Story and photos by Grant Yoxon
Mid-way through a very long model year, Hyundai has shuffled its Tiburon line-up, dropping one trim level and adding another.
While base and SE trim levels continue as introduced in January this year with the 2.0 litre 4-cylinder engine and standard 5-speed manual transmission, the loaded GS-R has been dropped.
New to the line-up is the ‘limited edition’ Tuscani, equipped with all the performance enhancements – 2.7 litre V6, 6-speed manual transmission, 17″ wheels and tires, sport-tuned suspension and traction control – that the GS-R possessed and more, but priced at $1,800 less.
For buyers who want both performance and luxury accommodations, the V6-powered Tiburon GT can now be ordered with an optional performance package that adds the 6-speed transmission and traction control.
But it will be lacking features that only the Tuscani offers – much improved brakes, performance analogue gauge cluster, climate control, titanium interior trim and searing ‘Tuscani’ yellow paint that will leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that this Tiburon is special.
Click image to enlarge
There is nothing special in the name, though. It is not a designer car. No fashion house or fragrance seller was involved in the design. It is not a region of Italy – that’s Tuscany – although it does have a European flavour. Unique Tuscani badging replaces the Hyundai emblems found on all other models.
The GS-R, with its V6 power and 6-speed manual transmission, was intended to appeal to driving enthusiasts, but potential buyers may have been turned off by its top-of-the-line content and price.
Some enthusiasts, especially those on a budget, were disappointed that the V6, 6-speed drive train wasn’t at least optionally available in the base Tiburon. The Tuscani may resemble the base Tiburon — neither have the rear wing found on the SE and GT – but it is not the budget performer some have been waiting for. It is certainly more of a driver’s car than the GS-R, but it is no stripper, not with features like climate control and power sunroof.
Power windows, door locks, sun roof and heated outside mirrors, cruise control, keyless entry with alarm system, trip computer, metal pedals and fog lights are all standard Tuscani equipment.
Dropped from the option list is the GS-R’s 7-speaker JBL audio system. A 6-speaker system with 6-CD changer is now standard in all Tiburons. Filling the gap left by the large face JBL system in the Tuscani is a row of analogue gauges measuring torque, in Newton-Metres, voltage and real time fuel consumption.
These gauges are attractive but, functionally, they offer little useful information for the driver. And they are located too low in the centre stack to be viewed without taking your eyes too far off the road.
The Tuscani shares the same instrument cluster as other models, featuring speedometer and tachometer in two large dials with two smaller dials – engine temperature and fuel – in between. Light grey digits on a black background glow bright red at night, but look a bit drab and are difficult to read during the day.
The 2003 Tiburon’s redesigned monotone black interior is also a bit drab, but some additional brightwork – titanium trim around the centre panel and on the power window switch panels – has been added to the Tuscani.
Headroom in the sun roof-equipped Tiburon is limited and tall drivers may feel a bit cramped. However, whether actual or imaginary, I felt a bit more clearance above my head, sitting in the cloth covered sport seats of the Tuscani, than I did in the GS-R’s leather seats. These seats have substantial thigh and side bolsters and offer great support when cornering.
Rear seat room is cramped The Tuscani – any Tiburon for that matter – is really a two-plus-two. Or two plus a lot of stuff. Although described as a sports coupe, the Tiburon is actually a very functional hatchback. The rear seats fold down providing a very large cargo area, while the rear hatch opens high and wide.
Despite the large rear opening, the Tiburon feels tight. Even on rough roads, we heard no squeaks or rattles, a benefit of its very stiff, Elantra-derived platform.
A stiff chassis aids in handling and the V6 Tiburon is an adept handler. Both the GT and the Tuscani share the same ‘sport tuned’ suspension components that firm up the ride considerably. Compared to a 4-cylinder-equipped Tiburon, V6 cars have larger anti-roll bars (23 mm front and 19 mm rear), front shocks that are 67 percent stiffer in rebound and 50 percent in compression, rear shocks that are 50 percent stiffer in both, and spring rates about 10 percent higher.
Our test car did not feel as firmly planted to the road in tight corners as the GS-R we drove last year, but this may be due to tires – the Tuscani wore Pirelli Snowsport winter tires instead of the standard Michelin Pilot Sports. We had limited opportunity to test the Tuscani’s capabilities, as temperatures were below freezing during our test drive and roads were at times snow covered.
Despite their similarities, the Tuscani has one big advantage over the GT — brakes. The front brakes are ventilated discs with high strength, dual piston performance calipers constructed of lightweight aluminum material. Rears are solid discs with floating calipers. Assisting brake performance is a four-channel anti-lock brake system with electronic brake force distribution and a full traction control system that simultaneously controls both engine and brakes.
In testing conducted by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), the Tiburon Tuscani displayed braking ability surpassed by only one other vehicle in the entire Car of the Year test field. The Tiburon’s 37.7 metre (123.7 ft.) 100 km/h to zero stopping distance was second only to the Mercedes-Benz C32 AMG (36.31 m/119.14 ft.) and better than such exotics as the Acura NSX, BMW Z4 and Jaguar S-Type R — and 3.4 metres (11.14 ft) better than Tiburon models equipped with standard front calipers.
Unfortunately, this braking system is only available on the Tuscani. ABS is standard on the GT and traction control is optional. Neither are available for base or ES models.
While the Tuscani out-brakes the supercars it won’t blow them away in straight-line performance. But neither the Tuscani (or its driver) would be embarrassed. In the AJAC tests, the Tuscani accelerated from zero to 100 km/h in a respectable 7.8 seconds.
Both GT and Tuscani are powered by Hyundai’s all-aluminum 2.7-litre V6 DOHC engine. This engine produces 170 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 181 ft.-lbs. of torque at 4000 rpm and is a refined, smooth revving engine. The 6-speed transmission seems particularly suited to the V6, with well-spaced gears that allow the driver to make the best of the engine’s power band. Sixth is strictly a fuel-saving gear.
The Tiburon Tuscani is available as a limited edition model, but Hyundai will build as many as dealers order in a one-time offering. Tuscani owners will get features not found in any other Tiburon including climate control and world-class braking.
But there are limits. If you want a yellow Tiburon, it must be a Tuscani. And if you want a Tuscani, it must be yellow.
Technical Data: 2003 Hyundai Tiburon Tuscani
|Price as tested||$27,375|
|Type||2-door, 4 passenger coupe/hatchback|
|Layout||transverse front engine/front wheel drive|
|Engine||2.7 litre V6, DOHC, 24-valves|
|Horsepower||170 @ 6000 rpm|
|Torque||181 ft-lbs. @ 4000 rpm|
|Tires||P215/45R17 Pirelli Snowsport|
|Curb weight||1333 kg (2939 lbs.)|
|Wheelbase||2535 mm (99.6 in.)|
|Length||4395 mm (173 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|
|Highway — 8.2 L/100 km|
|Warranty||3 years/60,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||5 years/100,000 km|