Tuscany. The name evokes images of dining al-fresco in pastel stucco courtyards watching sleek 12-cylinder convertibles cruise by, their impossibly chic passengers hiding behind oversized shades. Tuscani. The name evokes an automotive product that wants to proclaim Italian flare but doesn’t have the necessary accent or copyright. To those who delight in unmasking fake Rolexes and other pretentious twaddle, the Tuscani is an instant classic: a car that pays homage to a Ferrari 456 GT made in South Korea.
Strange but true: the Tuscani is a top spec Hyundai Tiburon. Since gen one’s ‘96 debut, the Tiburon has metamorphosed from cheap and cheesy import with bloated body lines, whale-tail spoiler and older, Acura-like double headlights; to striking Italian supercar knock off. The Tuscani’s hood is convincingly long, the deck credibly short and the stance convincingly wide and aggressive. There’s even a perky chiseled rump bringing up the rear (literally). And for no extra money (or cred), the bodacious booty hides a hatch.
“Tiburon” is Spanish for "shark”– which accounts for the gill-like vents behind the Tuscani’s front fenders. Side cut line creases and a high beltline add edginess to the pastiche and slenderize the body. For those paying attention to such things, weedy dual chrome exhausts and a “racing-inspired” fuel door provide some clean air between Korea’s budget knock-off and Ferrari’s Our Lady of Unfathomable Depreciation. While the Hyundai’s split spoke five-spokes mock the Ferrari’s pentagrams, the dual piston performance calipers (front) peeking out fron the Tuscani's wheels are exactly the kind of homage we encourage.
Once inside, the center stack immediately identifies the Tuscani’s target market: boy racers. The gauges feature sporty red-on-black markings (it’s the only Hyundai I've ever driven without Mountain Dew colored backlighting). Drivers also "enjoy" a trio of analogue dials measuring torque (in Newton meters), voltage and real time fuel consumption. Humongous circular air vents crown these stylishly useless displays like misplaced periscopes. Faux titanium brightens up the dour interior while faux aluminum adds a faux racing touch to the pedals.
Recaro seats with tasty red stitching coddle G-force jockeys with plenty of bolstering. Even so, tall, long-legged drivers will find it nearly impossible to achieve a spinal friendly driving position; the Tuscani’s front headroom is almost as limited as rear legroom (but not quite). The upside: the rear seats fold down to create a voluminous cargo space and the hatch opens wide enough to stow most anything (bungee cords and red flag optional).
The gear shifter looks like nothing so much as a ribbed play toy from the naughty store. The gates are as nebulous as a Car and Driver editorial, bereft of that dead-certain snickery familiar to drivers of Japan’s– or Maranello’s– finest. Urban Tuscani drivers face this shortcoming on a regular basis, what with the six-speed gearbox clamoring for constant attention. The Tuscani provides a textbook example of how not to space your gears; first and second are gone in a blink, sixth is for fuel conservation only.
The base model Tiburon is motivated by a 2.0-liter four. The all options checked Tuscani is powered by Hyundai’s 2.7-liter, DOHC six-cylinder engine. Although peak power (172 horsepower) arrives at a lofty 6000rpm, the V6 is smooth, quiet and torquey. But not quick. The 2939 pound [no-rear-seats-to-speak-of] coupe journeys from rest to sixty-two miles per hour in a leisurely 7.8 seconds– not bad for a Dadmobile, but laughable for a wanna-be Ferraristi. The wait for forward momentum may be long, but the interval between braking and stopping isn’t. The Tuscani is blessed with some of the most powerful brakes I’ve ever tested on a road car. Period.
Unfortunately, the Tuscani is the machine that puts pay to the old axiom that a car is only as good as its brakes. The car's steering is too heavy, the torque steer too prominent and the “sports-tuned” suspension too unsportsmanlike to generate any fun worthy of serious stopping. There’s plenty of after-market support for better handling and a vast supply of body kits (from the sublime to surreal) to transform this pseduo-Euro coupe into a Fast & Furious rice rocket. But you can’t make a silk purse– or a baby Ferrari– out of a front wheel-drive sow’s ear.
Conversely, if the Tiburon/Tuscani was a real-wheel drive car, its enthusiast fan-base would explode. Speculation on a rear wheel-drive Tiberon on the message boards runs rampant, fueled by an acknowledgement of the possibility by Hyundai president Hyun Soon. When? Don’t make me say it. Anyway, a more powerful RWD Hyundai performance coupe would offer vehicles like the Mazda RX8 so real competition. A free-revving, right wheel-drive Tuscani would also deliver the kind of powerful performance and electric handling its exotic Euro-flavored looks deserve. Ish.