Monday, October 08, 2007

Hyundai sport-ute rides with the big boys

Hyundai sport-ute rides with the big boys

Hyundai is at it again.

This time, it attacks the upper-end sport-utility market with its luxurious-feeling Veracruz Limited. That's the South Korean automaker's top-level sport-ute, and it's on par with some of the top models on the market.

The test vehicle was a sparkling black Veracruz Limited loaded with what Hyundai calls its "ultimate" package: a $2,950 option that includes adjustable pedals, memory power seats, a power tilt/telescope steering wheel, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with surround sound and a 115-volt outlet, rain-sensing wipers, lighted door sills and a remote key fob.

That, along with $125 for carpeted floor mats, takes a fancy sport ute that starts at $32,305, including destination charges, to $35,380. Sounds like a lot, but is smack dab in the middle of the luxury sport-ute market that includes Acura's MDX, Buick's new Enclave and the Lexus RX350.

On performance numbers, it competes well with all of them.

Veracruz, in all its models, features a 3.8-liter V-6 that generates 260 horsepower. The Acura, for example, has a 3.7-liter V-6 that creates 300 horses, while the Lexus 3.5-liter V-6 creates 270 horses and Buick's 3.6-liter V-6 delivers 275.

Size is similar, too. The Veracruz checks in at 190.6 inches long, while the Acura is 190.7. The Buick is longer at 201.8 and the Lexus slightly shorter at 186.2 inches.

Note, too, that the Veracruz can be had for less than the Limited's mid-$30,000 price tag. The base GLS model starts at $26,305 with the all-wheel-drive model starting at $28,005. Moving up to the mid-level SE puts the starting price to $28,005 and $29,705 for the AWD version.

So how does it drive?

Pretty well, starting with the handling, which features fairly firm steering with a heavy wheel feel. Most folks will associate that with quality because it's similar to that of the Japanese luxury makes. More importantly, the Veracruz corners well. You can put it into a corner at speed and it will track well with little lean and without the rear-end wanting to come around.

Hyundai assures solid control with both stability and traction control systems to help keep the wheels from spinning in the wet, or the ute from wanting to swap ends. All that is controlled through the braking system, an anti-lock system with discs front and rear. These do a great job of stopping the heavy feeling ute, too.

The engine also provides plenty of power, but the gearing in the smooth six-speed automatic gearbox isn't quite what I'd expect here to boost speed. This one is a little slow away from stoplights but picks up the pace after about 35 mph. You can tromp the gas pedal to get it up to speed more quickly, but normal acceleration is a little lackluster.

Ride is good in most conditions, and its long wheelbase helps. But a bit more dampening could take the edge off the ride on really bumpy roads.

Inside, you'd be hard pressed to separate the Hyundai from the other luxury models in this price range. This one had a tan and brown leather interior with a dark brown dash top and steering wheel, plus a wood-look trim between the dark textured top and lighter lower portion of the dash. Buttons and dials feature a pewter-look finish.

Seating is mildly contoured but very comfortable, front and rear. Veracruz also comes with a fold-down third-row seat that when stowed gives you oodles of storage space in back. Both rear seats are easy to maneuver and have plenty of cup holders, plus overhead lighting and air vents.

Other goodies include a sunroof and shade, steering wheel audio controls, HomeLink, keyless entry, a power rear hatch, trip computer, 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels and Michelin tires, fog lights, a rear spoiler and roof rack. Add to that tire pressure monitoring and side airbag curtain, a couple safety features that often add cost to the vehicle.

The Hyundai's radio sounds great, too. The controls for it, as well as for the automatic dual climate control system, are easy to get at and use.

Gas mileage is good for a ute. I got 22.5 mpg in about an even mix of city and highway driving. The EPA says to expect 18 mpg city and 25 highway. All-wheel-drive models get a little less.

Complaints? Other than the somewhat slow pickup when pulling away from a stoplight, I'd like to see sun visors that slide to block out side sun. Other than that, Veracruz is a worthy competitor in its market.

Sept. 14, 2007
Savage on Wheels
Mark Savage

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