Hyundai Tiburon 2008

When it was introduced to the North American market in 1997, the Hyundai Tiburon signified Hyundai's first commitment to providing more than just value-oriented but bland economy cars. This coupe-styled, 2-door hatchback, though not as refined or as performance-oriented as some of its competitors, was surprisingly affordable and showed that Hyundai was serious about redefining its image. Since then, the Tiburon (the name means "shark" in Spanish) has improved in both looks and performance, and the current model represents the vehicle's second generation. Though the Tiburon has still not broken into the upper echelon of performance hatchbacks and coupes, its affordable price could make it a decent choice for both new and used vehicle shoppers.

The second generation, front-wheel-drive Hyundai Tiburon debuted for the 2003 model year. It's available in one body style, a two-door hatchback. The base GS trim is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine -- making 138-horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque -- and comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission. A 4-speed automatic is optional.

A better choice would be the Tiburon GT, which comes with a standard 172-hp 2.7-liter V6 engine and several performance features, such as a tuned suspension with firmer spring rates and larger 17-inch alloy wheels. Other amenities include automatic climate control, cruise control, a trip computer and a dramatic rear spoiler. A GT Limited trim level adds leather seats, a sunroof and a 440-watt Infinity audio system.

More performance-minded buyers should look at the Tiburon SE, which pairs the V6 engine with a 6-speed manual gearbox. Unique exterior additions, such as red front brake calipers, foglamps and a high-mounted rear spoiler, give the SE a sportier appearance. And it comes loaded on the inside, including leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a premium Kenwood CD/MP3 audio system, metallic interior trim, aluminum pedals and auxiliary gauges.

In road tests, our editors preferred the Hyundai Tiburon with the V6 engine, as it provides the 3,000-pound car with much-needed pulling power. The 5-speed manual transmission is user-friendly and the Tiburon GT handles well in demanding situations. The fun factor is high, though the tight suspension tilts ride comfort toward the harsh side.

Although the Tiburon GT doesn't lead its class in any category, some shoppers might be attracted to its distinctive styling and low price. Hyundai has made only minor changes to this model since its introduction, so those interested in a used model should feel free to focus on price and vehicle condition.

Over the past decade, the Hyundai Tiburon has come a long way. As a replacement for the previous Scoupe, the '97 launch model came in two trims: base and FX. The base trim was powered by a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine developing 130 hp. The FX had a 140-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. Both came with a standard 5-speed manual transmission or an optional 4-speed automatic.

For Hyundai's first attempt at sexy, the Tiburon was a respectable effort. Hyundai equipped it with a number of standard features, especially inside the cabin. The FX got leather seats and cruise control. But it hardly performed like a sports coupe. In road tests, our editors complained of too much understeer. The loud exhaust on the FX made it seem like it was faster than it actually was. For 1998, all Hyundai Tiburons got the stronger engine.

Hyundai dropped the FX for 2000 and made 15-inch alloy wheels and power windows, mirrors and locks standard items on the base trim. The most significant change that year was the redesigned body. The front end featured 4 projector-beam headlights. The front fenders, rear end and taillights were also modified. Mechanically, nothing had changed. This Tiburon carried into 2001 and was then discontinued. There was no 2002 model.
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