Capsule Review: 2000 Hyundai Tiburon

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

You could look at the accident one of two ways. The first way to look at it was that the backhoe was at fault. It backed out halfway across the northbound exit ramp to Bethel Road from Ohio SR-315, forcing my brother to take too rapid of an avoidance maneuver, spin his pristine Porsche 944, and hit a streetlight, causing said streetlight to fall into the freeway traffic.

The second way to look at it — and, in fairness, I must note that this view was the one espoused by the Columbus Police — was that my brother, Mark, had been traveling at perhaps one hundred miles per hour (“More like one twenty,” he sniffed to me in the aftermath) and that therefore the backhoe operator could have had no reasonable expectation that the red Porsche+Audi would arrive well before he could move back off the road.

Either way, it was time for the punishment car.

When I totaled my 200SX at the tender age of sixteen, my punishment car was a Mercury Marquis Brougham. Mark, on the other hand, never crashed a car in his teenage years. What he did manage to do was comprehensively trash a new Jetta and a new Infiniti G20 in series, the latter so badly that the lease-end damage report ran to seven thousand dollars and multiple pages. Dad decided he should have a used car, but somehow “used car” ended up being “absolutely pristine 2.7-liter 944 formerly owned by the local TV news princess”.

“There’s good news and bad news,” my bro said to me on the phone. “The good news is that I have a Porsche and I’m six years younger than you are. The bad news is that your shitbox Land Rover left the line with no factory options.” I looked out the window, saw the “SD” logo on my ’97 Disco five-speed, and hung my head in the appropriate level of shame. Half a year later, I used that same crappy truck to pick him up at the accident scene.

The next day, two proposals were placed before our father, who art in New York. Mark suggested replacing the 944 with a Boxster. I suggested replacing it with a Hyundai. The old man must have been annoyed; not only did he accede to my suggestion, he told Mark that his role would be limited to co-signer of the loan. “Hyundais,” he responded, “are for daytime strippers who are no longer particularly compelled by the current Grand Am’s styling.” I thought this was ironic, given that he was seeing two daytime strippers at the time, but I had to concede that he spoke from experience.

Objections aside, the next day we went to see the four-headlamp Tiburon. At $13,900 or so (according to my distant recollection), it was surprisingly well-equipped. In a straight line it didn’t give up much to the 944, and if it had a rather dismal black-plastic interior, it also had a strong, clear sound system. As with the Elantra and Accent of the time, the control efforts were somewhat surreal. The clutch gave the impression of having no spring attached to it, offering the meekest of pedal resistance. The gearshift waved around in space, occasionally notching lightly into a slot when the stars aligned just so. The brakes approximated Citroen’s famous rubber button, going from “no stop” to “full stop” in one soggy inch. Steering was distant from the road and the column wobbled gently.

At six foot two, I found the roof too low; at five foot eight, Mark found the window sills too high. The silver paint used for accenting throughout the interior looked like it would fade and rub off, and that appearance was not deceiving. The rear seats were a cruel, cramped joke, and the hatchback covered a very oddly shaped cargo area which seemed to be full the minute my brother threw his tenor saxophone and gig bag in there.

On a fast back-road test drive, the Tiburon revealed an odd quality. Although everything felt flimsy, the car really wasn’t flimsy at all. It had some torsional rigidity and was trustworthy in the turns. Once the shifter’s peculiarities entered one’s kinesthetic memory, it was fast enough to use and the clutch was abuse-proof. Best of all, it seemed to have enough brake. Mark said something that is probably repeated nationally a thousand times a day, even now: “Hyundais are a lot better than I thought they would be.” We closed the deal at invoice and hit the road.

Something happened to my brother. He kept his new car clean and free of debris. Over the next few years, the Tiburon stayed looking good, even as the odometer crested 70,000 miles. I can’t ascribe it to having to make his own payments, because he regularly forgot to make them, sometimes for months at a time. I think the car simply earned his respect.

The daytime strippers disappeared, replaced by a doctoral student of clarinet performance. She arrived in a Nissan Sentra but was soon driving a new Elantra, converted by Mark’s pro-Hyundai fervor. The Tiburon gave way to a loaded Santa Fe. For years my brother told everybody who would listen what a great damn car the Koreans could make. His friends bought Hyundais. He started to inquire as to why I didn’t have any Hyundais.

“Your new Land Rover may have all the options,” he would say, “but the Santa Fe 3.5L offers more for less.” Finally, annoyed unto death by his conversion from jazz artist to Seoul man, I dragged him to a Mazda dealer and made him drive an RX-8. He got out of the car and announced his intention to buy it. “Great car,” he said, and then, wistfully,

“It reminds me of my Tiburon.”

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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  • Niky Niky on Nov 17, 2010

    It's a shame about this car's replacement. The Tuscani/Coupe that replaced this was much better in terms of refinement, rear seat space and looks. But it was dog slow in comparison. Too heavy for the 2.0.

    • See 2 previous
    • Bd2 Bd2 on Nov 18, 2010

      Gotta love this Top Gear comparison btwn the Tiburon and Lexus SC.

  • Mor2bz Mor2bz on Nov 22, 2010

    How did he like the g20?

  • Dave M. IMO this was the last of the solidly built MBs. Yes, they had the environmentally friendly disintegrating wiring harness, but besides that the mechanicals are pretty solid. I just bought my "forever" car (last new daily driver that'll ease me into retirement), but a 2015-16 E Class sedan is on my bucket list for future purchase. Beautiful design....
  • Rochester After years of self-driving being in the news, I still don't understand the psychology behind it. Not only don't I want this, but I find the idea absurd.
  • Douglas This timeframe of Mercedes has the self-disintegrating engine wiring harness. Not just the W124, but all of them from the early 90's. Only way to properly fix it is to replace it, which I understand to be difficult to find a new one/do it/pay for. Maybe others have actual experience with doing so and can give better hope. On top of that, it's a NH car with "a little bit of rust", which means to about anyone else in the USA it is probably the rustiest W124 they have ever seen. This is probably a $3000 car on a good day.
  • Formula m How many Hyundai and Kia’s do not have the original engine block it left the factory with 10yrs prior?
  • 1995 SC I will say that year 29 has been a little spendy on my car (Motor Mounts, Injectors and a Supercharger Service since it had to come off for the injectors, ABS Pump and the tool to cycle the valves to bleed the system, Front Calipers, rear pinion seal, transmission service with a new pan that has a drain, a gaggle of capacitors to fix the ride control module and a replacement amplifier for the stereo. Still needs an exhaust manifold gasket. The front end got serviced in year 28. On the plus side blank cassettes are increasingly easy to find so I have a solid collection of 90 minute playlists.