The Korean automaker Hyundai is known for focusing more on value than performance in manufacturing cars, and the Hyundai Tiburon coupe is not an exception. Named after the Spanish word for “shark”, the Tiburon doesn’t have the teeth to bite through the upper ranks of performance hatchbacks and coupes. Instead, it catered more to car buyers looking for a decent, reasonably priced ride. But the Tiburon is far from being just a bland economy car. On the contrary, it blended above-average style and performance with the affordability you can expect from a Hyundai vehicle.
1997: First blood
The Tiburon was introduced in 1997 as a replacement for the 2-door Hyundai Scoupe and was, at that time, Hyundai’s sportiest car. And it certainly looked the part: spoked alloy wheels, an oversized chrome exhaust pipe, leather seats, tilting steering wheel, power windows, cruise control, and a reasonably good radio and cassette player. The FX model of the Tiburon also had a loud exhaust system, making the coupe seem like it was faster than it actually is. One can also choose to purchase extra Hyundai Tiburon accessories, including a rear spoiler, carpeted floor mats, and mud guards for additional flair.
However, despite the add-ons and considerably good looks, the Tiburon was powered by either a 1.8-liter 130hp four-cylinder engine or a 2.0-liter 140hp four-cylinder engine (for FX models), and it came with a standard five-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed automatic. While a four-cylinder engine is certainly not a powerplant to laugh at, it is not as powerful or as refined as other engines found on similar vehicles. But this does not mean the engine is terrible either; despite average fuel mileage in comparison to engine size, the Tiburon’s maximum output of 140 horsepower is potent enough to give the coup above-average acceleration.
2003: Rising from the depths
After the first-generation Tiburon was discontinued in 2002, Hyundai introduced a more powerful successor in its place. The second-generation (and current), front-wheel drive Tiburon has larger dimensions than its predecessor and a more powerful base 2.0-liter 138hp four-cylinder engine. The second-generation Tiburon also had a slight increase in its wheelbase and overall length, putting on an additional 200 pounds to its curb weight. Buyers also had the choice of replacing the basic four-cylinder with a 2.7-liter 172hp V6 engine, an expensive but highly recommended upgrade, as it gave the Tiburon significant pulling power. There was also the choice of going for a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic transmission, although both provided user-friendly and fairly athletic handling properties.
In addition to the base model, Hyundai also offered two performance variations of the Tiburon: the Tiburon GT and the Tiburon SE. The Tiburon GT comes with a 172hp V6 engine, a tuned suspension system with firmer spring rates, better audio system, and a distinct trim level. The Tiburon SE variant, on the other hand, shared the same engine with the GT, but it is paired with a six-speed manual gearbox. The SE also comes with unique Hyundai Tiburon parts including front brake calipers, fog lamps, and a high-mounted rear spoiler that give the vehicle a sportier appearance.