2006 Hyundai Tiburon Tuscani
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Review and photos by Lesley Wimbush

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Tuscany. The name evokes images of sun-drenched vineyards, dining al-fresco on olive-oil rich delicacies in pastel stucco courtyards while exotic 12-cylinder convertibles cruise slowly by – chic and beautiful passengers hiding behind oversized shades.

The similarly named Tuscani, (a limited edition Hyundai Tiburon), seems to have aspirations of European heritage. Its gorgeous design is so similar to the 456 GT coupe produced by Italy’s beloved house of Ferrari – they could be virtual clones, separated at birth. It is in fact, only available in Europe – and Canada… but was born and bred in South Korea.

Originally, the Tuscani model came strictly in a retina-searing bright yellow. Fortunately, our test Tiburon sported blazing Ferrari red paint. Tuscani badging – a stylized T on the snout, posterior and wheel centre caps, is a feature found only on the special edition model, and again, gives it a slightly more upscale, exotic look.

The Tiburon has gone through some changes since its 1996 inception. The latest incarnation is, stylistically, a winner. Gone is the cheap and cheesy import with undefined body shape, whale-tail spoiler and older Acura-like double headlights. The Tiburon’s 2004 makeover left it Ferrari beautiful, with no facelift necessary for 2006.

2006 Hyundai Tiburon Tuscani
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From every angle the view is pleasing. The hood is long, the deck short and the stance is wide and aggressive. Behind is a perky chiselled rump – no droop in this booty. And yet, it cleverly hides the fact that it is indeed a voluminous hatchback with plenty of trunk space.

Tiburon is spanish for “shark” and thus bears signature gill-like vents behind its fenders. Its side cutline creases lend visual edginess and serve to make the body look slender. A high beltline visually drops the car for lowered effect. Edgy, knife-sharp creases on the hood add a sharply sculpted look. Small details such as shark fins, dual chrome exhaust and a racing-inspired fuel door add more stylistic punch.

2006 Hyundai Tiburon Tuscani
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As well, large 17-inch wheels fit and fill the fender spaces with fender arches perfectly complimenting the lines of the rims. Red calipers front and back peep through the 5-split-spoked wheels bearing the Tuscani badge.

The Tiburon is available with two engines: a 2.0-litre four-cylinder in the base and the SE models, and a 2.7-litre, DOHC 24-valve, 6-cylinder engine with 172 horsepower that’s used exclusively in the Tuscani.

The Tuscani model also adds 17-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, heated leather seats, ABS, disc brakes all around, chrome drilled “racing look” pedals, automatic climate control, multi-analog gauges and trip computer.

2006 Hyundai Tiburon Tuscani
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Initially, I quite disliked the test model’s manual gear shifter and it took a day or so to get comfortable with it. An upright swizzle stick, its tall vertical design meant that my hand never made intuitive contact with it. Neutral was north of centre, so at first I was never quite certain which gear I was in. The gates were a bit nebulous, without that dead certain snick of being precisely in gear. Add to that the fact that the gearbox is a six-speed and there’s a lot of shuffling to be done in city driving. First and second gear are gone in a blink. I’d prefer the sixth gear to be gotten rid of, and the extra range taken from 1st and 2nd to create it, given back. A six-speed gearbox can be a desirable feature in a high-revving, horsepower endowed sports car, but not really necessary in a 172-hp vehicle. However, the transmission is quite smooth.

2006 Hyundai Tiburon Tuscani
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The V6 engine is quiet and smooth. Road and cabin noise are minimal, ride is smooth and well damped. Steering is somewhat slow rather than spirited, but comfortable and acurate. There’s a little bit of torque steer, but nothing obnoxious. Braking is really good, thanks to four-wheel discs.

Suspension is sport-tuned specially for this car, and it does handle well with minimum body roll. However, driving enthusiasts would probably beef up the sway bars to make it really tight.

There are interesting gauges on the centre stack – for those that like a lot of superfluous gadgetry (read – young racer-boys). There’s a gauge showing torque amount, but strangely, it’s in newton meters; there’s one for fuel consumption, and another is a voltage meter. The two oversized round air vents on top of the centre stack looked out of place to me – everything else about the car is sharp-edged curviness. To brighten up the all-black interior, there’s “titanium” trim on centre stack, dash, pedals and door handles.

2006 Hyundai Tiburon Tuscani
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The instrument display is attractive and surprisingly, this is the only Hyundai I’ve ever test driven without the Mountain Dew lime green backlighting. Thankfully, the gauges sport a crisp red on black reminiscent of the Mazda6. Speaking of which, with the Toyota Celica no longer available, Mazda’s sporty hatchback is really the only model similar to the Tiburon, although priced quite a bit higher.

Front bucket seats are comfortable and racer attractive. Designed by Recaro, they’re black leather trimmed with red stitching and have plenty of bolstering. Tall, long-legged drivers will find it hard to get a good position – there isn’t much headroom, necessitating the duck and drop ingress. Rear seats are quite cramped.

I really enjoyed this car, although I found that its performance didn’t live up to the promise of its drop-dead gorgeous looks.

Hyundai’s only “niche” vehicle, the Tiburon has its roots in the S-Coupe a two-door notchback based on the Excel platform. One of the company’s first front-wheel drive cars, the turbo version of the S-Coupe helped Hyundai launch its rally program. This car eventually evolved to become the first generation Tiburon, based on the Elantra platform.

2006 Hyundai Tiburon Tuscani
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The Tiburon has since become competitive on the track and rally circuits and there’s plenty of aftermarket support for those that want to get serious about tightening up performance and handling. There’s a vast and varied supply of custom body kits to make this wanna-be European coupe into a Fast & Furious pocket rocket.

If it were a rear-wheel drive car – the driving enthusiast fan base would be huge. Rumours of a RWD platform have been in the air for a while, confirmed by Hyundai president, Hyun Soon Lee at a recent press conference “Yes, we are developing rear-wheel drive for the next sports car,” he admitted.

Developing such a halo sports car would increase the company’s appeal to younger buyers less concerned with reliability than with image. There has been some speculation that this rear-wheel drive sports car will be the fourth-generation Tiburon. With a RWD performance coupe, Hyundai would be competing against vehicles like the Mazda RX8.
And the Tiburon would be delivering the kind of performance its exotic Euro-inspired looks hint at.

The Tiburon is a bargain at base trim for $20,000… but the Tuscani lists at closer to $30,000. Still, with dealer incentives being what they are, it’s possible to pick one up for a lot less, making it a great buy for the money.

Pricing: 2006 Hyundai Tiburon Tuscani


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Crash test results

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