When it was introduced to the North American market in 1997, the Hyundai Tiburon signified Hyundai's first commitment to providing more than just value-oriented but bland economy cars. This coupe-styled, two-door hatchback, though not as refined or as performance-oriented as some of its competitors, was surprisingly affordable and showed that Hyundai was serious about redefining its image. Over time, the Tiburon (the name means "shark" in Spanish) improved in both looks and performance.
Though the Hyundai Tiburon never broke into the upper echelon of performance hatchbacks and coupes, its affordable price could make it a decent choice for used vehicle shoppers. A new front-drive Tiburon is rumored to be in the works, but in the meantime the car's replacement is the substantially more impressive, rear-wheel-drive Genesis Coupe.
Most Recent Hyundai Tiburon
The second generation, front-wheel-drive Hyundai Tiburon debuted for the 2003 model year. It was available only as a two-door hatchback. Through its life, changes were restricted to exterior and interior revisions for 2005 and '07. There were also additional trim levels and equipment added over the years.
The base GS trim was powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine -- making 138 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque -- and came standard with a five-speed manual transmission. A four-speed automatic was optional.
The better choice was the Tiburon GT, which came with a standard 172-hp 2.7-liter V6 engine and several performance features, such as a tuned suspension with firmer spring rates and larger 17-inch alloy wheels. Other amenities included automatic climate control, cruise control, a trip computer and a dramatic rear spoiler. A GT Limited trim level (added for 2006) included leather seats, a sunroof and a 440-watt Infinity audio system.
More performance-minded buyers should look at the Tiburon SE, which paired the V6 engine with a six-speed manual gearbox. Unique exterior additions, such as red front brake calipers, foglamps and a high-mounted rear spoiler, give the SE a sportier appearance. And it came loaded on the inside, with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a premium Kenwood CD/MP3 audio system, metallic interior trim, aluminum pedals and auxiliary gauges.
In road tests, our editors preferred the Hyundai Tiburon with the V6 engine, as it provided the 3,000-pound car with much-needed pulling power. The five-speed manual transmission was user-friendly and the Tiburon GT handled well in demanding situations. The fun factor was high thanks to fairly athletic handling, though the tight suspension gave it a somewhat harsh ride.
Past Hyundai Tiburon Models
As a replacement for the previous Scoupe, the original Hyundai Tiburon launched for 1997 came in two trims: base and FX. The base trim was powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine developing 130 hp. The FX had a 140-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Both came with a standard five-speed manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic.
For Hyundai's first attempt at sexy, the Tiburon was a respectable effort. Hyundai equipped it with a number of standard features, especially inside the cabin. The FX got leather seats and cruise control. But it hardly performed like a sports coupe. In road tests, our editors complained of too much understeer. The loud exhaust on the FX made it seem like it was faster than it actually was. For 1998, all Hyundai Tiburons got the stronger engine.
Hyundai dropped the FX for 2000 and made 15-inch alloy wheels and power windows, mirrors and locks standard items on the base trim. The most significant change that year was the redesigned body. The front end featured 4 projector-beam headlights. The front fenders, rear end and taillights were also modified. Mechanically, nothing had changed. This Tiburon carried into 2001 and was then discontinued. There was no 2002 model.