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Automanic [06.19]

Other cars are just shark bait for the 2003 Hyundai Tiburon

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Other cars are just shark bait for the 2003 Hyundai TiburonLori Lovely

There I was, waaaaaaay on the Southside of town, trying to wrap up an interview so I could get to an important appointment on the Northside, but this sweet old lady kept on talking - and on and on and on. (What is it with the old gals? If anybody notices me getting that way, grab the .22 from my desk and plug me, will ya?)

Where was I? Oh yeah, on the Southside, listening to the old dame. My gaze drifted over her shoulder to the clock on the wall. Holy ****, Batman! (Fill in your own expletive; my personal fave starts with an "F.") Late for my next appointment. Now how the (expletive - try a new one, or stick with the standard) am I gonna get across town in negative time? Wait - I still have the 2003 Hyundai Tiburon from Palmer Hyundai.

OK, this ought to be fun.

Tiburon means shark in Spanish. Well, let"s see if this silver coupe can navigate the city streets and gobble up the traffic. Buckle up and let"s boogie.

The Tiburon GT V6"s 24-valve, 181-horsepower, 2.7-liter engine packs plenty of punch beneath those aluminum pedals. Great acceleration. Wish I had the six-speed, but no matter: Five is fine. Short throws make for smooth shifts. The V6 revs freely to 6,000 rpm, with plenty of torque at low rpm. Heads back, the power"s down.

Rush hour traffic: Add another expletive. Heck, get creative and make up a string of them. OK, hang on; we"re going for it. The power rack-and-pinion steering is precise, with just enough feedback for fast driving as I weave in and out of traffic. It"s responsive and agile. Hmm, it feels like a dozen little old ladies decided to get behind the wheel just when I"m in a hurry. Is this a conspiracy?

Like many front-wheel-drive cars with a transverse aluminum V6 up front, this land shark tends to understeer. Not to worry; I can compensate with the throttle, brakes and steering. In fact, it"s fun and easy to throw around - low and smooth through the corners with very little body roll. Seventeen-inch alloy wheels and a wide, aggressive stance give plenty of grip. Sleek lines in the redesign give the Tiburon a clean profile, slicing through the air like a shark cuts through seawater. A rear spoiler completes the aerodynamic package - and looks as sharp as a fin.

Highway driving is silently undetectable, just like its namesake"s reputation in the water, but as I exit onto notoriously rough Midwestern streets just emerging from a freeze-thaw period, the GT V6"s sport-tuned suspension with 10 percent stiffer spring rates, stiffer compression in the gas-charged shocks and thicker anti-roll bars, plus the low-profile tires, transmit every bump right through the cockpit.

How many traffic lights does this (insert colorful, heretofore unused expletive with an "ing," of course) city have? Thank someone for ABS brakes that grab hold and don"t let go. Hmm, long light. Time to tune the Infinity stereo system with 36-watt amplifier, six speakers and large subwoofer. Did I hear Bobby Darin singing "Mack the Knife"?

Hey, you don"t want to know about my mad dash across town; you want to hear about the car. Its profile provides the best view. Following the classic lines of sports cars from classic eras, it takes styling cues from the Ferrari 456GT, with a heavily raked windshield and a roofline that sweeps all the way to the back. I call the two false vent grilles behind the front wheel wells "gills." You noticed the beady-eyed headlights, right? The sculptured haunches that flare out along the rear quarter panel? Where do you think the shark came from?

The sporty aspect fades inside. The bucket seats could be a bit more comfortable and supportive for hard driving or long highway cruising. The round instruments are easy to read, and mirror the dual vents high on the console, but why imitate the retro look in a new model? The all-black interior could use a little sporty splash of color.

As for space, like most sport coupes, this is really a 2+2, not a full four-seater car. In reality, the rear seats are better for storage than for carrying passengers. But there"s plenty of storage in the trunk, with a tailgate that opens wide and rear seats that split 50/50. The 2003 is a few inches bigger all around, but remains ergonomic.

This summer, don"t be afraid to go in the water. This shark offers performance and panache, without taking a bite out of your bank account.

Hyundai Tiburon GT

Base Price: $18,494

(add $2,000 for the six-speed)

Fuel mileage: 19/26

2.7-liter, 181-hp, 24-valve DOHC V6 engine

17-inch wheels

Warranty: five years/50,000 miles bumper-to-bumper and 10 years/100,000 miles for the powertrain

Chrome-tipped dual exhaust

Bodycolored rear spoiler

Four-wheel power disc ABS brakes

Racing-inspired fuel filter door

50/50 split rear seats

Optional moonroof

Guest Writer Animal Welfare and Auto Racing

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