By on September 4, 2006

26165_tiburon_main_04.jpgTuscany. 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. 

32613_tiburon_main_02.jpg“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.

03tuscani_interior2.jpgRecaro 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.

57075_tiburon_main_05.jpgThe 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.

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41 Comments on “Hyundai Tiburon Tuscani Review...”


  • avatar
    philbailey

    Exactly why Hyundai should have thought longer and harder about buying Jaguar. No tradition or experience does not a sports car make. Reminds me of a certain Parisian restaurant that told me the Koreans “doggy bagged” their products and then sent them back to Korea to be copied for a new restaurant that was opening. No surprise to learn that the Korean food tasted absolutely awful.
    I swear, this is a true story.

  • avatar
    phattie

    A RWD platform for their next sports car would be sweet. But, they would need to use the platform for other cars to recoup the costs in development. The rumoured luxury Hyundai devision would be a logical destination.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Rumour has it… that the RWD platform will debut with a luxury flagship called “Equus”.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Forget rear-wheel.

    Boy racers (like me) get our hearts set a flame by AWD.

    This would be like a baby 3000GT.

    Also, “When? Don’t make me say it.” Great one, Leslie.

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    And yeah, I've tried it and agree it has a lot of flaws. But I still think it's one of the best looking cars to come out of anywhere recently.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    I would be good looking if they chopped the front overhang in half or by two-thirds.

    As it is now, it screams FRONT-WHEELS DRIVEN!! as loud as anything on the road.

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    You just gotta love the Lesley’s perspective “…ribbed play toy from the naughty store”.

    What more could anyone say?

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush


    LOL, I swear that was the first thing out of my mouth when I got in it. Damn thing is too tall and upright for comfortable shifting.

    carlismo – I agree – it's a real head-turner. Particularly in the "Ferrari red" of my tester. 

  • avatar
    jacob

    There had been plenty successful FWD ‘sporty’ coupes in the past: Celica, RSX, Integra, GTI, Civic SI, Prelude..

    It seems like all of them used the same formula for success: sports tuned suspension + a well tuned high-output 4-cylinder engine. The V6 does is making the car nose heavy and unballanced. A small, performance-tuned, high-reving 4-cylinder engine works much better for this application.

    $0.02

  • avatar
    kovachian

    It’s a head turner alright. Last time I raced one both of my passengers had to turn their heads to see the tiny speck nearly a mile behind me. Hyundais have no guts. If they make a correct-wheel-drive sports coupe with real power I’d be anxious to check it out but until then, Tiburons are poseurs.

  • avatar
    bodayguy

    Just because they can copy Ferrari bits doesn’t make it good looking. The nose seems like a plastic model kit.

    Either this should be a value car or a sports car. It’s not successful at either right now.

  • avatar
    qfrog

    If Hyundai continues at their current clip of progress I say 1-2 more generations and the Tiburon could very well be a competent (RWD) sports car. Of course it took GM 5-6 attempts at the vette before the underpinnings were right (C6). If only GM could figure out how to bestow their prodigiously performing corvette with an interior on par with the performance.

    This current Tiburon has been around for some years now and a replacement is due in maybe a year. 07 will be this current car’s 5th model year. If memory serves correct by realistic model lifespans the Tiburon is long in the tooth awaiting supersession by a much improved replacement. Hyundai’s image would change considerably if the Tiburon was a shopable alternative to the RX8 or Mustang. I think it just might work considering that the Koreans offer you more warranty than than a strange does candy to kids.

  • avatar
    qfrog

    Jacob,

    The GTI for MKIII and MKIV came in the US with the 2.8L VR6 option as did the Corrado SLC. If memory serves this FWD GTI VR6 was a US only model. Some places got a haldex AWD VR6 Jetta. The world seems to have appreciated the R32 Golf (VR6/haldex) and then there are the audi sibblings TT 3.2 VR6 & A3 3.2 both haldex AWD. The VR6 is a fantastic little engine and the exhaust note alone particularly 3.2L makes the added weight seem liveable.

