Monday, June 16, 2008

Veracruz impresses with upscale details

Hyundai's biggest crossover is worthy of higher price tag

Over the last five years, Hyundai has impressed me about as much as any car company. With smart marketing, outstanding quality and an industry-best warranty to back it up, the sky seems to be the limit for growth from the Korean manufacturing giant. Having praised enough, I present the 2008 Hyundai Veracruz, the latest embodiment of the aforementioned gloating.

Introduced last year, the Veracruz is a midsize crossover that builds on recent improvements to extremely popular Sante Fe and the smaller Tucson SUVs. Considered a premium model compared to it smaller siblings, my Veracruz Limited tester featured all-wheel drive and a host of upscale features that proves this is not your former Hyundai.

The Veracruz is offered in three trim levels: GLS, SE and Limited; base prices start at $26,900, mid-line at $28,600 and top-off at $34,050. All models come standard with front-wheel drive or available all-wheel drive.

On the outside, Veracruz features a rounded profile similar to Sante Fe and Tucson. This is a refined treatment featuring soft lines with subtle accents in the front headlight assembly and bolder cues such as the roof rack on top. Plenty of glass opens up the views inside.

Once inside, the cabin is especially impressive in size and comfort. Noise was virtually non-existent during highway driving. Hyundai says it benchmarked the Lexus RX350 and Mercedes-Benz ML for the interior appointments - and it shows. There is a premium feel to the Veracruz Limited, and at a price of $38,525 loaded, it is a bargain compared to those it looked up to.

Veracruz has three rows of seating, though the third row will only accommodate children comfortably. If you raise the last row of seats, rear storage is only 6.5 cubic feet; however, a two-row setup leaves a generous 40 cubic feet of storage space. That utility space grows to 86.8 cubic feet when you fold the second row down. Passengers in my tester said they had plenty of legroom in the second row, even with the front seats pushed all the way back.

Up front, leather upholstery adorned big, plush seating, power adjustments allow for perfect positioning. Featuring A touch-screen navigation system as the centerpiece of an attractively laid-out dash, the front row has plenty of storage nooks and a big "cool zone" center console.

Adding value to the Veracruz is a host on standard features (formerly options): memory function for the power driver's seat, exterior mirrors and steering wheel; power tilt/telescoping wheel, adjustable pedals, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a 115-volt power outlet, lighted door scuff plates and keyless entry/start function.

With all the surrounding glass, driver visibility is great. The HVAC controls make climate adjustments a breeze. My tester had a rear-seat entertainment system that included a DVD player and 8-inch, overhead LCD screen. The Infinity Logic 7 audio system, part of the upgrade Navigation package ($1,750), offered a 605-watt external amp that delivered the CD, radio or XM signals in zealous magnitude.

My Veracruz featured a 3.8-liter V6 engine delivering 260 horsepower and 257 lb.-ft. of torque. This powerplant is mated to a versatile 6-speed automatic transmission. The EPA estimates for the Veracruz is 15 mpg city/23 highway. Nothing to brag about but there are vehicles this size well under that. My top-of-the-line Limited featured Hyundai's AWD system. Sensors channels power from the front to the rear wheels as needed to improve traction.

Drivability is impressive on the highway. While this big crossover has distinctive car-like characteristics, it still manages to aptly handle tight turns and fast maneuvers. Even with a full load, my tester delivered a solid performance on the highway and around town.

While I'm not sure buyers are prepared to plop down $38,000-plus for any Hyundai, even one as deserving as this Veracruz, consumers would be wise to look at the value of standard equipment and warranty compared to other competitors.

BY JOHN STEIN SouthtownStar Auto Editor
Chicago Sun-Times

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