2008 Hyundai Tiburon GT Road Test Review

More and more Hyundais are on the road now. It’s a fact. Whether considering the Accent, Elantra, Sonata, Azera, Tucson, Santa Fe, Veracruz, Tiburon or the new Genesis, the Korean car manufacturer has seen its share of increased sales over the past decade, and for good reason. Not only are its new products exceptionally good, but a great warranty backs them all up. Truly, Hyundai is on such a roll of good fortune that it’s not only one of the last companies left building a sport coupe, but it’s got another one on the way.

The Tib’s staying power alone has made it a bit of an anomaly in a shrinking segment. One by one its rivals have fallen, from the Honda Prelude to the Toyota Celica, Mazda’s Presidio to Chrysler Group’s Diamond Star cars; the Mitsubishi Eclipse the last remaining of the three and one of only a handful of front-drive sport coupes that remain available at all, although Scion’s tC kind of replaced the Celica. Somehow the Tiburon continues to lure in the tuner market as well as regular folks just wanting a fun-to-drive, great looking commuter car that’s easy on gas.

If you hadn’t heard, Tiburon is Spanish for shark and this Korean carnivore of a car is seriously scaring its competition into hiding. Just look at it. Whether it’s the base model GS that starts at a mere $17,270 or the top-line GT Limited, they look darn good thanks to European styling influences that deliver solid driving dynamics on both base and top-line trim levels.

The Tiburon comes with two engine choices. The entry-level 2.0-liter inline-four with 138 horsepower and 136 lb-ft of torque is easy on the pocketbook when initially buying and then while refueling, and plenty fun to drive, while the 24-valve, DOHC, 2.7-liter V6, which produces 172 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 181 lb-ft of torque at 3,800 rpm, is a real blast to drive in this small, lightweight package.

Along with its nicely endowed engine, the Tiburon GT has a European sport-tuned suspension that makes for some fun in the corners. Whether I was tackling tight turns or just driving through city streets, the ground-hugging Tiburon and its front MacPherson struts and rear multi-link suspension setup glides super smoothly over dry or wet pavement and holds its own in the curves when called upon. And with the addition of standard P215/45R17 tires and 17-inch alloy wheels, this street shark remains cool and collected and feels very stable at highway speeds.

And getting to highway speeds felt and sounded good. The low-note grumble from the dual exhaust was quite mellifluous. It wasn’t too throaty and wasn’t so loud that it attracted negative attention. Rather, the V6-equipped Tib gives off a refined note of sporty athleticism. Furthermore, the optional smooth-shifting four-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual mode was just the one to do the trick. While I would have liked to harness all of the V6’s 172 horsepower with the standard 6-speed manual transmission, the 4-speed automatic was just perfect for all the city and highway driving I was forced to endure. Plus, it’s a lot easier on the legs when stuck in grid-lock traffic, which is something I frequently find myself in.

Inside my Tiburon tester’s cabin was a sea of plush, black leather mixed with sport seats and metal grain trim. What I love about the interior is its simplistic nature, with a modern flare. It’s not a ‘busy’ looking cabin by any means, which adds to its appeal. It does, however, have quite the fancy audio system, as I would expect this shark of a car to have. The Clarion AM/FM/CD stereo comes complete with a plug/MP3/SD Memory Card reader featuring Music Catcher II technology, 4 speakers, tweeters and more. Additionally, the backlighting colors of the stereo can be changed. The button saying “Color” changes the hue of the instrumentation around the center stack to either pink, blue, green, orange and many more. Or, there is an option to mix things up and have the colors continually changing. It’s a great touch to an already great system. The only criticism that I had was the writing on the buttons. It was way too small. But after fiddling with the system for a while, I familiarized myself with what was what and it was smooth sailing.

As sporty as the Tiburon is, it wouldn’t be a complete package if it didn’t have top-notch safety features. Along with 4-wheel power-assisted disc brakes with ABS, the Tiburon hosts dual front airbags along with front seat-mounted, side impact airbags. The body of this shark is constructed with a steel safety cage complete with side-impact door beams and front and rear crumple zones to protect passengers inside.

Practicality-wise, the Tiburon is a great 2-passenger car even though it seats 4. I say that because my friend Jamie, who measures in at 5’3″, couldn’t sit in the rear seat comfortably as there is only 34 inches of headroom back there. Her head touched the top, which made for an awkward ride. In order to refrain from making contact with the ceiling, she had to sit hunched over. Not so nice. Also, when I went over speed bumps or any kind of noticeably irregular pavement, you can probably guess what happened! Ouch is right. Her head ended up just where she didn’t want it. Now, the rear seats would be great for younger kids or shorter individuals, but not for anyone Jamie’s size or taller.

Just because there wasn’t a lot of people-room didn’t mean there wasn’t a generous amount of cargo space in the liftback trunk. In total there are 14.8 cubic feet, with the rear seats filled with groceries, shopping goodies, personal items or what have you. Visibility was also pretty good for a sports coupe. The C-pillars weren’t too thick and the rear window wasn’t too high, making parallel parking or backing up as easy as can be in a 2-door.

Overall, the 2008 Hyundai Tiburon GT has a commanding road presence and offers its driver some ‘colorful’ amenities. Not to mention a 5-year/60,000 mile comprehensive warranty and a 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty. Fuel economy is also pretty reasonable with an estimated 17 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway. And it looks so darn good. It’s no wonder why the streets are now infested with sharks… Korean sharks that is.

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