2003 Hyundai Tiburon GS-R
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Story by Greg Wilson
Photos by Grant Yoxon

All-new for the 2003 model year, the Hyundai Tiburon is slightly bigger than the previous model, and is now available with a 181 horsepower 2.7 litre V6 engine, a 6-speed manual transmission, and a 4-speed automatic ‘Shiftronic’ transmission. Four cylinder Tiburons start at $19,995 and V6 models start at $25,795.

New V6 engine adds power, smoothness to redesigned Tiburon

Hyundai took a bold step in 1997 when it introduced the radically styled Tiburon 2+2 sporty coupe. Its controversial, rounded styling had more creases and bulges than Arnold Scwharzenegger. A subsequent freshening of the design in 2000 produced an even more outlandish appearance highlighted by four unusually-positioned round headlamps, additional hood bulges, and an aircraft-sized rear wing.

2003 Hyundai Tiburon GS-R
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For the 2003 model year, the Tiburon’s fat fenders have been replaced by a more chiselled look that looks trimmer, neater, and more upscale. The new Tiburon has prominent (but fake) vents on each body side with sculpted body panels that extend from the front fender to the rear fender, similar to those of the Ferrari 456M GT. New projector beam headlamps reside under clear plastic covers, and at the rear are large wraparound taillamps, twin exhaust pipes, and on some models, a smaller rear spoiler. As well, new 17 inch tires and wheels are now available on GT and GS-R models. The 2003 Tiburon also has a unique metallic-look gas filler cap that resembles those of racing cars.

Its overall appearance is far less extroverted, yet still quite sporty. It gets the thumbs up from most observers, especially the GS-R model with its wider 17 inch tires and alloy wheels.

2003 Hyundai Tiburon GS-R
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The new Tiburon is built on the recently-redesigned Elantra sedan platform, and is bigger all-around than the previous Tiburon: 53 mm (2.1 in.) longer, 30 mm (1.2 in.) wider, 28 mm (1.1 in.) higher with a wheelbase that is 56 mm (2.2 in.) longer. Its wider track and longer wheelbase have two immediate benefits: they enhance handling and ride, and increase interior room and cargo space.

The Tiburon’s previous 140 horsepower 2.0 litre DOHC 16 valve has been carried over on the base and SE models and is available with a choice of a 5-speed manual or 4 speed automatic transmission. The big news is the availability of Hyundai’s 181 horsepower 2.7 litre DOHC 24 valve V6 in the GT and GS-R models. This engine is offered with a new 6-speed manual or 4-speed automatic ‘Shiftronic’ transmission with manual shifting capabilities.

As with the previous Tiburon, the 2003 model offers a fully independent suspension: MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link setup at the rear. The 2003 Tiburon also offers standard four wheel disc brakes, but ABS is available only on GT and GS-R models.

Interior impressions

The 2003 Tiburon’s new interior is attractive and sporty-looking, but I found my test car’s monotone black leather interior rather bleak. Fortunately, it was relieved by selected metal trim around the gearshift boot, metallic trim on the steering wheel spoke, metal rings around the speedometer and tachometer, and metal foot pedals. More and more interiors are finished in lighter two-tone colour shades nowadays, and to my eye, a monotone interior looks rather plain.

2003 Hyundai Tiburon GS-R
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2003 Tiburon GT and GS-R models come with standard leather upholstery, which basically means that if you don’t like leather, you’re out of luck. The GS-R’s front leather sport seats look and feel great – they have substantial thigh and side bolsters, and offer great support when cornering. Unfortunately though, they don’t have seat heaters for warming your butt on cold mornings. Also, while the driver’s seat cushion is height adjustable, it raises and lowers at the rear which either tilts you forwards or backwards rather than upwards.

The Tiburon’s handsome, easy-to-see instrument cluster features two large round dials, two small dials and an LCD odometer under a round hood – simple and attractive. At night, the gauges and controls are backlit in a sporty red colour. The GS-R’s leather-wrapped steering wheel has perforated leather inserts which add a measure of quality to its appearance.

2003 Hyundai Tiburon GS-R
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The centre control panel features two prominent round air vents at the top; an AM/FM/CD/cassette player with a single disc CD player that’s easy to use and provides symphony-like sound from its seven speakers; three large dials for the heating and air conditioning system which can be operated with an extremely light finger touch; and a lower powerpoint/lighter and ashtray. There’s also a couple of cupholders behind the shift lever and an armrest/storage bin for CD’s.

