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Review: 2003 Hyundai Tiburon GT V6

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

SEE ALSO: Hyundai Buyer's Guide

By Robert Bowden, The Car Place


Bang for the buck

Sleek styling

Nice stereo for the price

Good set of standard features


Absolutely brutal ride

Forget the rear seats

Torque steer? You betcha


Style: sport coupe

Engine: 2.7-liter V6

Transmission: six-speed manual

Drivetrain: front-wheel drive

Horsepower: 181 hp @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 177 ft-lbs. @ 4,000 rpm

EPA mileage: 18 city/26 highway

Weight: 3,023 lb.

Base price: $17,999

Price as tested: $18,744

First, the bottom line

Take a good, long look at the price of this car.

You can bet Toyota, Honda and Mitsubishi will.

And what everyone will discover is that this all-new for 2003 Hyundai Tiburon offers the most bang for the buck of any sport coupe. It takes on all comers, and wins by almost any measure. It's a great little sport coupe.

But not for me.

If you're sufficiently young, sufficiently enamored with performance, sufficiently devoid of any aches and pains .. well, you might love this Tiburon. But if time has added some years and some aches, then know that this sports suspension transmits every road irregularity up to YOU. Every bump, every pothole, every tar strip. And it's not welcome "road feedback" either. It's a thud, a whap in the butt, a slap to the tail bone that was found most unwelcome by everyone who rode in this tester.

You are forewarned. If all of your streets are freshly resurfaced, have at it.

If workers leaning on shovels can't quite seem to keep up with the wear and tear on roads in your area, you might want to consider comfort when you purchase your next vehicle. That being the case, the Tiburon drops out of contention.

Comfortable it is not.

But Lord can it fly.

Our GT V6 tester had the new, very smooth 6-speed manual shifter, with a clutch that was not overly stiff and engaged easily. The torque is sufficient here that constant shifting to achieve passing power is unnecessary, unlike the rev-happy Honda and Toyota models.

On the plus side, it was easy to enter and exit the Tiburon -- contortionist capabilities are not necessary -- and the driving position was good. Forget the two rear seats, however. No leg room whatsoever.

Now, about the photos here: Tiburon means shark in Spanish. There are even styling cues taken from the real-world dreaded denizen of the deep (do you see gills here?). And a shark this model should be, eating competitors in both sales and street performance.

The previous Tiburon, flawed as it was, was superior to the Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire. This one is vastly improved over the previous one. As is Hyundai itself. The South Korean automaker has been moving up the J.D. Power quality listings like an All-American high school wide receiver getting help on the SATs so he can enter Notre Dame on a football scholarship. The difference is Hyundai deserves its improved scores

So here's the bottom line: You want bang for the buck? You're looking at the best. You want more than that? Keep reading.


No agency has crash tested a Tiburon, so no definitive statement about safety can be made.

It's small and it's light, factors not in your favor in an accident. But it has dual front and dual side airbags, very desirable, and rare in a vehicle under $20,000.

Our tester did not have optional anti-lock brakes, even more desirable.


One hundred and eighty-one horsepower should not feel like this.

It feels .. so fast. It feels .. more like 225 horsepower. Honestly.

How can this be? The power to weight ratio is only 16.7 to 1. It just should not feel like such a speedster.

But consider the subjective things that create the illusion of speed. A go cart seems fast. Why? Because you're practically sitting on the ground. If you were four feet off the ground, you'd want to get out and push the go cart. The Tiburon sits you low, increasing the speed illusion. You feel almost on the ground.

And it looks fast. Some have noted that it looks like the Ferrari 456 (left) and, you know, it kinda does. Course, that Ferrari resides in a class by itself, but a knockout knockoff still looks good, right? And you save Big Bucks.

The Tiburon's gears launch you quickly and are close spaced, so you step up rapidly. There seems to be little drop in power as you leave peak rpm and move up to the next gear. On the highway, you pass easily without downshifting. Around town, you can stay in fifth almost all of the time.

It makes the Tiburon with this manual shifter quite pleasant to drive. Not so pleasant is having to shift all the time because a car lugs if it stays in a high gear. Won't happen with this Tiburon and this shifter setup. And an automatic is available as an option for those who just hate to shift, but love the looks.

This is the first year a V6 has been offered in the Tiburon model, and it's the same V6 used in the larger Sonata and Santa Fe. In this sleeker, lighter car, it proves potent.

Pop the hood and you're greeted with a pristine engine compartment, with almost everything covered. The engine cover looks like a rib cage protector for the Terminator. The only item most people need to access under the hood is the oil dipstick, anyhow, so all these covers do not interfere with practical concerns. Bubba need not pop the hood on this one if he stalls on the interstate. Call AAA, Bubba. There's nothing you can do here.

Cornering could be done at any sane speed. The steering feel was excellent, with the car going where pointed, influenced by a bit of understeer in this front-driver. Indeed, it's a pity this isn't a rear-driver. All sports cars should be.

