Monday, June 18, 2007

Hyundai Is Moving On Up

Hyundai is moving on up

TEST DRIVE | Takes giant leap with the mid-size crossover Veracruz, which offers an array of wonderful amenities to put its interior into the league of a Lexus

The new Veracruz mid-size crossover might cause folks to consider Hyundai able to make vehicles that match in many ways vehicles from automakers such as Toyota and Honda. It's the type of vehicle Hyundai needs in its major push to considerably upgrade its image.

South Korea's Hyundai says it's aiming the Veracruz -- named after a tourist-destination Mexican state on the Gulf of Mexico -- squarely at the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot. The Mazda CX-9, Subaru Tribeca and Saturn Outlook also are rivals. So is -- dare we say? -- the Lexus RX 350.

2007 Hyundai Veracruz

Price: $26,305 - $34,005.

Likes: Surprisingly upscale. Lexus-like interior. Roomy. Sharp styling. Fast. Well-equipped. Third seat.

Dislikes: Average handling. Rather numb steering. Foot-operated parking brake. Rear visibility.
The seven-seat Veracruz has a quiet Lexus-style interior like no other Hyundai interior, with soft-touch materials and excellent fit-and-finish. It's spacious, with an especially roomy second row seat area. A third-row seat is easily reached via the sliding, split second-row seat and can accommodate two adults in reasonable comfort -- at least for shorter trips. It includes its own roof-mounted vents.

The 50-50 split third seat folds into the floor without needing to yank the headrests and store them elsewhere.

The Veracruz rides on a stretched rigid unit-body Hyundai Santa Fe SUV platform. It looks slick, with impressively tight panel gaps, although thick back roof pillars partially block rear vision. It's thus a good idea to often check the large outside mirrors when making moves in traffic. It's also a good idea to use the turn signals when changing lanes, although even the turn-signal stalk's clicks sound just right.

The Veracruz comes with front- or electronic all-wheel drive and costs from $26,305 to $34,005. Trim levels are entry GLS, mid-range SE and top-line Limited.

All have a sophisticated 3.8-liter, 260-horsepower V-6 also found in Hyundai's flagship Azera sedan. The V-6 lets the Veracruz scoot from 0 to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds and provides good merging and 65-80 mph passing times.

The engine delivers an estimated 18 mpg in the city and 25 on highways, not bad for a vehicle that weighs 4,266 pounds with front-drive and 4,431 pounds with all-wheel drive. Only 87-octane fuel is needed.

The engine is mated to a crisp-shifting six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift feature.

The dual-overhead-camshaft V-6 has continuously variable valve timing and a variable intake system for good response at all speeds. It rides on newly developed semi-active mounts that harness engine vacuum to offset engine vibrations. The result? Subdued engine noise.

Hyundai hasn't forgotten value for the dollar in its move upscale. For instance, the Veracruz is loaded with comfort, convenience and safety equipment.

Even the GLS has such standard features as air conditioning with separate rear climate controls, cruise control, tilt/telescopic wheel, AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 audio system with six speakers -- along with power heated external mirrors and power windows, tailgate lock and doors with remote keyless entry.

The SE adds a power driver's seat with lumbar support, 18-inch (up from 17-inch) wheels, leather-wrapped wheel and shift knob, automatic headlights and a cooled front center console storage area.

Hyundai throws just about everything in the Limited. It has leather upholstery, power front passenger seat, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, power tilt/slide sunroof, backup warning system and a power tailgate. It's even got a windshield wiper de-icer.

Not enough? Then there's the aptly named $2,950 Ultimate Package for the Limited. Its items include adjustable pedals, power tilt/telescopic wheel, a "family essential" rear DVD entertainment system with surround sound audio and rain-sensing wipers.

STILL not satisfied? Then get the Ultimate Package with the Premium Black/Saddle interior for $3,200.

As for safety, all trim levels get electronic stability control with traction control, anti-lock braking with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist -- and front side air bags and side curtain bags for all seating rows.

Desirable options exist for versions other than the Limited. It might be hard to pass up the $1,950 Premium Package for the entry GLS. It contains the power tilt/slide sunroof, power driver seat, heated front seats and backup warning system -- a good family feature to have.

Likewise, the $3,350 Premium and Leather Package for the SE looks good -- if rather pricey. It features the sunroof, leather seats, heated front seats and Infinity CD/MP3 changer audio system. There's also a $1,600 Entertainment option for the SE that requires the Premium/Leather option but contains the DVD system with a surround sound audio system.

I tested the $32,305 front-drive Limited and found the steering rather numb near the on-center position, although it's quick enough and there's a tighter minimum turning radius than the shorter Lexus RX 350's.

Handling is good, although there's a fair amount of body sway when taking curves in a spirited manner despite front/rear anti-sway bars. The all-independent suspension provides a firm but supple ride, although the suspension occasionally clunks over large bumps. The brake pedal has a nice positive feel, and stopping distances are OK.

Getting in and out calls for a little extra effort, and occupants sit high. The front bucket seats provide good support, and gauges are easily read. Climate controls are large and major controls are easily reached, especially the driver's power window controls. However, the low, foot-activated parking brake can hit the side of a driver's ankle.

The console storage bin is fairly deep and doors have storage pockets. Front cupholders are positioned to avoid spills and are conveniently ringed with blue light during night driving.

The cargo area is impressively large, especially with the third-row seat folded out of the way. And the second-row seatbacks also fold.

The Veracruz makes one wonder if, indeed, Hyundai will attain more Lexus-style polish -- at Hyundai prices.

June 9, 2007
BY DAN JEDLICKA Sun-Times Auto Editor

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