Where were you in 1989?
George H.W. Bush was moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, we were learning long division and Lexus was in the late stages of mitosis from Toyota. The fledgling brand promised luxury and reliability like the world had never seen from a Japanese company. The world was skeptical.
Meanwhile, a scant three years after it had first started exporting cars to the U.S., Hyundai was trying to convince America that Korea could build a car that was cheap, yet wouldn't fail in a fiery collision before all the monthly payments had been made.
Fast-forward nearly 20 years to a changed landscape, one where Toyota is the sales king, where Lexus has equaled Mercedes not only in quality and luxury but also in children named in homage. A world where the SUV went from macho off-roader to matriarchal soft-roader to plus-size wagons renamed CUV (crossover-utility vehicle).
And Hyundai, now past its second decade in the U.S., confident enough with its products to offer what it calls "America's Best Warranty," has moved into the luxury arena with the seven-seat 2008 Hyundai Veracruz. It has leather upholstery, a big V6 and more standard features than Batman's belt, and can cost north of $35,000.
The world is skeptical and we're here to help with a 12-month, 20,000-mile long-term test of the 2008 Hyundai Veracruz SE AWD.
What We Bought
The 2008 Hyundai Veracruz is available in three trims: GLS, SE and the top-of-the-line Limited. There are minor differences in option packages, but the basics are all the same. The 3.8-liter V6 makes 260 horsepower and 257 pound-feet of torque (the latter at a not-so-low 4,500 rpm) and it's matched with a six-speed automatic. Every trim level is available in either front- or all-wheel-drive configurations, the latter being a $1,700 option. The SE package appeals to our budget and has most of the options we wanted — and the fewest of the options we had no interest in.
The Veracruz SE comes with standard rear-seat climate control, an AM/FM/satellite radio/MP3 audio system, audio controls mounted on the tilt-telescoping steering wheel, keyless entry with alarm, 18-inch wheels, foglights, a roof rack and a rear spoiler. Heated outside mirrors are a welcome piece of standard kit for when the outside temperature gauge (also standard) reads in the single digits. The SE AWD starts at $30,300.
For our Veracruz, we broke from the trend set with our Buick Enclave and Mazda CX-9 and went for the $1,700 all-wheel-drive option. While large front-drive crossovers are fine here in SoCal, they can be challenged in a large part of the country. Fortunately the all-wheel-drive Veracruz is only 165 pounds heavier than its front-drive counterpart, and has nearly identical EPA fuel economy estimates: 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway for the front-driver, 15 mpg city/22 mpg highway for AWD. It should provide our editors with an option other than a full-size pickup should they venture somewhere with snow, rain or even dirt roads.
Even with AWD on the list, we were still well below our budget — that's what Hyundai's about, after all. So we bypassed the cloth seats and added the Premium & Leather and Entertainment packages. We're sure that we'll use the heated leather seats far more often than the AWD lock button. The Premium part of the equation upgrades the stereo to an Infinity unit with a subwoofer and external amp. It also adds a 115-volt power outlet — the type you can plug real plugs into — and a back-up warning system.
Safety is a key selling point in this market segment and a back-up warning system alone won't cut it. Stability control, traction control, ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution, tire pressure monitoring systems, active front head restraints, and six airbags will. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has given the Veracruz a five-star rating in both front and side impact crashes, and four stars for rollover protection.
The entertainment bit breaks down thusly: rear-seat DVD with 8-inch screen, Infinity Logic 7 605-watt surround-sound audio system and a conversation mirror to keep tabs on rear-seat passengers. Checking that box on the order sheet clearly gets a lot of toys into the Veracruz, but it also removes $5,750 from your bank account.
Carpeted floor mats were $125. They look nice, so we got them.
While the 2008 Veracruz starts at $26,900, our nearly fully loaded model was $36,870.
Those of you with highly keen senses and keener knowledge of the Hyundai Veracruz specification sheet will be puzzled by our decision to go with the SE and load it up instead of getting the pre-loaded Limited. The Limited, as you know, has all of the options we added, plus a proximity key, memory seats and an automatic air quality system. It was $380 more expensive and wasn't available in the Light Blue Titanium paint job that Editor in Chief Scott Oldham is so keen on, so we built what we wanted instead.
Why We Bought It
In our first drive of the 2007 Hyundai Veracruz, we came away impressed. Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton said, "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." Moreover, Hyundai vehicles have always fared well in our comparison tests.
At the same time, the previous Hyundai vehicles in our long-term fleet always get raves in the first few months when we talk about the quality/price ratio or just the quality in general. As the months pass, however, the tables turn and the little stuff starts to go. The leather in our Azera started to stain and fade before a year was out. It also had some questionable panel fitments.
Our overall impression has been that Hyundai is on the right track. Its products are getting better and better as the years pass. Hyundai is again convinced that its newest product can take on the world's best, and do so at a bargain price.
We'll spend the next 12 months with the 2008 Hyundai Veracruz SE AWD to see if the company has finally nailed it. Will the veneer fade, exposing a slightly flawed vehicle? Or will this be the test wherein we can finally say that Hyundai has officially arrived in the world of premium automobiles?
Current Odometer: 2,654
Best Fuel Economy: 18.3 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 14.9 mpg
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 16.3 mpg
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.