On the doors are power window and power mirror buttons which face the passengers, and I found these easy to use, however I noticed that there is not a power door lock/unlock button.

On the passenger side is a small hole in the dash which baffled me – I can only guess it is made for a cell phone.

2003 Hyundai Tiburon GS-R
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My biggest gripe with the Tiburon’s interior is its headroom. Even with the height-adjustable seat cushion adjusted to its lowest setting, I found the roof height to be low, and drivers over six feet tall will find their heads brushing on the ceiling. Part of the problem is the standard sunroof — unfortunately, you can’t order a GS-R without it.

To get into either of the two rear seats, passengers twist a lever near the top of the front passenger seat, and the seatback folds forward and the seat automatically slides forward. The seat will also slide back to its original position after the seatback is returned to its normal position.

Rear passengers are cramped. The two rear deep-dish bucket seats are small, headroom is minimal, knee room is tight, there’s minimal footroom under the front seats, and there are no head restraints. Rear passengers do have a covered storage bin on the right side and a map pocket on the back of the front passenger seat.

The cargo area is surprisingly roomy, and with both rear seats folded down, it’s huge. I managed to stow a couple of large (28″ X 18″) speakers in the trunk with the hatch closed. The trunk is almost 3 feet long with the rear seats up, and 66 inches long with rear seats folded down, and measures 36 inches between the rear shock towers (its narrowest point). Liftover height is 28 inches.

Most of the trunk is carpeted, but I noticed that the back of the rear seatbacks is made of a soft fibreboard material that can be scratched by heavy items moving around the trunk (like speakers). Some trunk space is taken up the large subwoofer on the left side of trunk (which comes with the premium stereo system). The Tiburon comes with a compact spare tire under the cargo floor. A privacy cover is standard.

Closing the trunk is a challenge. There is a handhold inside the rear decklid, but it is high up and difficult to reach. Grabbing onto the spoiler or the rear decklid inevitably gets your hands dirty.

The Tiburon’s large, sloping rear window has a defogger and a wiper with an intermittent wiping setting and a washer nozzle – a great idea on icy or snowy mornings.

Driving Impressions

2003 Hyundai Tiburon
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The Tiburon’s 2.7 litre V6 engine, which is also used in the Santa Fe SUV, is a very smooth, refined, even-revving engine. In fact, it’s almost too refined for a sports car. At idle, you can hardly tell it’s running, and it’s very quiet at cruising speeds. At a steady 100 km/h in sixth gear, the engine does 2700 rpm, and at 120 km/h it does 3200 rpm, and feels very comfortable doing so.

With a maximum 181 horsepower developed at 6000 rpm and 177 lb ft of torque at 4000 rpm, the Tiburon’s engine is not as punchy at low revs as say, GM’s 3.4 litre V6 or even the New Beetle’s turbocharged 1.8 litre four – but its power builds progressively and predictably with no surprises. During my test-drive, I went from 0 to 100 km/h just under 9 seconds, so it’s not a rocket. Still, it’s about two seconds faster to 100 km/h than the four cylinder Tiburon.

2003 Hyundai Tiburon
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I liked the Tiburon’s V6 engine because it revs freely and smoothly with minimal vibrations and noise, and its performance can be enhanced considerably with deft use of the six-speed manual transmission (offered only in the GS-R).

Fuel consumption is reasonable for a V6-powered sporty car. Transport Canada fuel consumption ratings are 12.9 l/100 km (22 mpg) in the city; and 8.2 l/100 km (34 mpg) on the highway.

The manual six-speed has a uniquely-shaped shift knob with protruding soft rubber nodules to help maintain a good grip. Shifts are fairly short, notchy and consist of two distinct steps – out of gear into neutral, then into gear. The overall shift feel is an improvement from earlier Tiburon manual transmissions. I experienced some mild clutch ‘chatter’ when engaging the clutch, but this was probably peculiar to my particular car.

2003 Hyundai Tiburon
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Over bumpy pavement, the body feels tight, a noteworthy accomplishment for a hatchback body design with a large rear hatch opening. The Tiburon’s handling is really superb – a credit to its rigid Elantra-derived platform, fully independent suspension, and sticky Dunlop Super Sport 225/45ZR-17 tires. I found the ride a bit stiff, but not harsh enough to make me slow down. Its power-assisted rack and pinion steering is quick and direct, and though it’s not variable-assist, I found it well weighted for both city and highway use.

