Monday, March 12, 2007

2007 Hyundai Entourage Offers It All, Except High Price

2007 Entourage Offers It All, Except High Price

Despite predictions of its impending death that have been swirling around the minivan since the sport utility craze began in the early '90s, this vehicle class is alive and well.

About 1 million new minivans will be sold this year, which is down about 10 percent from 2005 and 20 percent from 2000.

But industry experts expect the segment to stabilize at about this year's level, and there is money to be made in any segment that can garner a million units worth of sales in a year.

The South Koreans have two quite solid players in the segment: the Kia Sedona, introduced in its second generation just last year, and the all-new Hyundai Entourage, the first minivan from South Korea's largest automaker.

The Entourage, our test vehicle for the week, almost never came to market.

After Kia, a subsidiary of Hyundai, rolled out the newest Sedona for 2006, Hyundai announced it would create a minivan using the Sedona platform, and would call it the Entourage.

A few weeks later, though, Hyundai shifted gears and said it would not introduce a minivan after all, and the project was thought to be dead.

Then a few weeks later, the Entourage was back on again, probably because of pressure from Hyundai's U.S. dealers, who had been clamoring for a minivan for years. Introduced last fall was the Entourage, and by all reports, it's selling very well.

It didn't hurt that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety put the Entourage its short list -- 13 total -- of vehicles that are the group's Top Safety Picks for 2007, only one of two minivans to make the list.

The list is based on ratings from the institute's rigorous crash-testing program; after testing the Sedona shortly after the redesigned model went on sale last year, the institute said it was the "safest minivan ever tested."

The 2007 Entourage, which was not tested, received the same rating as the Sedona because the two vehicles are functionally identical.

That the Hyundai model made the prestigious Top Safety Picks list, to the exclusion of such popular minivans as the Odyssey and Sienna, is quite a coup for the South Korean automaker.

And, of course, the company is using the safety honor as part of its marketing campaign for its minivan.

The Entourage, in Hyundai product literature and news releases, is touted as having "more safety, more room and more value than the Odyssey," the vehicle that Hyundai used as a benchmark.

So besides safety, what's so great about the Entourage?

First, there is the value. It's a minivan whose features go head to head against the top competitors, yet the price is less, a Hyundai hallmark.

A well-equipped Entourage, with electronic stability control, six air bags, the active front head restraints, roof rack rails, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, keyless entry, AM-FM-CD player, front wiper de-icer and three-zone climate control, is $23,795, which is "more than $1,500 less than a Honda Odyssey LX," Hyundai says.

There are the obvious minivan necessities that are helping it win consumers, such as its dual power sliding rear doors with power windows; middle and rear seats that fold to increase cargo space dramatically, including a third-row seat that folds completely into the floor; front and rear air conditioning, with dual front controls; power adjustable pedals; and even such options as leather upholstery, a power tailgate and heated seats.

There is an available DVD rear entertainment system, a backup warning system, and a premium Infinity audio system with in-dash CD player and surround sound, as well.

The Entourage is a good performer, too, thanks to its all-aluminum, 3.8-liter V-6 engine, which turns out 250 horsepower and 253 foot-pounds of torque. That's on par with the Odyssey and Sienna, and more horsepower than the Ford Freestar, Caravan and Chevrolet Uplander, for instance.

That engine, which also is environmentally friendly because of its ultra-low-emissions certification, is connected to an advanced, computer-controlled five-speed automatic transmission.

This combination gives the Entourage EPA fuel-economy estimates of 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway -- better than most other vehicles on the market that can hold up to seven people and their stuff.

Cargo space behind the third row of seating is more than 32 cubic feet. That can expand to more than 80 cubic feet with the 60/40 split-rear seat folded completely into the floor, and to 141 cubic feet with the rear seat folded and the two middle seats folded and tilted forward.

The van can even tow a trailer weighing up to 3,500 pounds if the trailer is equipped with brakes; otherwise, the limit is 1,000 pounds, which is enough for a small boat or one-horse trailer.

Among safety features standard on all models are the stability control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, and side-curtain air bags for all three rows of seating.

All seating positions come with three-point seat belts and adjustable headrests.

The vans also come with a tire-pressure monitoring system, which reports to the driver the pressure of each tire, and gives an alert if even one of the tires is improperly inflated.

The van's unibody construction -- frame and body are combined in one unit -- helps give it a smooth, quiet, carlike ride, and the 118.9-inch wheelbase and 66.3-inch track width help keep the vehicle quite stable, even in tight turns.

And speaking of tight turns, the Entourage has a very convenient turning radius of just 39.6 feet.

Entourage models have either 16-inch steel or 17-inch alloy wheels, depending on the trim level.

Three levels are offered: the base GLS, the midlevel SE and the top-of-the-line Limited, which includes leather.

Our test model was the SE, with a starting price of $26,295 plus $700 freight. That includes tri-zone automatic climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels, dual power sliding doors, fog lights, dual heated power mirrors, power driver's seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel with built-in audio controls, roof rails and more.

Options on ours included the premium entertainment package ($2,900), which added the Infinity audio system, rear DVD, heated front seats, backup warning system, universal garage/gate opener, and an electrochromatic rearview mirror; and carpeted floor mats ($175).

Total sticker was $30,070 including freight and options, but it had just about everything except for the leather upholstery.

At a Glance: 2007 Hyundai Entourage The package: Five-door, seven-passenger, front-wheel-drive, V-6-powered minivan. Highlights: All-new for model year 2007, this is a well-equipped yet value-priced minivan that has all the features of the popular models on the market, but a better safety rating than any of them. Negatives: Long-term resale value is expected to be below average. Engine: 3.8-liter V-6. Transmission: Five-speed automatic. Power/torque: 250 horsepower/253 foot-pounds. Length: 202 inches. Curb weight: 4,400-4,659 pounds. Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock. Electronic stability control: Standard. Cargo volume: 32.2 cubic feet (third seat in place). Towing capacity: 1,000 pounds (3,500 pounds with trailer brakes). Fuel capacity/type: 21.1 gallons/unleaded regular EPA fuel economy: 18 miles per gallon city/25 highway. Major competitors: Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, Nissan Quest, Kia Sedona, Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Caravan, Chevrolet Uplander, Buick Terraza, Saturn Relay, Ford Freestar/Mercury Monterey. Base price range: $23,795-$28,795 plus $700 freight. Price as tested: $30,070 including freight and options (SE model). On the Road rating: 9.3 (out of a possible 10).

By G. Chambers Williams III
December 19, 2006

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