    Sure a hunkering V6 makes for a more nose heavy wrong wheel drive car, but it also feeds the American lust for displacement. Offering a V6 just helps people here take a car a tad bit more seriously even if the reality is that a smaller force fed four can do the job better without the side effect of hindering driving dynamics.

    I’d like to see a RWD longitudinal 4cyl turbo tiburon. The street racers and drift kids would eat it up. I’d also like to see a 4cyl turbo Camaro as the base model for largely the same reason. I think GM could sell a whole lot of I4 turbo Camaros with their Creidit for corpses program.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    Lesley, nice writeup. Is the Tuscani a Canada-only trim level, perhaps like those yummy Cadbury chocolates we can’t get down here? I only see Tibby GS, GT, GT Limited and SEs on the corporate-USA webpage.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Thanks Sajeev. Yah, unfortunately, you can only get it here and in Europe.

    You can’t get Cadbury??? Ooooooh, that is really too bad!!

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    We don’t get nearly the variety of Cadbury goodies you do. You folks get a snazzy Pontiac Firefly and we get a dull Geo Metro. No Aero and Coffee Crisp here either. Bummer, eh?

    I’m assuming the Tuscani’s US-equivalent is the SE package.

  • avatar
    CasterOil

    Am I the only person in the world who thinks the Tiburon is a fugly, ill-proportioned hideous monstrosity?

    Maybe in 20 years, Hyundai will have it nailed. For a start, throw out the 2.7 V6 (which sucks fuel like Clinton sucked a cigar) and replace it with the 3.3 litre from the Sonata, which from all accounts is far more powerful and economical.

    Gad! How can it even be compared to a Ferrarri (yes, even a 400i) in the same breath…… for shame!

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Here’s the 456 GT:

    http://www.mathewscollection.com/former/Former_Ferrari_456GT.htm

    Here’s my press car:

    http://www.dodgetrucks.org/home/lesley/river.jpg

    The comparison was visual only. Nope, I don’t think it’s ugly at all, how could it be when it’s so obviously inspired by a Pinin designed Ferrari?

  • avatar
    CasterOil

    Lesley, there is no doubt that the Tiburon shamelessly copies various design cues from the 456.

    However, by jumbling those design elements in a tip-toe, small-wheeled FWD coupe, it just looks painfully wrong.

    Just look at the scalloping at the bottom of the Tib’s door, to create the design element of the vent-through-door – the car looks like a bent banana!

    The car just totally offends the eye from every direction.

  • avatar

    It might not be well finished, but does have the right proportions. Something you can’t say about the last Celica and soon-to-be-gone RSX.

    I firmly believe that for many piston-heads, a car becomes more attractive when it performs really well. At least that’s the only way I can explain my Impreza infatuation. On the other hand when a car is rubbish you suddenly notice all the corporate bits and pesimistic cost cutting.

    Before I sampled the latest Tiburon I thought it just might be able to turn the sport coupe world on it’s head, now I hardly notice them.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Exactly!

  • avatar
    dolo54

    I’ve brought this up before and here it is again. I’m not arguing that the tiburon is a lousy car… but what is this bias against fwd cars? I agree that you shouldn’t make a buick fwd, but in a small 4-cylinder it is totally right. And they can handle extremely well, as evidenced by the golf gti, or the cobalt srt-4 or my own integra. Lately I’ve been seeing srt-4s win races against rwd cars. They can corner very effectively. However it does take a different approach to corners than rwd. Perhaps you guys just don’t know how to drive fwd because you’re so used to rwd? Is torque steer really that big a deal? I just hold my wheel steady when I mash the gas, the initial slight pull to a side doesn’t bother me a bit. You guys seem to like the golf gti, do you really think that car would handle better as a rwd?