The standard four wheel disc brakes with ABS offer good pedal feel and quick stops, and traction control comes standard with the anti-lock brakes on the GS-R model. Unfortunately, base and SE Tiburons, are not offered with ABS, even as an option.

Outward visibility is good to the front and sides, but the Tiburon’s thick rear hatch pillar obstructs visibility slightly when shoulder-checking and the big rear spoiler also gets in the way when checking the rearview mirror.

The Tiburon’s cabin is pretty quiet at freeway speeds, but there is some wind noise and a little road noise seeping in through the rear wheelwells.

Competitor overview

Surprisingly, the Tiburon GS-R doesn’t have many direct competitors – there just aren’t many V6-powered sport coupes in its price range. Its closest competitors would be the four cylinder Toyota Celica GT-S ($30,860), Acura RSX Type S ($31,000), and VW New Beetle GLX 1.8T ($29,665); and V6 sporty coupes such as the Honda Accord V6 Coupe ($31,100), Acura 3.2CL ($36,000), Pontiac Grand Am GT1 Coupe ($27,830), Oldsmobile Alero Coupe GLS ($27,670), Chrysler Sebring Coupe Lxi ($30,990), Ford Mustang ($22,795), Chevrolet Camaro ($26,995) and Pontiac Firebird ($27,695). The Celica has about the same amount of horsepower as the V6 Tiburon, but has a high-revving 1.8 litre four cylinder engine that’s noisier and has less torque. Same goes for the high-revving Acura RSX Type S. However, the Celica is over a second faster to 100 km/h, and the RSX Type S is 1.5 seconds faster, the quickest in its class. The New Beetle Turbo is a surprisingly good performer with great road manners, but its styling may not appeal to Tiburon intenders.

The Honda Accord Coupe V6 is a possible competitor for the GS-R, but it is less sporty and more luxurious. The same thing applies to the Acura 3.2CL which is also considerably more expensive. GM’s V6-powered coupes, the Grand Am and Alero, have more responsive V6 engines but they don’t handle as well as the Tiburon. The rear-drive Ford Mustang is just plain outdated when it comes to its suspension and vehicle dynamics – same goes for the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird. Chrysler’s Sebring Coupe is bigger, less sporty, and more conservative than the Tiburon.

Price and features

2003 Hyundai Tiburon
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2003 Tiburons range in price from $19,995 to $28,995 in base, SE, GT and GS-R trim levels. Base models include the 2.0 litre four cylinder engine and 5 speed manual transmission, 16 inch tires and alloy wheels, AM/FM/CD, fog lights, power windows, and four wheel disc brakes. An automatic transmission is an extra $1,100.

Tiburon SE models ($22,395) add air conditioning, sunroof, keyless entry, cruise control, and a rear spoiler. Tiburon SE models with the Leather package ($23,395) add leather seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

Tiburon GT models ($25,795) include everything found on the SE Leather model plus the 2.7 litre V6 engine, 17 inch tires and alloy wheels, sport-tuned suspension and anti-lock brakes.

Top-of-the-line Tiburon GS-R ($28,795) adds the standard 6-speed manual transmission, traction control, premium stereo system, side airbags, and metal pedals. You can get the 4-speed automatic Shiftronic transmission for an extra $200 on the GS-R.

A fully-loaded GS-R comes to under $30,000, a good price for this much car.


2003 Hyundai Tiburon
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Though it’s not a rocket, the top-of-the-line Tiburon GS-R model with the 2.7 litre V6 engine and 6-speed manual transmission is quicker and more refined than four cylinder Tiburon’s � and offers a level of engine refinement that is better than most V6 competitors. Biggest gripe? Needs more headroom.

Technical Data:

2003 Hyundai Tiburon GS-R
Base price $28,795
Arctic Silver Paint* $125
Freight $380
Price as tested $29,300
Type 2-door, 4 passenger coupe/hatchback
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.7 litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves
Horsepower 181 @ 6000 rpm
Torque 177 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission 6 speed manual (4 speed automatic)
Tires P214/45R-17
Curb weight 1333 kg (2939 lb.)
Wheelbase 2530 mm (99.6 in.)
Length 4395 mm (173.0 in.)
Width 1760 mm (69.3 in.)
Height 1330 mm (52.4 in.)
Cargo capacity 418 litres (14.8 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 12.9 l/100 km (22 mpg)
  Hwy: 8.2 l/100 km (34 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

Note: Two Tiburon GS-Rs were used in the production of this article – an Arctic Silver car tested by Greg Wilson and a Carbon Blue car photographed by Grant Yoxon.

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