Tuesday, March 27, 2007

First Drive: 2007 Hyundai Veracruz Limited - Previews

First Drive: 2007 Hyundai Veracruz Limited - Previews

A Lexus-like seven-seat SUV that should continue to convert Hyundai skeptics.

Plop down in the driver's seat of the Hyundai Veracruz, and you'll find yourself in the middle of a quiet, comfortable, content-rich revelation. With a smooth, competent powertrain and luxury touches everywhere you look, it's not hard to convince yourself that you're behind the wheel of a Lexus. That's hardly a shock, of course, given that Hyundai chose the Lexus RX350 as the benchmark for the seven-passenger Veracruz, which is now the largest SUV in Hyundai's lineup.

A smokin' deal

We tested an upscale front-wheel-drive Limited model, but all-wheel drive is available on any trim level for a $1700 premium. Ours was $33,120, with the only extra a set of floor mats for $125. Those luxury touches we mentioned? Mood lighting, heated leather seats, a six-disc Infinity stereo, a power liftgate, a sunroof, and auto dimming rearview and side mirrors are all standard. Granted, many of those items are optional on lesser trim levels, but even the base Veracruz includes second-row climate controls, satellite radio, six airbags, and defroster-equipped side mirrors for $26,995, $100 less than an entry-level Honda Pilot and $500 or so less than a similarly outfitted Toyota Highlander. (A base Highlander costs some $1500 less than a Veracruz, but doesn't include a V-6 or third-row seating.) Should you feel particularly self-indulgent, available packages will add anything from a rear-seat DVD entertainment system to an upgraded, 605-watt stereo to power-adjustable pedals to hands-free keyless entry.

Refined and smooth: Hyundai hallmarks?

A 3.8-liter, 24-valve V-6 is the only engine for the Veracruz, no matter which trim level you choose-GLS, SE, or Limited. Its 260 horsepower provides acceleration that we can't call particularly fast nor ridiculously slow; figure on about eight seconds for the benchmark 0-to-60-mph time. But power delivery is very linear, and there's a respectable 257 lb-ft of torque. It's quiet, too. Very little engine noise makes it into the cabin, and at idle, the Veracruz is so quiet and vibration-free that, if you're like us, you'll need to double-check that you've twisted the key before slipping into gear. Fuel economy ratings are 18 city 25 highway, on par with the Pilot and Highlander. As refined as the V-6 is, the best part of the drivetrain is perhaps the Aisin-sourced six-speed automatic, Hyundai's first. Upshifts are hiccup-free and quick, and the box operates so seamlessly, you hardly know it's there. There's a manumatic shifting feature, although tipping the lever toward the passenger side to activate rather than toward the driver seems backwards.

The MacPherson-strut front and multilink rear suspension delivers a plush, comfortable ride, especially on the freeway, and we found body control to be exemplary. Sure, there's some lean when you pitch the Veracruz into a corner with any aggression, but it's taken care of so quickly that you hardly care. This is certainly no bobbing oceanliner, and there's little of the rear-end wiggle that usually accompanies soft-riding stuff with a high center of gravity. The steering has luxury-grade heft, but unfortunately is as dead as Orson Welles; you'd be better off looking for feedback from a room full of mimes than from this rack. The brakes are nothing special, although at least there's no dead zone in initial pedal travel-when you call on the brakes, you get brakes.

Rolling in style

The cabin of the Veracruz is beautifully trimmed using top-shelf materials, and the buttons and switchgear are all relatively substantial. Fit and finish is excellent, but we will admit to finding a few ergonomic mistakes. Besides the foot-operated parking brake, which is positioned to rip out chunks of shin at will, the ashtray takes up far too much of the center console and the seats-all seven of them-could use longer bottom cushions. This is not to say, however, that inside a Veracruz isn't a good place to be. Despite the too-short cushions, the seats are comfy enough for long trips and we really like the iPod hookup, which is neatly located behind a flip-down door on the dash. Hyundai even thoughtfully provides a short 1/8" to 1/8" connection cable and a spot to stash it.

Second-row passengers ride on a sliding and reclining 60/40-split bench, and it's nearly as comfortable as the front row. Getting into and out of the two-person third row is a simple task, with only one hand required to move the middle row out of the way. Average-size folks will be relatively comfortable back there even with the middle seats pushed all the way back; unfortunately you sit so low and the windows are so high that you feel like you've fallen into a hole. The cargo area features a shallow, snap-shut bin under the floor, but there's scant room to be had until you fold the third row. Once those seats are flat, though, the cargo area will hold 40 cubic feet of stuff.

Boring-but it won't matter

The Veracruz is quite good, and its interior is astonishingly well-appointed, but an unfortunate side effect of Hyundai's devotion to the Toyota/Lexus screed is that the Veracruz is also unmistakably boring. It's not as fun to drive as even the Pilot, never mind something more sporting like the Mazda CX-9. So there's little about this new Hyundai that will attract enthusiasts, but with its low price and loads of standard equipment, the Veracruz shouldn't fail to find plenty of buyers. And besides, being boring hasn't really held back a certain goliath from Japan, has it?

BY ERIK JOHNSON, March 2007 Car & Driver

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