2005 Hyundai Tiburon
Model tested not exactly as shown. Photos: Hyundai Canada. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Laurance Yap

It was actually at a Honda-Acura presentation a couple of weeks ago that I learned that Hyundai Tiburon sales – which once led the small sports-coupe pack – were actually down compared to the previous-generation model. From its 1996 introduction, the last Tiburon, available only with a four-cylinder engine and sporting styling that was definitely polarizing (you either loved or hated its exaggerated curves and small wheels) was a bestseller. It helped make Hyundai’s name and cemented its image as a maker of cars that were far more than econoboxes.

To be honest, that the current Tiburon wasn’t doing as well came as a big surprise to me. It is in every way a better car than the one it replaced a couple of years ago. It’s better built, it has a roomier and more versatile interior, and offers two engine choices, a four-cylinder and a snarly, if not exactly hugely powerful, 2.7-litre, 172-hp V6. It’s the former of the two I’m writing about today, most of my exposure to the Tiburon having been in V6 models.

Producing 138 hp, the 2.0-litre four-cylinder in the base Tiburon isn’t exactly class-leading, when cars like the Acura RSX and Toyota Celica are producing close to, or even more than, 200 horses. Indeed, the Tiburon looks kind of like an underachiever. But the power figure doesn’t tell the whole story. While the top engines in the Japanese competition need to be wound up for real go power, the Tiburon has useful low-end torque that means it actually never feels any less than quick when you’re zipping around town running errands. Highway passing is another matter, with most manoeuvres requiring a downshift, but the base engine remains smooth as the revs rise, with a delightful snarl from the twin tailpipes.

2005 Hyundai Tiburon

2005 Hyundai Tiburon

2005 Hyundai Tiburon
Click image to enlarge

At least, that is, if you have selected the standard five-speed manual transmission. It offers slick shifts, well-defined gates, and a positive action. The optional four-speed automatic ($1,100) is probably best avoided in the Tiburon. While it’s actually very smooth and decently responsive, it’s not programmed for aggressive driving, and is always looking for an excuse to slip into its fuel-sipping top gear. And with one less ratio to play with, the engine tends to fall off its power band in between shifts. While the automatic works just fine in the Elantra with which the Tiburon shares much of its underpinnings, it’s out of character for the more aggressive, sporty driving experience that the two-door’s styling promises.

Rest assured that said driving experience does, largely, measure up to the styling. The old Tiburon was always a hoot, with its Porsche-tuned suspension and eager engine, and the new one’s the same, just a bit more grown up. So now, in addition to being far nimbler than its size would lead you to believe, and feeling more eager than its engine’s power rating, the Tiburon has received a welcome dose of refinement as well. The new Tiburon rides well over bumps, and there seems to be a lot of suspension travel (the 15-inch tires’ high sidewalls help too). Demerits? The brake pedal seems too soft when you’re driving aggressively, the clutch has a very high bite point, and the steering seems way too heavy at low speeds, though it’s just right when you’re moving faster.

For 2005, the Tiburon receives a minor exterior facelift. The lower fascia, head lights, fog lights and tail lights, and side view mirrors have been changed to freshen the look for 2005. The 16″ wheel found on Tiburon and Tiburon SE is also newly designed, giving it a sportier appearance. Inside, seats on the SE and Tuscani models receive a sporty look with a red cloth insert. The overhead console receives a new overhead lamp and sunroof layout, while the centre air vent control now comes with a chrome surround. Also new for 2005 is the addition of an AM/FM/CD/MP3 player, which is a standard feature on all Tiburons.

The Tiburon’s matured driving experience goes with a much more mature interior, as well. Though there’s a bit of that “black hole” quality to the cabin – everything really is unremittingly black – the plastics and fabrics are of high quality and the seats in particular are terrific, supportive and comfortable over long distances. The rear seats are good in a pinch for short trips, but their real purpose is to extend the already-cavernous trunk so that you can take everything including the kitchen sink. Quality outside – tight panel gaps and a fine paint finish – is a step above the old Tiburon as well.

While it may seem down on power and panache compared to some of its major competitors (the Celica and RSX spring to mind), the Tiburon is priced way below them. A base model like the one I tested can be had for about $20,000 including air conditioning and power goodies; V6 models start around $25,000, which is still more than $5000 less than the faster versions of the Japanese cars. That’s great value, and the Tiburon is, given its price and performance, a great car too.

Technical Data: 2005 Hyundai Tiburon 4 cylinder

Base price $20,495
Options None
Freight $555
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $21,150
Type 2-door, 4 passenger compact coupe/hatchback
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.0 litre 4 cylinder, CVVT, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 138 @ 6000 rpm
Torque 136 ft-lb @ 4500 rpm
Transmission 5 speed manual (opt. 4 speed automatic w/Shiftronic)
Tires P205/55R-16
Curb weight 1280 kg (2822 lb.)
Wheelbase 2540 mm (100.0 in.)
Length 4395 mm (173.0 in.)
Width 1760 mm (69.3 in.)
Height 1330 mm (52.4 in.)
Cargo area 418 litres (14.8 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 10.0 L/100 km (28 m.p.g.)
  Hwy: 7.1 L/100 km (40 m.p.g.)
Fuel type Regular unleaded
Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 7 yrs/120,000 km

Connect with Autos.ca