Targeting Lexus in the crossover conflict
When you're meeting someone for the first time, your first impression comes from the sight of their face. It's the same with the 2007 Hyundai Veracruz, another face in a crowd of crossover vehicles coming to the market this year.
But the first glimpse of the 2007 Hyundai Veracruz doesn't make me think of Penelope Cruz. It's a little too familiar, a little too ordinary. The Lexus RX 350 is the target here, so we're looking for the bright spark of genuine personality, something that sends a message of premium quality.
Of course, the already feverish activity in Edmunds CarSpace Forums indicates the all-new midsize, three-row Veracruz crossover is already racking up sales and supporters at equal rates. There's so much more to like in the Veracruz beyond its ordinary face, and here's why.
Like a Lexus
In the past, Hyundai has sometimes been caught a half-step behind by benchmarking moving targets, just as when the '06 Sonata looked like a breakthrough until the '07 Camry came to market several months later. So while the all-new Veracruz should eventually find its place alongside the Honda Pilot, Subaru Tribeca and Toyota Highlander, Hyundai picked the current-though-aging Lexus RX 350 as the one to beat in the crossover conflict. In terms of its ride quality, interior sound isolation and perceived quality, the Lexus sets the standard.
Measure up against a Lexus, you say? Yes, and Hyundai's confidence in the Veracruz was measured when the company invited us to sample any of six well-appointed RX 350s (purchased outright by Hyundai for this purpose) during our introductory drive of the Veracruz in appropriately posh Torrey Pines, just north of San Diego, California. Sure enough, we found the Veracruz has the same hushed, well-appointed cabin and gently refined ride as the Lexus RX 350.
This accomplishment starts with an all-new unibody that has enviable torsional and bending rigidity, supplemented by the use of sound-attenuating materials throughout. It shares some hard points with the Hyundai Santa Fe, but it's been stretched in all dimensions. And when combined with all-new chassis hardware and electronically controlled engine mounts, the Veracruz's minimal levels of noise, vibration and harshness really are quite remarkable.
At the same time, the steering action is noticeably light and a little vague, especially on center. It feels so isolated from the road that we needed to ask if it featured electric power assist, only to find that it doesn't. Although the Veracruz answers the wheel with more liveliness than the Lexus can manage, a little weightier steering effort and more road feel would be welcome, even at the expense of some harshness.
Like a Volvo
Hyundai also wants you to know that it's a company that's all about safety. The Veracruz has already earned four 5-star crash ratings from the NHTSA for driver and front-passenger protection, as well as a 4-star rollover rating, which is as good as any crossover could ever expect to earn.
Standard safety equipment includes both the usual front- and side-impact airbags plus three-row head-protection airbags. In addition, there's electronic stability control, ABS with brakeforce distribution plus emergency brake assist, and the usual mandated tire-pressure monitoring.
More important, all this safety comes as standard equipment, a very strong statement of purpose from Hyundai.
Like an Azera
There are the usual three trim levels for the Veracruz (GLS, SE, Limited), and each is powered by the same 3.8-liter 260-horsepower DOHC V6. It's the engine found in the Azera sedan, but tuned for use here. Though the Azera features a five-speed automatic transmission, the Veracruz introduces a new six-speed automatic with a feature for manual shifting.
The Veracruz feels like it has an appropriate amount of power — not so fast, but not so slow, either. The V6 could stand more torque lower in the rpm range, as it now takes 4,500 rpm to get the 257 pound-feet that this V6 has to give.
We found the Veracruz to be happiest when the engine is spinning, and we expect it'll make the dash to 60 mph in less than 8.0 seconds.
Like just about every crossover
When it's in front-wheel-drive configuration, the 4,266-pound Veracruz's EPA fuel-consumption estimates are 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway. For all-wheel-drive models, the mileage figures for the 4,431-pound vehicle drift slightly lower to 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway. Our real-world experience with similar V6-powered crossovers (Ford Edge, Mazda CX-9 and Saturn Outlook) led us to expect a realistic fuel economy of 12-18 mpg combined.
Much like other V6-powered crossovers we've driven, the Veracruz's transmission proves a little reluctant to downshift as the incline of a hill increases, but that's when the manual gate is handy. Manual shifts are more or less immediate, while both up- and downshifts themselves are smooth and crisp enough to escape the notice of all but the most car-savvy buyers.
The optional all-wheel-drive system is available for all trim levels, and it uses a quick-response center differential with a series of electronically controlled, multidisc wet clutches that is packaged just upstream from the rear differential. The AWD version of the Veracruz is hardly an off-road machine, but it seems as if it'll wade through anything you'll find on the pavement without any trouble. When the going gets tough in really slippery stuff, you can engage a button that will lock torque distribution at 50 percent front/50 percent rear for optimum traction.
Interior accommodations are handsome and intelligently placed, even in the base GLS model. Brushed metallic surfaces look upscale and there are three different faux (and oddly convincing) wood grain trims throughout the range of trim levels. There are four different types of leather spread over SE and Limited trim levels, the nicest of which is only available in the Limited Ultimate.
The seating position for the driver is good, although the sloping angle to the rear glass results in the usual blind spots. Second-row passengers enjoy deeply contoured seats with a wide range of fore-and-aft travel, plus their own dedicated HVAC controls and air vents. The third row, also standard across the entire line, is rather flat, and it's cramped unless the middle row gives up some legroom. It's still a sometimes-seat for midsize kids and shouldn't be offered to the in-laws unless you're punishing them. Access, too, is a little "gymnastic," but that's the usual thing with all third-row seats, isn't it?
The most expensive Hyundai yet
If Hyundai has learned anything from the success of the Azera (where 90 percent of sales have been top-level Limited models), it's that when people perceive value, they take full advantage of it. Will the same hold true for the most expensive Hyundai yet?
The front-wheel-drive Veracruz starts at a base price of $26,995 for the GLS through the midlevel SE models, and then reaches an MSRP of $34,695 for a Limited AWD.
We think there's some value across this range. Hyundai has made XM Satellite Radio standard across the line of Veracruz models, as well as Bluetooth connectivity, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, both traction and stability control, plus Hyundai's characteristic 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, which includes roadside assistance for 5 years. A full-boat Limited AWD with the Ultimate package and premium leather will ring the register at a Hyundai-record $37,895.
For that sub-$40K price, however, you get dual-zone HVAC, heated front seats, adjustable pedals, memory settings, power-adjustable tilt-telescopic steering wheel, upgraded Infinity CD/MP3 audio system with subwoofer, rain-sensing wipers, moonroof, proximity key, rear-seat DVD and surround sound, power liftgate, and lighted door sills à la Mercedes-Benz.
Load it up?
Will Hyundai buyers do with the Veracruz as they have with the Azera and load it up with every possible option package? Hard to say, but Hyundai is confident buyers will line up the Veracruz prices and features against those of the revised 2008 Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot and find they can't resist. But we'll have to wait to see if the Veracruz measures up against the equally compelling GM crossover triplets: the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook.
You have to say that Hyundai's ambitious attempt to target Lexus has worked out in almost every way where the Veracruz has been concerned. Now if it can just give this crossover the kind of face that expresses the quality personality that lies behind that forgettable grille.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.