Hyundai’s New Crossover in Lexus Mold

Hyundai’s new crossover in Lexus mold

CHICAGO – The rush is on to create new entries in the crossover segment.

Crossovers are alternatives to sport-utility vehicles and minivans with far better ride, handling and mileage.

They also offer all-wheel-drive so those leaving SUVs don’t have to give up the feature that attracted them to a brute – rough ride and all – in the first place.

Hyundai of South Korea has gotten with the program. It sells the compact Tucson and slightly larger, slightly more upscale Santa Fe and adds the even larger and more upscale midsize Veracruz.

Hyundai says the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander and Nissan Murano are its targets but, when trying to be recognized as a key player in the crossovers, you might as well aim for the leader, the midsize Lexus RX350.

And Hyundai has with Veracruz. We can’t help but feel it’s not just coincidence that it even looks like the Lexus.

The theme, as with any Hyundai, is being just as good and offering just as many amenities as the sales leader in the segment, only for a lot less money.

The base price is $32,000 plus change for Veracruz versus $38,000 plus change for an RX350, but the spread is more than $7,700 in Veracruz’s favor when the two are similarly equipped.

Putting $7,700 in your pocket rather than the dealer’s is like winning the lottery.

Santa Fe was derived from a stretch of the Sonata sedan platform. Veracruz is a stretch of that stretch with a more refined suspension. Hyundai says no even larger crossover is planned.

Veracruz is offered in GLS, SE and top-of-the-line Limited versions in front- or all-wheel-drive. We drove the FWD Limited.

Only engine is a 3.8-liter, 260-horsepower, 24-valve V-6 teamed with a new 6-speed automatic with manual shifting. The engine has the spunk, but not the whisper quiet, you’d expect of a V-6. The mileage rating is 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway, appropriate for the power, but more generous than reality, considering the frequent stops for a shot of $3 a gallon energy.No quarrels with the suspension, which kept road harshness from filtering through the seat as well as the steering wheel. You keep planted in your seat without getting jolted around the cabin. And there’s no top-heaviness.

The wide-profile 18-inch radials did a good job of minimizing lean in corners and turns, though ease off the throttle if the corner is very sharp or the turn very tight. The suspension may be user-friendly, but it isn’t race-tuned.

Windshield, side and rear glass are expansive for an excellent view all around. Exceptional visibility doesn’t always get the credit it deserves for the safety it provides.

Though the $7,700 savings versus a Lexus is a strong point, Veracruz doesn’t compromise on safety. Side-curtain air bags for all three rows, anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control with traction control are standard.

Upfront the leather seats are well cushioned and supportive for long-distance travel and aren’t the slip-and-slide type that make each turn an adventure.

Nice touches include eye-soothing blue backlighting for gauges, switches and buttons as well as cupholders and door sills; lined glove box and console storage bin rather than exposed plastic; cupholders built into the rear sidewalls and a small covered container over the wheel well in the third row; a 115-volt power outlet in the cargo hold; and keyless start so you only have to twist the lever in the dash to get going, as long as the magical key fob is in the vehicle. You do away with a key, but not the fob so what’s gained?

Also, there’s a pop down conversation mirror in the ceiling below the eyeglasses holder so you can see the folks in the second and third rows while you chat or watch the kids back there; a pair of center console storage pockets; a pair of cupholders in front of the console; a power outlet and cell-phone holder in the dash; a power liftgate operated by a key-fob button; and storage under the cargo floor.

The test vehicle also came with an optional DVD entertainment system. The screen slips down from the ceiling, and the player is in the back of the console between the front seats. A pull-down armrest between the second-row seats holds the earphones as well as a couple of cupholders.

Though a Lexus wannabe in looks, it falls short in comfort once you move into the second and third seats. To provide enough knee room for those in the second seat, large indents were carved out of the backs of the front seats.And while the second-row seats slide forward to create an aisle to the third row, the aisle is narrow and there isn’t much footing needed to slip in back. Once there, head and knee room are tight.

With the third-row seats up, you have spots for a couple kids, but not so much cargo room. With the seat backs flipped flat onto the floor, the cargo space is generous. With second- and third-row seat backs folded flat, cargo capacity is abundant. If hauling a ladder, the passenger seat back reclines to provide the room.

The Veracruz Limited starts at $32,305 (add $1,700 for AWD, a wise choice for the Snow Belt) and includes air conditioning; power tilt and sliding sunroof; AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 audio system with steering wheel audio/cruise controls; heated power side mirrors with puddle lights and redundant turn signals; remote keyless entry; power windows, door locks and seats; tire-pressure monitor; trip computer; and fog lamps.The optional Ultimate package at $2,950 adds adjustable pedals, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, the DVD system, 115-volt outlet, rain-sensing wipers and keyless ignition.

Consumers always benefit from competition as the rivals try to outdo each other. That’s why Veracruz is welcome and so will be the other crossovers coming soon.

By Jim Mateja
Chicago Tribune
Tuesday, May 22, 2007 8:52 PM CDT

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