The Hyundai Tiburon is why you should never analyse a car from just its specs sheet. The Tiburon boasts a 2.7-litre V6, 6-speed close ratio gearbox, all-independent suspension and 17 x 7 alloys wearing high performance tyres. And to many people’s eyes (though not ours) it looks good, with the latest styling upgrade adding a bit more impact. Add all that lot to the increasingly impressive reputation that Hyundai is now carving out and you’d think the Tiburon a winner.
Except it isn’t. Instead, it’s an inconsistent mish-mash of components and ideals, assembled into the ultimate committee car.
Is it a sports car? Nope, not with front-wheel drive that will noticeably torque-steer and with factory performance figures that include a not-scintillating 0-100 km/h in 8.2 seconds.
So is it a personal coupe – y’know, practical and stylish? Not even close – with a cramped and contorted cabin, harsh ride and with six gear ratios stacked closer than the cards in a deck.
So it must be good for economy then, one of those cars that unexpectedly turns-in really good fuel consumption? Not there either – we recorded 12.4 litres/100 in pretty gentle driving, mostly done on the highway.
The trouble is, as a cohesive car the Tiburon isn’t.
Let’s start with the best first. The all-alloy Delta V6 runs on normal unleaded and develops 123kW at 6000 rpm and 245Nm at 4000 rpm. Those figures aren’t anything groundbreaking but the engine is an absolute sweety, silky smooth and superbly linear in its power delivery. Helped by the (absurdly) low gearing, there’s excellent throttle response and power available everywhere. The note developed by the engine is also wonderful. But there’s a jerk when getting on and off the throttle (the cruise control shows this up very well) and a strong dash-pot effect, where revs are slow to fall when the throttle is released.
The final drive ratio (4.4:1!) gives gearing that is way too low and so the engine’s revving at 2800 rpm at 110 km/h. That makes the six-speed box a chore rather than delight – what’s the point of changing gear after gear to get into 6th by 60 km/h, when clearly the engine could pull gearing 20 per cent taller? And it’s not just irritating to drive: the fuel consumption must also suffer a great deal. We get the feeling someone liked the look of “close ratio 6-speed” on the pamphlet, and didn’t concern themselves unduly with the reality. (Although the four-speed auto is also geared much the same.)
The gear-change itself is a delight, with a very short throw and a metallic clicking sound that assures you the gear has been selected. The clutch is also positive and light.
The steering – controlled by a good leather steering wheel – is relatively heavy for a power-steer system. It’s fine most of the time but can kick-back when cornering hard on bumpy surfaces. Under full throttle in the lower gears, torque steer is clearly present.
Handling is an interestingly mixed bag. Corner at 7/10ths on smooth surfaces and it’s impressive. Go really hard on smooth surfaces and it doesn’t take much to realise the car is set up extremely stiffly in roll, which in turn makes it rather skatey. Get off the loud pedal abruptly and the tail will come out at a rate of knots – just as well there’s the electronic stability control to help catch it.
On bumpy surfaces the bad ride tends to obliterate any interest in the handling. The ride is awful – far harder than a current model Porsche we recently drove over the same roads. It feels very much like the low-speed bump setting of the dampers is too firm – or it’s that in combination with the 45 series tyres. Over bad surfaces you can actually hear your conversation being altered by the bumps – air whistles out of your lungs as you ride over bigger ones...
And it’s the ride and the interior packaging that we think are the biggest disappointments. Inside, the car feels cramped. Head-room in the front is tight – and it’s simply impossibly bad in the back. No adult can ride in the back seat (their head hits the glass of the rear hatch) and no rear head restraints are even provided. (Yep, no rear head restraints!!) Even children are hard-pressed in the back – a baby seat is a horrible squeeze and once the children are large enough to be directly strapped-in, their legs will also have grown long enough for room to again be a struggle. The driver also needs to place their seat exactly right if their left knee isn’t to bang the console, and the high waistline makes room feel even tighter. We’ve been in smaller, lower cars that had far more room.
Interior equipment is ok - good quality switchgear, a decent stacker CD radio and four airbags. But there’s no electric seat adjust, no proper trip computer and the steering is tilt-only. There were also some exposed screw heads in the interior trim, rough edges you don’t expect when paying $37,590. The tested TS limited edition model also includes for that money a glass sliding sunroof and leather seats.
As we said at the beginning, Hyundai is now building some very good cars. This isn’t one of them.