Hyundai's Tiburon delivers bold styling and an entertaining driving experience, while offering an exceptional value. A 140-horsepower 2.0-liter engine, a fully independent sports suspension, and four-wheel disc brakes with optional ABS make it a good bang for the buck as most sport coupes with this level of performance come at a higher price, while similarly priced coupes can't match the Tiburon's performance.
It is a fun car to drive. It's balanced well in corners. It offers brisk acceleration performance. And it's backed by Hyundai's warranty, which has been extended to five years/60,000 miles bumper to bumper, and 10 years/100,000 miles for powertrain coverage.
This car handles very well with good braking, a nice shifting action and snappy acceleration. A day turning hot laps at a small road racing circuit north of Montreal impressed me with the handling and overall performance of the Tiburon. Predictable handling at the limit -- even while braking and turning at the same time -- make the Tiburon a lot of fun to drive. Racing a modified one in a Motorola Cup race at Watkins Glen this past fall confirmed this.
The 2.0-liter 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 a highly rigid structure, which may be one of the reasons the Tiburon weighs a bit more than its competitors. Chassis stiffness is where agile handling starts and we were favorably impressed with the Tiburon's athletic responses in quick maneuvers. MacPherson struts are used for the front suspension, while the rear is a dual link design. The shock absorbers are gas-charged units mounted inside the coil springs, which resist heat buildup and deliver a controlled ride over rough surfaces. Antiroll bars fore and aft reduce body lean in corners. All the components are aimed at delivering the agile handling qualities we expect from a sport coupe.
Even in extreme lane-change and slalom exercises, the Tiburon feels 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 all compact cars.
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 do. 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.
Hyundai Tiburon offers a sporty alternative to the relatively bland sport compacts that compete with it. The Tiburon may not have quite have the biggest teeth in this class, but it can swim heads up with other compacts. It's well worth checking out if you're in the market for an inexpensive sporty coupe that's fun to drive.