Thursday, February 16, 2006

2007 Hyundai Entourage Preview

Taking on the Establishment Once Again Hyundai has been shaking up the automotive establishment since it came on American scene in 1985, but unlike the early days, when its rather poorly executed Excel fought for market share against Chevys equally awful Chevette, Dodges only slightly better Omni and Fords similarly uninspired Escort (among others) at the bottom rung of the feeding chain, todays comparatively premium offerings are among the most competitive in their respective segments. And since that car company came to town, with only one car in a single segment, Hyundais reach has grown to encompass nine vehicle classes, starting with the subcompact Accent four-door sedan, and followed by the compact Elantra sedan and five-door, compact Tiburon sports coupe, midsize Sonata sedan and full-size entry-level luxury Azera sedan in the car segment, plus the compact Tucson and Santa Fe crossover utility vehicles. What vehicles segment isnt it in? Well, theres quite a few actually, and it seems that the South Korean company, finding success by building vehicles better than many of its rivals, with more features for lower prices, and even producing them in the U.S. for North American customers, is about to fill in some of the white spaces with all-new vehicles. Oh sure, a new three-door Accent has been announced, but its not like we didnt expect this, being that Hyundai has offered an entry-level hatchback for as long as, well, the Pony; but the Entourage, first written about in these pages last spring is something entirely new. Hyundai has never been in the minivan game, at least not here in North America. Elsewhere, like in its home market of South Korea or in other Asian markets, plus Australia, South Africa, etc, its Trajet has been available for some time, but here in the U.S., where minivans have long been important on automaker sales charts, theres been no such vehicle. This will end later this year, however, when the Entourage will push Hyundais lineup into double digits, and join Kias Sedona as the second Korean minivan to ever be offered on North American shores - unless youre counting the Kia Besta that was sold by Mazda Canada in the 80s, prior to the Japanese automaker offering its MPV. But unlike those days, when Kia and Hyundai were arch rivals fighting over the same customers, the two companies are now joined at the hip, Hyundai having purchased Kia lock, stock and barrel a number of years ago, and as a result of doing so, is now sharing general architectures, drivetrains and additional components between models. Where the Accent and Rio are built off of the same platform and powered by the same engine and transmission combinations, and the Elantra/Spectra, Sonata/Magentis, Tucson/Sportage, and so on, are now cooperative Hyundai/Kia projects in one way or another, the new Entourage borrows much of what it needs from the recently released 2006 Kia Sedona minivan. This is good news for Hyundai, of course, being that the Sedona has enjoyed some very positive reviews since its introduction. Hyundai, which is positioning itself as the more luxury oriented of the two brands, with Kia targeting sportier buyers, will no doubt spiff up anything that may be lacking, in the same fashion the Chryslers Town & Country upgrades the Dodge Caravan. That last model, of course, has long been the segment leader, offering innovation after innovation in an attempt to stay ahead. Over the years others have tried to compete with varying levels of success, the next highest sellers being GMs various vans, plus Hondas Odyssey, Toyotas Sienna, Mazdas MPV, Nissans Quest, and the aforementioned Kia Sedona. Oh yeah, and I almost forgot Fords Aerostar... Windstar... er... Freestar... call it whatever star you want, although supernova might be more apropos being that its imploding sales have been so devastating Ford will more than likely kill it off sooner than later, and replace it with something that has greater crossover appeal. Lasts years stylish Portico Concept had many prognosticators predicting a more crossover-like minivan was on the way, and while such a move remains entirely possible, the new Entourage, the one we know for sure will line up alongside Hyundais nine other models, is pure minivan through and through. Hyundai has had an interesting vantage point over the years, looking and critiquing from the outside in, and in similar fashion to how Kia was able to come to the North American market with a very competitive Sedona when it first appeared in 2001 as a 2002 model, the Entourage, borrowing much from Kias second-generation Sedona, enters the picture with an extremely competitive product. First of all, its hardly a minivan at all, but is more accurately mid- to full-size, just like its main rivals. Actually, Hyundai is being so bold as to claim that the 172 cubic-feet inside its Entourage is greater than the interior volume of Hondas Odyssey. Interior spaciousness is critical, as minivan buyers tend to use their vehicles for more than just hauling around family members and their half-pint friends, but often commission them for carting around building supplies and other heavy and/or large-scale loads. Due to this multi-usage a flexible seating system is mandatory, and while the Entourage doesnt feature anything quite as revolutionary as Chryslers Stow n Go setup, that allows all seats to collapse flat into the floor, the new van integrates the requisite flat-folding 60/40 split rear seat, dubbed Hyundai Hideaway, plus a second row with seatbacks that fold down and pedestals that flip forward, or that can be easily removed if needed, to open up cargo space. That second row can be accessed via twin rear sliding doors. After interior flexibility and overall size, probably the next most important consideration minivan buyers, normally parents with children, would find important are safety features. Being a father of three, the fact that the Entourage comes standard with a bevy of state-of-the-art active and passive safety items, such as four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel ABS and EBD (Electronic Brake force Distribution), Electronic Stability Control (ESC), anti-whiplash active front head restraints, as well as a half dozen airbags that include side curtain-type bags for all three rows, gives me piece of mind. No doubt, the Entourage will garner a five star crash test rating. The Entourage also includes shoulder-belts for all passengers, plus Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) in the second- and third-row seats, for easier and safer attachment of child seats. The inclusion of a high-line tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) as