First Glance: The shark gets serious
Then came 2003 and a new Tiburon -- a new and serious Tiburon (read review). It wasn't nearly as silly looking as its predecessor, though its resemblance to a goggle-eyed mid-90s Toyota Supra was still worth a chuckle. Its base 2.0 liter engine got a variable valve timing system, and new to the options list was a 2.7 liter V6 engine.
For 2007, Hyundai has again upgraded the Tiburon -- and instead of evoking laughter, this new version earns honest grins. Lower profile headlights, revised taillights, chrome exhaust tips and reworked sheetmetal that emphasizes the wedge-like profile and de-emphasizes some of the funky curves give the new Tib a more mainstream look. To say the new version is the best looking Tib ever isn't much of a complement, so I'll try this: The 2007 Tuburon looks like a proper Asian sports car. Finally!
In the Driver's Seat: Last of the old-school Hyundais
In the past few years Hyundai has made great strides in building interiors that look, work and feel like those of Toyota or Honda. The Tiburon is the last of the old-school Hyundais, before they adapted the if-you-can-beat-'em-join-em philosophy, and it hasn't changed much for 2007. Still, everything works respectably well, and Hyundai has even gone to the cost (about $50 per car, I'm told) of installing cool-looking blue instrument lighting. They've also added some gun-metal-color trim bits to spruce the place up. The Tiburon gives one the low-slung seating position that a sports car ought to have. What it doesn't do is scream "cheap sports-car knock off". Tiburon buyers won't feel like they've been cheated. The back seat's pretty useless, but the hatchback design makes the Tiburon a much more convenient cargo-hauler than coupes like the Honda Civic and Pontiac G5.
The base model Tiburon GS comes with a cloth interior, while the GT gets upgraded trim. The highlight of the range is the sporty SE, which gets black cloth seats with red leather bolsters. Now we're talking!
On the Road: SE is surprisingly accomplished
Still, with some skillful engineering, one can do a lot while still maintaining a margin of safety and predictable behavior in panic maneuvers. The Tiburon, particularly the top-of-the-line SE model, comes pretty darn close to the edge, which is all the more remarkable considering the age of the Tiburon design. All versions get a stiffer body, and the SE model gets markedly stiffer suspension settings, a six-speed manual transmission (other Tibs offer a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic), and bigger brakes with cool-looking cross-drilled rotors. The SE also has an electronic stability control system which helps keep the car on its chosen path should the driver get in over his or her head. To those who speak the language of handling: Yes, the SE will allow some very mild oversteer (fishtailing), but you really have to ham-first it in the curves to make that happen. Drive smoothly and you'll be amazed at how well the Tib SE sticks to the road and how quickly you can make progress through sharp turns. Quite amazing for a relatively unsophisticated design -- and all the more amazing when you consider how inexpensive the car is.
Journey's End: Realistic expectations
The base-model Tuburon GS' 138 hp four-cylinder engine is a better match against less-sporting coupes like the Honda Civic LX/EX, Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5. Fuel economy is well down from the Civic, but the GS delivers a lot of features -- including power windows, locks and mirrors, A/C, side airbags, antilock brakes, CD/MP3 player and keyless entry -- for just over $17K. The GT ups the ante with V6 power and automatic climate control for around $20K, on par with cars like the Honda Civic Si and Chevrolet Cobalt SS Supercharged.
But for enthusiasts, the SE is the car to have. Forget about getting laughed off the track -- the Tiburon SE is serious in its looks, serious in performance and is a seriously good deal. Buy a Tib, dust off a few Nissans and Hondas at a local autocross event, then compare notes on what you paid. Tiburon owners will have the last laugh.