Like the shark that swims off the coast of Central America, Hyundai's Tiburon is quick when provoked and attracts attention when cruising about. With its bold design and spirited performance, the Tiburon offers a stylish alternative to other compact coupes.
Tiburon's aggressive, muscular styling is backed up by a 140-horsepower 2.0-liter engine, a fully independent sports suspension and optional four-wheel antilock disc brakes. The smaller 130-horsepower engine offered last year has been dropped, yet the price of the base Tiburon was increased by just $100; most racers would be overjoyed to pay just $10 a horse.
Launched as a totally new model last year, the Tiburon is loosely based on Hyundai's Elantra sedan. The Tiburon is fun to drive, offering good handling, brisk acceleration performance and construction quality comparable to other vehicles in its class.
Two models are available, both with power steering and power windows. The $14,014 Tiburon is equipped with rear drum brakes and 14-inch wheels; however, a $1,383 package is needed by most folks to add air conditioning and a cassette stereo, which brings the total to a still reasonable $15,397.
The $15,314 Tiburon FX comes standard with rear disc brakes, 15-inch alloy wheels, a spoiler and fog lights, but air conditioning, cruise control and a stereo bring the total to $16,897.
Even with the options packages, those prices are very attractive when measured against the Mitsubishi Eclipse RS, Toyota Celica ST and Nissan 200SX SE-R. Among the primary competitors, only the Pontiac Sunfire GT Coupe is less expensive than the Tiburon FX.
The FX is distinguished from the base Tiburon by its rear spoiler, fog lights and alloy wheels, but for $1,000, those items can be added to the base model.
The 2.0-liter Tiburon engine provides quick acceleration on back roads and plenty of torque for cruising around town. It employs double overhead cams, 16 valves, electronic fuel injection and a distributorless ignition system. A knock control system permits a high 10.3:1 compression ratio for improved output and a modified pentroof combustion chamber with a tumble port design and dual-aperture spray injectors provide optimum responsiveness and performance while reducing emissions. Hyundai worked hard to minimize friction and vibration by using lightweight parts, silicon-impregnated pistons and fluid-damped engine mounts. While it's neither the smoothest nor the quietest engine on the market, it falls well within acceptable bounds.
Hyundai definitely did its homework on the Tiburon's chassis. It's among the stiffest in its class, which is probably why the Tiburon weighs a bit more than some of its competitors. Chassis stiffness is where agile handling starts, and we were very favorably impressed with the Tiburon's athletic responses in quick maneuvers.
Even in extreme lane-change and slalom exercises, the car felt balanced and stable, and the power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is quick and accurate. The Tiburon is one of those cars that made us go out of our way to give it some exercise on favored stretches of winding back roads, something that can't be said for some of its competitors.
If there's any downside to the Tiburon's dynamic traits, it lies in the action of the five-speed manual gearbox, which feels less precise than some others in this class. In particular, low-speed downshifts into first gear can be a challenge. Making a proper upshift in hard low-speed cornering also requires a little extra care, a trait that's not at all uncommon in small front-drive hot rods such as this.
However, at higher speeds the gearbox works fine and the gearing is well suited to the engine's power characteristics. The optional four-speed automatic takes much of the sport out of this--or any--sport coupe, but the 140-horsepower engine offers sufficient torque to work well with the automatic.
With its bulging flanks, the Hyundai Tiburon is a stylish alternative to the relatively bland sport compacts that compete with it. This little shark is designed to prey on the Nissan 200SX, Pontiac Sunfire, Toyota Celica and Mitsubishi Eclipse. Although the Tiburon doesn't quite have the biggest teeth in this class, it can swim heads up with most of them, and we think it's a must-see if you're in the market for an inexpensive sporty coupe that's fun to drive.
Stylish, fun to drive, well equipped and inexpensive, the Hyundai Tiburon has a lot to offer.