Slam the aluminum pedal to metal and you'll experience torque steer. It's particularly evident when you're turning and accelerating hard at the same time.

The speedy feeling is really only that. The Tiburon is not the fastest of its kind, and, in computer testing at least, lost to the Toyota Celica GT-S. But we're talking hundredths of a second differences between the Tiburon and Celica, Eclipse, etc. The striking styling of this one, coupled with an industry-leading 10-year/100,000 mile warranty, might tilt buyers to it.

Hyundai Tiburon GT V6 Computer Test Data

Acceleration 0-30 0-40 0-50 0-60 0-70 0-80 0-90 0-100 Elapsed time (seconds) 2.2 3.9 5.1 7.5 9.4 12.3 15.1 19.5


Top speed 142 mph potential


Quarter mile 15.6 seconds @ 91.4 mph


Power-to-weight ratio 16.7

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Comfort

By sport coupe standards, the Tiburon is easy to enter and exit. The driver's seat is quite low, but settling in does not require gymnastic skill, as it does in some coupes and sports cars. Decent side bolstering will hold you on the cloth seats that came with an optional Ultrasports package.

Seat adjustments are manual, but that's to be expected at this price level. And seat adjustment is most often a set-it-and-forget-it proposition if one person drives the car.

There's a three-spoke steering wheel, sporty but a debit in my book.

The rear seat is real trouble, however..

It's dreadful and might as well not be there. In fact, the split seats fold flat to increase cargo space and since they are useless for passengers, they might as well stay folded flat. Access to the rear is difficult, although front seat belts do slide out of the way in a trick borrowed from Volkswagen. The vast expanse of rear window glass will mash down atop any head and heat from the sun will soon toast anyone unlucky enough to be back there.

Foot and leg room are non-existant. Clearly, this is not a passenger-carrying setup. Chihuahuas might be content.

The instrument display is another serious stumble by Hyundai. The things have dark silver numerals against black. Ugh. No contrast. And since the display is deeply recessed to avoid reflections at night, the important instruments are in such deep daytime shade as to be invisible.

How on earth is it that so many manufacturers are producing unreadable instruments, while others have beautiful ones? There seems to be no middle ground here. There are only a few displays that have proven useful, so can we please stop with the dangerous tinkering with designs in dark tones, reds and unreadable LEDs? Function comes first, people! Let's let engineers, not designers, handle this one.

To its credit, the Tiburon GT V6 comes with a nice set of standard features included in the base price. I enjoyed air conditioning, a six-speaker stereo system with CD, remote control keyless entry, cruise control, power windows and door locks, and intermittent wipers. Anti-lock brakes should be standard, but are not.

Our tester also had a wing on the rear deck, fog lights, hotshot alloy wheels, and dual exhausts to shout to the world that I'm baaaaad.

In the end, what kills this Tiburon -- what costs it one James Dean -- is the brutality of the ride. Nothing subtle here. You hit a crack, it hits you back. The discomfort becomes positively nauseating after a short time. You and your passenger will begin to flinch in anticipation of being clobbered by that railroad crossing ahead. You may find yourself lifting off the seat. This is not a little rough. This gives the Prowler and Wrangler a run for their money.

The Tiburon is uncomfortable, okay?

'nuff said here.

Parting Shots

Sport coupes are a hard sell to anyone over 25.

As vehicles go, they are impractical in the extreme.

They often sacrifice room, comfort, visibility, any semblance of utility. They are among the least safe vehicles.

But they look goooooood. Oh yeh, they look good. Designers who don't have to worry about four doors, head room for rear seat passengers, trunk space and the like can pen dreams that have appeal right up to moment the car is driven regularly.

Then reality intrudes.

If you have a family or more than one friend, you need four doors. If you ever go on vacation, you need trunk space for more than an overnight bag. If you are unlucky enough to have your once-every-decade accident, you might want more safety at that decisive moment. If your roads are anything besides smooth ribbons of glistening asphalt, you will want more comfort than these spine-beaters yield.

But the young will still buy sport coupes. Coupes look as good as a pair of jeans a shapely 18-year-old woman has to lie supine on a bed to wiggle into, but they have all the practicality of button-up flies worn by a 48-year-old man with prostate troubles. Mostly, I think, these racy coupes don't look like papa's sedan or momma's minivan. That's the real siren song here. That's the real appeal. Coupes have flair. They shout look-at-me! They try to make an individual statement in a cookie-cutter world gone crazy with uniformity. They rebel.

Just look at today's youth and tell me that's not what they want. From clownish clothing to booming music filled with obscenities, youth screams brief defiance until adult concerns conspire to mold today's iconoclasts into tomorrow's team-playing worker bees.

So the young will buy sport coupes and those over 25 will click over to the review of the Infiniti Q45.

Okay, backward baseball cap set -- you should consider this Tiburon. If a coupe is in your immediate future, this one deserves your serious consideration. Today, it's your big decision. Tomorrow, you'll choose between the white shirt or the blue shirt.

'nuff said.