standard equipment is impressive too, a system that not only will warn of impending danger but also, if tire pressure is kept at the recommended level, could save you a few dollars at the pump while reducing tire wear. As mentioned, the Entourage gets dual rear sliding doors, but I didnt mention that they integrated convenient power windows. Few vans offer side windows that open at all, and I for one really appreciate having them, if only just so that the kids can wave and say bye to Grandma while were driving away. And then there are also those days when exterior airflow is more refreshing than air conditioning, which also comes standard by the way, and the power side glass, plus the usual power rear quarter windows, that pop out from the side rather than roll down, make for a nice cool breeze inside the cabin. Right about now Id better correct myself, as the Entourage doesnt merely come standard with air conditioning, but rather a dual front climate control system with individual controls, plus separate controls for second-row passengers. The van delivers ventilation to second- and third-row passengers, mind you, so everyone can be comfortable. Those up front can carry on discussions with rearward passengers aided by the convenience of an adjustable conversation mirror tucked in front of the controls for the optional power glass sunroof, while a foldaway center tray table between the two front seats includes four cupholders, handy for parents with smaller children who might need to pass their drinks back and forth. Drivers will be able to enjoy the comfort of high-quality cloth seats, with leather available as part of a Limited package, for a sum. Additional luxury features include the option of woodgrain or metal-like trim, highlighting a center stack that looks very upscale (and very Sedona-like) and complements a steering wheel and electroluminescent gauge package that pulls cues from the Sonata, upcoming Santa Fe replacement and top-line Azera. All Entourage vans get a two-tone color scheme as well, a nice way of breaking down the visual size of a minivans large interior panels. Drivers will also enjoy a tilt steering wheel plus optional power adjustable foot pedals and heated front seats, while all will find the Entourages optional power liftgate handy. As for the available rear-seat entertainment system, which features an eight-inch LCD monitor, I wouldnt consider a new van, SUV or crossover without one, and the new Hyundai also can be had with an optional Infinity AM/FM/CD-changer/MP3 audio system with Logic 7 surround sound. Heck, forget the kids... leave them in bed inside the house while you and your honey enjoy a little R&R in the back of the van. To some who will be driving the Entourage, the fact that it can be had with backup warning sensors will be of greater significanc than how much engine output is hidden under the hood. Still, theres no reason to have to give up one to have the other either. All Hyundai minivans will boast a version of the Azeras velvety-smooth 3.8-liter V6, a highly refined DOHC, 24-valve engine that produces a maximum of 242-horsepower and 251 lb-ft of torque, making it one of the most powerful in the minivan segment. Rather than out-power all rivals the Entourage splits the difference, featuring more horsepower than Fords Freestar, Chevrolets Uplander (and therefore Buicks Terraza, Pontiacs Montana SV-6 and Saturns Relay) and Dodge Caravan, plus greater torque than the Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna and Dodge Grand Caravan. But this top-line Hyundai V6 isnt all about refined power, as it also provides the convenience of timing chains instead of belts, benefiting from no scheduled maintenance, plus good expected fuel economy and an Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) certification rating. The vans five-speed automatic with Shiftronic manual should get some credit for the fuel economy and ULEV rating, not to mention the drivetrains expected refinement. Hyundai says the transmission "offers smooth shifts and a wide spread of ratios that ideally suit the engines characteristics and includes an overdrive lock-up torque converter for quiet, efficient highway cruising." As for ride and handling, expect it to be very good. As mentioned previously, Kias version of the van is getting bullish reviews from those who have driven it, and with Hyundai benefiting from an extra year of development overseen by its own expert engineers, it should be refined even further. And unlike other vans that are based on midsize sedans, the two Korean models ride on a purpose-built unibody architecture featuring a 118.9-inch wheelbase and a 66.3-inch track width; both longer and wider than minivan competitors. While a four-wheel independent suspension with MacPherson struts, coil springs plus a stabilizer bar in front and a multi-link setup with coil springs and a stabilizer bar in back, should be good for absorbing the bumps and dips of inner city streets while delivering adept road-holding, I, for one, would find its 39.6-foot turning radius equally nice to live with. The Entourage accomplishes this, as well as deft turn-in at high-speeds, via an engine-speed-sensitive power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system. Connecting to the road are a set of four 16-inch steel wheels wrapped in 225/70 R16 all-season tires. Optionally, 17-inch alloy wheels can be fitted to 235/60 R17 tires. The alloy rims and lower profile tires make the van look better, no doubt, although I personally didnt trade in my BMW 5-Series for a 96 Dodge Caravan because I wanted something a little sportier. Dont get me wrong, I liked the look of the Caravan, a point that weighed heavily when choosing it over any competitor, just like what Hyundai has done with its Entourage will work to entice todays minivan buyers, but other considerations, like the convenience of dual sliding side doors, also were important to my decision. After all, I was a new family man at the time, with a small industrial clothing supply business that required frequent long-hauls from Vancouver to Edmonton, the van filled to the gills with upwards of five-hundred fire-retardant cotton coveralls at a time, and an eager oil and gas servicing company at the other end relying on delivery. Whatever your needs are, the minivan, if you can overcome any negative stigma, is the ultimate all-purpose transport, and now that Hyundai is in the game, it stands a good chance of pulling in its share of new buyers. Source: Always remember to visit for latest deals available Gary Rome Hyundai , Hyundai Accessory Store and Hyundai Performance Auto Parts.

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