At $18,995 for the Base model and $21,295 for the ES with standard transmission, 15″ aluminum alloy wheels, 140 hp double overhead cam 2.0 litre engine, power windows, locks and mirrors, power tilt/slide sunroof and air conditioning, the Hyundai Tiburon offers a lot for the money. It’s also a lot of fun to drive.
Tiburon excels in fun and value
When Hyundai introduced its sports car, the Tiburon in 1997, “sportscar” and “Hyundai” were not words normally found in a sentence together.
Known for value-priced family cars like the Accent, Elantra and Sonata, the Tiburon was a departure from the Hyundai tradition – at least from the tradition of family cars.
Further complicating perception was the name. Tiburon is Spanish for “Shark.” But in Canada, it might just as well have meant “dead fish,” such was the lack of association between its name and fast, good handling cars.
So Hyundai decided to do something about that and in 1997 set out to prove that an under $20,000 sports car with an unusual name could compete and finish well on the track.
The Montreal-based Hyundai Motorsports was created and entered two new Tiburons in the Touring Category of the Pro-Enduroseries in Canada, a professional showroom stock racing series. In Pro-Enduro, the racecars are almost identical to the cars consumers can purchase from their dealer.
The result? Hyundai cleaned up, winning 13 of 16 races.
In 1998, Hyundai Motorsports moved up to the North American street stock series known as the Motorola Cup and won the manufacturer’s championship racing against the Oldsmobile Achieva SC, Mazda Miata and Dodge Neon in the C2K compact class.
The next year, Honda joined the class and Hyundai, hampered by rule changes affecting its cars, finished second. So far this year, Hyundai is again running second to Honda, having won one of four races, but the competition in Motorola Cup C2K class has improved as well.
Hyundai Motorsports’ drivers Mark Craig and Jocelyn Hébert, who drive the number 6 Tiburon, are 2nd and 3rd in the driver standings, while number 8 Tiburon drivers Gord Cullen and Didier Schraenen are 7th and 13th respectively. All four are residents of Quebec.
Off the track, Honda is also giving the Tiburon a run in the showrooms. The Base Tiburon with five speed manual transmission (an automatic is available, although one would have to wonder who would want an automatic in this car) is $18,995. The Honda Civic Si coupe with manual transmission (automatic is also available) retails for $18,900.
At the other end of the spectrum the Honda Civic SiR coupe is $23,400, while Hyundai’s SE Tiburon, again with 5-speed manual can be purchased for $21,295 (automatic and leather seats bring the price up to $23, 095).
While the price might be similar, standard features on the Tiburon and Civic Si differ. The Honda has 14″ tires mounted on steel rims, while the Tiburon comes with 15″ aluminum alloy wheels. The Honda has front disc and rear drum brakes; the Hyundai has disc brakes all around. Under the hood, the Tiburon’s double overhead cam 2.0 litre has more power on paper with 140 hp @ 6000 rpm, compared to the Civic’s 1.6 litre single overhead cam VTEC engine which generates 127hp @ 6600 rmp. The Tiburon also has more torque than the Civic – 133 ft-lb at 4800 rpm compared to 107 ft-lb at 5500.
But the Honda Civic Si has a few more standard comfort features, including cruise control, CD player, power door locks and mirrors, and power tilt/slide sunroof, all features standard on the more expensive Tiburon SE.
At the other end of the scale, the Honda Civic SiR has one notable advantage over the Hyundai Tiburon – both are comparably equal in comfort and convenience features – and that is the 1.6 litre DOHC VTEC engine which generates 160 hp @ 7600 rpm. The Tiburon though is comparably equiped with comfort and convenience features for $2105 less. Even with leather seats and automatic transmission, the Tiburon still costs less.
In the end, the choice of which car to buy will likely come down to a matter of taste and reputation. If you prefer to blow the doors off unsuspecting competitors and have them wondering “what the heck was that?”, consider the Civic Si. If you like a lot of attention, consider the Tiburon.
You’ll be noticed coming – the Tiburon has 10 (count ’em – 10) different light fixtures on the front end – and going – the rear spoiler on the SE model (our test car) is huge. Little kids will ooo and ah and point when you pass by, while BMW drivers will look down their noses disdainfully at such unabashed grand standing.
2000 marks the first year for a redesign of the Tiburon. Two trim levels are available this year, Base and SE, replacing the single FX trim level available in 1999.
Basically the same between the front and rear fascias – frameless doors with flush-mounted glass, accented wheel housings and lots of curves – the most dramatic change is to the front end where four round projector-beam headlamps and separate turn signals replace the integrated units of the previous models.
The rear end has also been redesigned to have a stronger look with new, larger tail lamps and air vents. The exhaust tip is also a larger, single exhaust design, taking away a common upgrade from the aftermarket.
Inside, the cockpit is well-laid out with all controls within vision and easy reach. Seating is ergonomically designed, comfortable and firm, providing the kind of support you need when pushing this car to do what it does best – go around corners fast.
I’m taller than most drivers, so the only adjustment I could use on the six way adjustable drivers seat was to put it as low as it would go. Even in this position, I needed to recline the seat back to an uncomfortable (for me) slope to avoid bumping my head on the deep roof liner that surrounds the power sunroof.
I tried a base model for comparison and found plenty of headroom without the sunroof, but unfortunately six way adjustable seats are only available on the ES model.
The car has a great sounding Clarion AM/FM ETR stereo CD, although the controls are difficult to use. And learning to operate this unit while driving is not recommended. However, it comes with a remote control which simplifies common operations and I came to rely on this little gem. However, there was no where convenient or logical to put it when not in use.
The Tiburon seats four, but the back seat isn’t much more than a place to put things or little children. There isn’t much headroom, seating position is low and leg room nearly non-existent. With the rear seats folded, adding more room to the rear hatch area, cargo carrying capacity is considerable.
But then the Tiburon is not a family car. It is a sports car and is most enjoyable when doing what sports cars are intended to do – corner well and make driving fun.
The Tiburon’s fully-independent four-wheel suspension delivers good handling. Front suspension features MacPherson struts with a pivoting arm at each wheel to control vertical movement of the strut and wheel assembly. The rear suspension incorporates an advanced multi link attachment between the wheels and the body. Gas-filled shock absorbers control spring oscillation, while front and rear anti-roll bars control body roll and improve overall handling.
As a result, the Tiburon is firm, but comfortable on even the most uneven surfaces. It handles extremely well without delivering a harsh, body-beating ride as many sports cars do. Couple this with great brakes, low-profile P195/55HR-15 steel-belted Michelin radial tires, and precise, responsive rack-and-pinion steering and their is no doubt the Hyundai Tiburon is a sports car.
While I wished at times the 2.0 litre DOHC motor had more oomph, in reality it is more than adequate for everyday driving around town and on the highway. If driven aggressively – keeping the revs high, downshifting late into a corner and using the Tiburon’s excellent brakes – you can keep the engine within its power band and maximize the thrill factor.
For safety, the Tiburon has dual supplemental front air bags that utilize a “one-box” sensor design for optimum reliability. These are second generation depowered airbags for added driver and passenger safety. Three-point height-adjustable seat belts are provided in front, along with three-point lap/shoulder belts in both rear seat positions and seat belt pretensioners.
Hyundai has a good warranty, by Canadian standards, with limited bumper-to-bumper coverage for three years or 60,000 kilometres and powertrain coverage for 5 years or 100,000 kilometres. Corrosion coverage is five years, unlimited mileage. No charge 24-hour road side assistance, covering emergency towing, lock-out service and some trip-interruption expenses, is standard for three years or 60,000 kilometres.