year/60,000 miles bumper-to-bumper and 10-year/100,000 miles limited powertrain. Tiburon buyers also get 24-hour roadside assistance at no charge for five years.
The Hyundai Tiburon has nice, rakish lines. From the side or three-quarters rear profile, it looks like it should start rolling off downhill. A crease on each side extends precipitously, from above the rear tire and slightly higher than the door handle, to a point on the front fascia below the headlamp. A crevice down by the rocker panel accentuates the slope of the crease. It's a lot of styling work to make the car look forward-leaning, but in the end it works.
The 17-inch alloy wheels on the SE are handsome, a sort of starburst 12-spoke pattern; imagine six headless and armless gingerbread men, joined in a circle at the neck.
The body has undergone a makeover: front and rear fascia, headlights, taillights, hood, front fenders and twin exhaust tips are all new. The redesigned nose and the tail don't seem so sleek, however; they're rounded and nubile. The Tiburon's butt isn't as big as that of the Mitsubishi Eclipse, and the rounded trapezoidal tail lamps are graceful; the spoiler on the SE is a nice touch, high but not too high. But take away the spoiler on the other three models, and there isn't much left to draw the eyes.
From head-on, the Tiburon misses the opportunity for something dramatic. Above the bumper there's one thin slit that might add mystery but doesn't demand a second glance. The horizontal slats in the wide air intake under the front bumper are reminiscent of a 2001 Chrysler Concorde, which itself copies the look of some Ferrari grilles. A lot has been lost in the double translation to the Tiburon.
The seats are comfortable and well bolstered, with lumbar and butt support, leather with nice cloth inserts. The three spokes of the leather-wrapped steering wheel are fairly fat, but the leather feels nice in your hands. The instruments are backlit in cool blue. The speedometer is on the left and tach on the right, with temperature and fuel between them, plus a digital display for the odometer and average speed. The gunmetal accents on the panel look nice.
The center stack is squarish, with two big round climate vents over smaller ones on top of the dash; they handle the strong air conditioning. The usual instruments run down the center, with reasonable controls without bran-teasing challenges to figure out. There are two cupholders, a small glovebox, door pockets and a small single-chamber console between the seats. Our SE had the sunroof and we opened it to the Pacific sky, which came through with a loud whoosh. There's an optional wind deflector for the sunroof, but our test model didn't have it.
The rear seats offer 29.9 inches of legroom, which isn't much but isn't bad for a two-plus-two coupe. The Eclipse has 29.2 inches and the RX-8 only 23 inches, although the RX-8 does have those small rear doors that help rear passengers enter and exit. But the RX-8 only has 7.6 cubic feet of trunk space, about half as much as the Tiburon and Eclipse.
We had a couple of problems, namely our right toe making contact with some low-hanging thing under the dash, every time we moved our right foot from the brake to the throttle. And there's a horrendous blind spot behind the right C-pillar, when you look over your shoulder in that direction.
Hyundai's boast that the Tiburon SE can hold the road as well as European sports cars might be going a bit far, but the road-holding is quite good for the price.
The nicest thing about the Tiburon might be its throaty, hollow exhaust note. It's really fun to run up through the six-speed gearbox and enjoy the sounds. A lot of hot sports cars don't sound so hot, but the SE does a great job of delivering that sensual enjoyment, so good you forget there's just 172 horsepower. The redline on the tach is 6500, but the V6 will rev to 7000 before the rev limiter cuts the engine, and it sounds so good you often want to take it that far.
And when you look into the rearview mirror, you see the high spoiler to remind you that the Tiburon is at least trying to be cool. It does block visibility out the rear, which might be inconvenient because if you're always revving the engine to redline, you might want to keep an eye out for the cops.
The aluminum double-overhead-cam V6 is mounted transversely. It makes 181 pound-feet of torque, which isn't a ton, but it's all there at a low 3800 rpm, and that means a lot. Cruising along at 75 mph in sixth gear, 3500 rpm, you can mash the throttle without downshifting, and the SE accelerates well; of course, it'll squirt away better if you downshift to fifth. Just don't expect neck-snapping acceleration from the 172 horsepower, which has to pull the Tiburon's 2986 pounds.
Even with only 181 pound-feet of torque, the torque steer from the front-wheel drive is noticeable.
The gearbox, called the ZF, is good, but the shifts aren't so sharp because the lever has a long throw and the linkage isn't as tight as it might be. However the clutch action is smooth, especially on the upshifts, and that compensates a bit for the long throw; so overall, the upshifts work.
We can't say the same for the downshifts, at least not with heel-and-toe downshifting, because the gas pedal is quite a bit lower than the brake pedal. So you can't fit the toe of your foot on the brake pedal and your heel on the gas. As serious as Hyundai was about the track-tuned suspension, it's surprising they missed something simple like the pedal position for sporty downshifting.
The ratios are fine; sixth gear is a tall overdrive designed to deliver better fuel mileage. It's basically an extra gear on top, because the ratio of fifth gear (0.86:1) is almost the same as the fifth gear (0.84:1) in the five-speed gearbox on the GS model. Still, the SE has the lowest fuel mileage (18 city, 26 highway) among the Tiburons.
We got a chance to test out the brakes, running the Tiburon SE hard on a downhill run to the Pacific Ocean through Malibu's canyons. The SE's larger rotors (12-inch diameter front, compared to 11-inch on the other Tiburons) are cross-drilled for cooling, the first time Hyundai has tried this technology that's not uncommon to high-performance cars. The SE won't stop like, say, the BMW Z4 M Coupe we recently tested; but the brakes are good and solid, and don't forget we're talking about a $22,000, four-seat sports car here.
The suspension is pretty firm on a choppy freeway, but not unbearably so, and it's reasonably comfortable over mere ripples. You might consider this firmness a reminder that it's ready for heavy duty in corners. The SE handles them just fine, although again, it's not in the same league as a car like the M Coupe, because it's not in the same price league. However, the structural rigidity of the Tiburon exceeds that of the BMW M3, according to Hyundai.
The Tiburon SE has its limits when driven aggressively through switchback curves, but handles the situation well. It does a better job than its main competitor, the Mitsubishi Eclipse, and isn't that far off from a Mazda RX-8, and both of those cars cost thousands more.
The freshened 2007 Hyundai Tiburon is a stylish four-seat sports car that can be bought for $17,000 to $22,000. Its competition is the Mitsubishi Eclipse and Mazda RX-8, which cost about $4000 and $6000 more, respectively. The Tiburon comes with either a four-cylinder or V6 engine; even with the V6, the power is modest but the exhaust note sporty. The transmission, suspension, brakes and bucket seats are all good. If you want a new sports car but don't want to spend a lot, the Tiburon is worth considering.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from Santa Monica, California.
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