Thursday, September 06, 2007

Hyundai Takes on Lexus - Really

Hyundai takes on Lexus - really

Its target is the RX350, a big station wagon with lots of leather and gadgets.

For the consumer, it's just a Hyundai. It's a name people still confuse with Honda and it's a brand that conjures up zero images of upscale, prestigious or even plain luxury automobiles.

Hyundai tries and tries. With its Azera, it's trying to zip past Toyota's Avalon and even take a whack at BMW. We had an Azera for a week last year and it was a terrific car. Yet nobody looked at it.

With its Sonata sedan, Hyundai is going after Honda's Accord or Nissan's Altima and, to a certain degree, succeeding at the task, for a lot less money.

Now it's the Veracruz, Hyundai's new truly luxo SUV, a car that is taking dead aim at that holy of holies, the Lexus RX350, which really is a benchmark for quality big station wagons that smother you in leather and electronic gadgetry.

The Veracruz is apparently named for the state in Mexico (Hyundai, whose other SUVs are the Tucson and Santa Fe, really does have a thing for the Southwest), and it is actually the real item, when it comes to upscale SUVs.

This is not some gussied-up truck, embellished with items plucked from the parts bin of an upscale assembly line. It is, from the ground up, designed to swaddle you in broad seats (yes, leather is available), drown you in silence and make sure you are entertained (the requisite booming stereo for everyone; the optional DVD player for the second- and third-row passengers).

Yes, third row passengers. It's standard on the Veracruz, allowing the car to carry seven people. And the seats fold easily into their own compartment.

Need more room in back? The second row seats have outboard handles that, when pulled, allow the seatbacks to quickly fold forward, giving nearly 87 cubic feet of stowage behind the front seats.

The Veracruz is a crossover utility vehicle and, as such, has enormous competition, even if it does set its sights mainly on the RX350, which costs thousands more but does have that imprimatur of Lexus, a brand that has surpassed Mercedes-Benz in terms of equation with luxury, valet parking, Ritz-Carlton hotels, etc.

When you get inside the Veracruz, you do see the similarities.

The seats are generously proportioned, the console has the double cubbies - a shallow one, on top, and a deeper one below - that help stow all that stuff you will find you never need anyway, and the steering wheel has electric up/down, in/out adjusting.

The most striking thing about this car - and I use striking advisedly since most of the car blends in with everything else out there - comes at night when you open the doors. On the chrome sill plate, the word "Veracruz" lights up in brilliant blue. On all four sill plates.

Saturday, August 25, 2007
By Michael Taylor
San Francisco Chronicle

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