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New Car/Review

1997 Hyundai Tiburon

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Hyundai Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:             1.8-liter 16-valve four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:  130hp@6000 rpm/122 lb-ft@5000 rpm
TRANSMISSION:       Five-speed manual
FUEL ECONOMY:       22 mpg city,  30 mpg highway,  21.8 mpg test
WHEELBASE:          97.4 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:     170.9 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:     51.3 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:      68.1 in.
CURB WEIGHT:        2566 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:      14.5 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:   12.8 cu. ft. (rear seat up)
TIRES:              P195/60HR14
INSTRUMENTS:        Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                    water temperature, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:          Power windows, power door locks, 
                    power mirrors, air conditioner, AM-FM stereo 
                    radio with cassette, anti-lock braking, 
                    dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE:      $15,734

Hyundai began its life in North America by offering inexpensive--bordering on cheap--economy cars. When the thrill of the low price wore off, often the car did, too. Early Hyundais were plagued with reliability problems and low build quality.

But unlike Yugo, which also built its early sales success on low price, Hyundai decided to do something about the perception problem. Hyundais are still low-price, probably among the lowest in their segment. But the quality of the Accent (nee Excel) and Sonata have improved to a point where you're no longer afraid to take them on the highway.

Now Hyundai is expanding into new markets. Our tester this week is the Tiburon, which is a sport coupe. This is a crowded market, with entries from Mitsubishi/Chrysler, Ford/Mazda, Honda and Chevrolet, among others. It's an arena where price isn't the only determinant for buyers. Styling, performance and features are among the attributes that buyers in this market look for.

Hyundai has done its market research job well. The Tiburon offers style that can compete with the best of them, features that are minimalistic, but adequate, and performance. This is probably the best Hyundai yet, and the price is still competitive. The Tiburon has a lower price than any other car in the market with the possible exception of the Nissan 200SX, based on a comparison of list prices. So if you're in the market for a small sport coupe, you can't overlook the price differential.

You also can't overlook the fact that the Tiburon performs like a sports coupe beside looking like one. The 130 horsepower 1.8-liter four in the standard Tiburon (there's a 2.0-liter four in the FX version) is peppy and zips the Tiburon along with the best of them. While we didn't engage in any clandestine stop light drag races or duals along twisty mountain roads, we're certain that the Hyundai could hold its own with similarly equipped competitors. Let's face it, you still have to put the bucks up to get performance. The base models of the competition perform no better than the base model of the Tiburon, within reasonable limits.

Handling is very good. Tiburon's front suspension is by MacPherson struts with offset coil springs, stabilizer bar and gas-charged struts, while the rear is a fully independent dual-link affair with trailing arms and offset coil springs. The car could handle all we threw at it in normal to high-speed driving over twisting roads.

In the styling department the Tiburon also holds its own quite well. At first I thought the delivery was a Dodge Colt, because it looked so much like the car my daughter's fiance drives. But on closer inspection, of course, I saw it was a Tiburon. With a swoopy nose and fastback styling (including a neat little spoiler), the Tiburon looks like it's moving even when it's standing still. I especially liked the side sculpting, which gave the Tiburon character.

According to Hyundai, Tiburon styling is based on their HCD-II concept car, which they introduced in 1993.

Sitting in front of the instrument panel, I felt as if I had been put into a Taurus offshoot. The main i.p. is oval, with an oval speedometer dominating. Even the round kph meter inside the oval mph meter looked right. The oval theme is carried to the tachometer and accessory fuel and water gauges as well, making for a pleasant package. I probably spent too much time looking at the speedometer because I simply liked the appearance. The rest of the dash is relatively normal, with just a slight hint of ovalness to the vent outlets.

You may recall that I once talked about comparing a Hyundai to the cars of the Fifties, whose manufacturers told you to slam the doors to test their quality. Obviously, we know a bit more today about quality, but the "door slam" test is still a measure of the solidity of the vehicle. Tiburon can hold its own in this test, probably better than some of the other Hyundais. I got the impression that here was a Hyundai that had moved up a step or two in the solidity department.

"Korean built" carries the same stigma today that "Japanese built" had in the Forties and Fifties. Obviously, the Japanese manufacturers have learned a thing or two about building quality automobiles. It appears that Hyundai is following the same path with Tiburon.