  • avatar
    dolo54

    Oh yeah – the tiburon is a hideous beast that is way too heavy with substandard components. A Hyundai sports car? That’s an oxymoron if I ever heard one.

  • avatar
    ZZ

    Hmm – I saw one driving about Anchorage just last Friday and wondered when they’d changed the name. Thinking back to the Acura EL, Firefly and other renamed vehicles from my time in Montreal, figured twas born of Canada.

    Damnit, Sajeev, why did you have to mention coffee crisp! Must go crave now.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    I don’t mind a FWD car, my daily is a Mazda MX-3.

    Dunno about the rest of “us guys” but I’ve never driven a Golf GTI.

  • avatar
    CasterOil

    dolo54 – I firmly believe that Hyundai is the best of the Koreans, and rest assured, they have the driving ambition that characterised the Japanese through the ’60′s and ’70′s.

    People used to laugh at the concept of a Japanese “sports car”. Not any longer.

    Once the engineers at Hyundai get into stride, they will kick goals, and the equivalent of the Tiburon in 10 years’ time could very well be the cheap, adept sports car which rejuvenates the market segment.

    As to FWD verus RWD, it boils down to this:-

    (1) FWD is, IMHO, much safer for the general punter to drive, especially in the wet. Safe, stable moderate understeer, with no rear wheel impetus (forgetting about lift-off oversteer in some, such as the original Mini!)
    (2) A good FWD will handle well, and out-handle the average motorist’s supply of brave pills.
    (3) FWD is inevitably nose-heavy, and lacks the classical 50/50 weight distribution of RWD.
    (4) This FWD nose-heaviness affects handling balance at the limit , and likewise affects braking ability (weight transfer reducing the effectiveness of the rear brakes).
    (5) FWD will always have a worse turning radius that that of an equivalent sized RWD vehicle, because the turn angle of the front wheels is limited to minimise possible damage at the extremes of angle in the CV joints, where the torque is concentrated at the very edge of the joint.
    (6) A powerful FWD can cause quite violent torque steer in the absence of mecanical and electronic stability and traction controls. More power usually means more engine weight, which is critical to the balance of the FWD (as above). This is why all “serious” sports cars are RWD.
    (7) FWD is frustratingly useless for towing a boat and trailer up a wet boat ramp.
    (8) FWD handling and road-holding at the limit is inferior to a good RWD, as the FWD basically understeers, and lacks the ultimate attitude adjustability that a good RWD offers.

    Having said all of this, I have no major philosophical objections to FWD cars, and I think they are emminently suitable (and indeed, much safer) for probably 90% of the driving population. I would feel much better about driving on public roads if everyone else were driving a good FWD car!

  • avatar
    dolo54

    good response – and i agree that hyundai is driven to improve. and i wouldn’t be surprised if they become a world class company in 10 years, but right now they are far behind. i also understand all the technical details as to why rwd performs better at the limit, however the thing is, there are fwd cars now beating rwd cars at the track. see this article for an example. as for attitude adjustment… feinting and judicious use of the e-brake can do some interesting things in a fwd. try it sometime.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    i’m not saying something like an f1 or anything you would use to tow a boat should ever be fwd, but anything as small as the tiburon, it makes sense.

  • avatar
    boladaz

    casteroil-

    audi a4 has one of the best turning radius i ve ever driven..and it dont make sense why carmakers build fwd cars to lose money.

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    Lesley,
    please go down to your local VW dealer and drive the hell out of a new GTI with DSG !

    It could be the best Downtown Toronto and Gardiner Expressway killer on the market.

  • avatar
    Bubba Gump

    Its hard to polish a turd

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Johnny, my local dealer would sh_t a brick if I took one of their cars on the Gardiner… I live about an hour from Toronto. :)

    I should book a press vehicle, I’m about due for a VW. :)

  • avatar
    zerogeek

    Bubba Gump:

    You can polish a turd. Trouble is, in the end you still have a turd.

