Used 2003 Hyundai Tiburon Hatchback Review
The Tiburon has moved upmarket and now beckons buyers with sleek sheet metal, V6 power and an available six-speed manual gearbox. Put it on your test-drive list if you're shopping for a sporty coupe under 20 grand.
Introduction: For those who may not have known (or cared), Hyundai's initial attempt at a sport coupe was the 81-horsepower Excel-based Scoupe introduced in 1991. A suspension tuned by Lotus and a shorter final drive ratio helped to make the Scoupe a bit friskier than the sluggish Excel. Later model years (1993-1995) saw the availability of a turbocharged engine in the Scoupe, but even that motor wheezed out only 115 ponies on aptly named Turbo models (and just 92 hp on base and LS trims).
Around the same time, Hyundai displayed a mouth-watering concept car at national auto shows -- the HCD-II. Show-goers could hardly swallow the fact that the same company that produced the dowdy Excel could, or would, dream up something like this futuristic sport coupe. Hyundai execs promised that a production version of the show car was on the drawing board. The following year, HCD-III arrived and contained an innovative sidesaddle rear seat that a passenger could sit in sideways and stretch out. Excellent concept, Hyundai. Young consumers drooled in anticipation of the forthcoming HCD production car with the cool backseat.
Alas, it was not meant to be. The 1997 Tiburon arrived as a compromise between federal regulations and designer fantasy. Still, the Tib's controversial styling, spunky performance and sporty interior got the attention of younger buyers who didn't want a boring economy sedan.
Now, Hyundai has released an all-new 2003 Tiburon that moves the nameplate upmarket. Much has been made of the styling; in profile, it almost looks like it could be a body double for a Ferrari 456 GT, due mostly to its rising beltline, scooped outside detail and sweeping roofline. Although this comparison may sound bizarre (and even sacrilegious to the Ferraristi), there's nothing wrong with drawing inspiration from one of Italy's lovely sculptures, provided it's done with discretion. The "gills" on the front fenders suit the car, as Tiburon is Spanish for shark. "Pinched waist" side sculpting and five-spoke alloy wheels wearing Michelin performance tires complete the car's head-turning looks.
Riding a wheelbase of 99.6 inches and measuring 173 inches in length, the new Tiburon is about 2 inches longer in each category than the previous model. It's also heavier -- 2,940 pounds (base Tiburon) versus 2,633 for the prior version. Compared to the lightweights of the sport coupe class, such as the 2,500-pound Toyota Celica GT-S and 2,700-pound Acura RSX Type-S, the Tiburon GT V6 may seem plump at 3,023 pounds. But to be fair, the RSX and Celica are both powered by inline fours. Compared to other V6 sport coupes, such as the 3,053-pound Mitsubishi Eclipse GT or the 3,200-pound Dodge Stratus R/T, the Tiburon's weight is a non-issue. Available with a leather interior, the '03 Tiburon should appeal mainly to people in their 20s and 30s who want a car that's sporty and well-equipped, yet affordable.
Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options: Base and GT V6 models are available. Base coupes come with a 140-hp inline four and either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Standard equipment includes air conditioning; six-speaker stereo with CD player; side airbags; cruise control; sport seats; power windows and locks; keyless entry; four-wheel disc brakes; 16-inch wheels and tires; and foglights. The GT V6 obviously adds V6 power along with leather, a seven-speaker Infinity sound system, a sport suspension, 215/45R17 Michelins mounted on 17-inch wheels and a rear spoiler. ABS and a moonroof are optional for all coupes. Powertrains and Performance: The base engine is the previous Tiburon's 2.0-liter DOHC inline four that makes 140 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 133 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm; it also powers the Elantra GLS sedan and GT hatchback. While this engine isn't the pinnacle of refinement, it feels surprisingly energetic when revved. Bear in mind, though, that the redesigned Tiburon is more than 300 pounds heavier than its predecessor, resulting in a less favorable power-to-weight ratio for the base coupe. You can choose either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. Fuel economy is rated at 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway with the manual and 23/30 with the autobox. Step up to the GT V6, and you're rewarded with a 181-hp 2.7-liter V6 pulled from Hyndai's Santa Fe SUV. You have three transmission choices -- a five-speed manual, a four-speed automatic or a six-speed manual. Fuel economy is rated at 19/26 with the five-speed, 18/26 with the six-speed and 20/26 with the automatic.
The Tiburon rides on a chassis loosely based on the current Elantra's, which Hyundai says is stiffer and more refined than the previous-generation coupe's. All Tiburons feature a fully independent suspension with MacPherson struts in the front and a multilink rear. The GT V6 features a tauter ride, thanks to higher spring rates, stiffer shock absorbers and larger front/rear antiroll bars. Disc brakes are standard across the line. Safety: All Tiburons come standard with side airbags, and ABS is optional. This model has not yet been crash tested. Interior Design and Special Features:Bolstered sport seats help keep you in place during enthusiastic cornering, and a large speedometer and tachometer are directly in front of the driver. One of the most interesting features available for the Tiburon is the six-speed manual -- a first for Hyundai. Driving Impressions:When the Tiburon is driven hard, it lacks the athleticism of an Acura RSX or Toyota Celica -- its V6 is confident but not eager; its steering is a bit slow and numb, and with a curb weight of about 3,000 pounds in GT V6 form, it's heavy for a sport coupe. However, when driven sanely, this Hyundai performs capably and delivers a smooth ride. Factor in a generous standard features list, competitive pricing and elegant styling, and the Tiburon is definitely worth a test drive.
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