  • avatar

    All I gotta say is that the backend is actually quite nice. Other than that, the car is kinda blah….its a Hyundai still too.

  • avatar
    CasterOil

    dolo54, I had a look at your link to the Cobalt SS supercharged, carbon fibre lightweight virtual replica.

    I suppose it would be possible to design a FWD race car, for a smooth track, and to design in ballast so as to achieve a satisfactory weight distribution for the track concerned.

    However, you cannot do this out in the real world, where a FWD car (designed to carry passengers in relative comfort) will by nature of its nose-heavy design, be dynamically compromised. I stand by what I said.

    Boladaz: It’s interesting that you mention the Audi A4, because that is an object lesson in what I am talking about.

    A standard A4 has a turning circle of 11.1 metres, kerb to kerb.
    However, a V8 S4 (not FWD but quattro) has a turning circle of 11.5 metres. Why the difference?

    Take BMW. A 3 series (E90) is 11.0 metres, and the M3 (E46) is 11.0 metres.

    Take M-B. A C200K 4 cylinder is 10.76 metres, and a C55 AMG V8 is 10.8 metres.

    Perhaps a better example is the FWD Chevvy Impala. The V6 versions have a 38.00 ft (11.58 metres) turning circle, while the V8 Impala SS has a 39.6 feet (12.07 metres) turning circle.

    What I said in my previous post about the turning circle is quite correct – the more power you load onto a FWD, the more you have to engineer a larger turning radius, which is frankly one of my pet hates.

  • avatar
    gunnarheinrich

    I miss the old 456GT. It was a sublimely elegant 2+2 ride. Any attempt from the Koreans to copy the old Italian form should be welcomed as hopefully it will raise the design bar up from vanilla to, perhaps, espresso.

  • avatar
    qeorqe

    The 1972 Toyota Celica ST is reborn!!!! Hallelujah.

  • avatar
    tcomdave

    Wow, is that the most bias, uninformed load of crap I’ve ever heard. I’ve driven a ton of cars in the same price range and above an the Tiburon was hands down the most poised, balanced performer for the money. It’s clear that you came into the test drive with a sour taste about Hyundai and nothing could have shaken you free of that.

    I am a proud owner of an ’05 GT and there isn’t one single day that goes by that I don’t look at this car and smile from ear to ear. You have to really drive like a moron to get the front to plow in the way you suggest. It isn’t a rear wheel drive car, so it does handle different, but I’ve pushed this car hard in the mountain passes of Oregon and I can honestly say I’ve never driven a more balanced, responsive, and predictable sports car. It isn’t the fastest straight-liner, it isn’t the quickest to a halt, and it isn’t the most glued-to-the-road handler ever built, but for the price tag, there isn’t any car on the road that has the entire package nailed down nearly as well.

    So you can take your anti-Korean, anti-FWD attitudes and stow them gently in the trunk of your mini-van. Until you’ve owned and truely driven the car, your opinion is worth less than a used napkin from that “naughty store” you seem to frequent.

  • avatar
    JRSterle

    I own one. For the price, I am happy. All other comers were minimum 10k more in price and I still turn some heads and no-one in a comparable vehicle has ever seen me in their rear view when challanged. It’ keeps up and can perform when driven correctly! I’d agree RWD would be preferrable, but then how could the enthusiast on a budget ever find happiness. The Regatta Blue is sweet. I have Tuscani labels on hood trunk and wheels and get people coming up to me to ask about the car. I am surprised there are not more on the road, but the fact that there isn’t, turns more heads and allows me to garner more respect for the car from challengers.I have a car that performs without being “car-poor” because of the price.

  • avatar
    Sean H.

    People need to chill with the VR6. That thing was slow as hell

  • avatar

    Hey guys. Thanks soo much for the information. Am about to buy this car and wanted to know the durability of this car as well as the consumption . There are very few in our town and i wonder why people dont buy the car since its relatively cheap. What are some of the problems that i might experience after buying this car?


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