In 1997 Hyundai introduced buyers to the Tiburon, a cute yet aggressive little sport coupe that embodied the company’s push to become a serious full line player in the U.S. Well now for 2003, Hyundai is introducing the second generation Tiburon. Now Hyundai claims it’s a crisper handling coupe with more power and more sophistication. Well, that sure sounds serious to us!

Those following the Hyundai success story know that the 2003 Tiburon is just one of several ‘‘serious’’ new weapons in their armada. Weapons, all imported from Korea, that are now laying siege to Japanese-brand sub-compact and compact sedans, as well as compact sport-utility vehicles.

Hyundai’s even going after larger stalwarts like Accord and Camry, too. Not to mention preparing to building their first U.S. assembly plant. Now that’s really serious! But the new Tiburon is the Hyundai that offers the most ‘‘serious’‘ fun. We were pleasantly surprised by the performance of the original Tiburon, and that made us all the more eager to get behind the wheel of the new one. Especially when the model that was delivered for testing turned out to be a sparkling Carbon Blue Tiburon GT V6 manual.

And in the GT, that V6 is Hyundai’s 2.7 liter, Delta twin-cam, 24-valve engine. Also shared with the Sonata sedan and Santa Fe SUV, it produces 181 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. But unlike Sonata and Santa Fe, in the Tiburon GT, this V6 can be, for the first time, mated to a serious 6-speed manual. Now, a 5-speed manual is standard, and a 4-speed automatic is also available, but the 6 gets our hearty endorsement. Because it was the V6 and 6-speed combo that took our GT to 60 in a swift 7.1 seconds, and on through the quarter mile in 15.4 seconds at 91 MPH. Power is strong right from launch with a moderate amount of torque steer. And the Tiburon pulls well all the way to 6,000 rpm before it peters out about 500 rpm short of the redline.

For those not so concerned with all-out performance, the standard Tiburon comes with Hyundai’s 2.0 liter, Beta twin-cam, 16-valve inline 4 that spins out 140 horsepower and 133 pound-feet of torque. But no matter whether you choose the standard Tiburon or Tiburon GT, you’ll get the same standout styling. And, unlike the first generation Tiburon, which shared its platform with the Elantra, this Tiburon earned its own chassis.

The ‘03 Tiburon still meets the road, however, via a fully independent suspension both front and rear. MacPherson struts, offset coil springs with gas shocks and an anti-roll bar are found under the front, while at the rear a strut-type multi-link system is in place. The suspension on GT models like our tester uses the same components, but increases spring rates by 10 percent, beefs up the anti-roll bars, and stiffens the valving on the shocks. The GT package also includes standard 17 inch rims and rubber. Which offered up plenty of grip when we took our low speed slalom. That, plus the stiffer chassis, made for a very well balanced experience, although our driver’s were a little surprised at the Tiburon’s tendency to oversteer. Steering response is quick and turn ins are right on the money, but when pushed the rear end does tend to lighten up quite a bit. However, as one driver noted, it’s more fun than threatening.

Our Tiburon GT tester also came with the optional ABS system that governs the standard 4-wheel disc brakes. We averaged stops from 60 in an excellent 114 feet. Our driver’s noted a fair amount of nose dive and a slight bit of squirminess. But there was no wheel lock or brake fade, and the ABS feedback and pedal feel are first rate.

And so are the interior accommodations. Where the seriousness of Hyundai’s intent at becoming a full-line player is strongly evident. Gone are the bargain-basement plastics and marginal build quality. And in their place are top notch materials and workmanship. Comfortable and supportive front buckets are standard with leather in the GT, but all Tiburons sport side impact airbags, as well as center stack controls laid out in logical fashion. A CD player is standard with the GT upgrading to a 360 watt Infinity system with subwoofer.

The expected coupe-tight rear seating is, too. But with the 50/50 split folding seat backs, and the 14.7 cubic feet of cargo space in the trunk, the sporty Tiburon is quite useful for yeoman hauling.

Another really useful Tiburon feature is its price. The sticker starts at $16,494. GT models begin at $18,494, and our tester, with the 6-speed manual and ABS brakes, rang up to $20,492. Throw in Hyundai’s 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain protection and 5-year/60,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, and you’ve got not just a serious car, but a serious bargain.

The new 2003 Hyundai Tiburon is really all the evidence we need to bolster our belief that Hyundai is indeed serious. Not only about building quality cars, and about building quality cars in quantity, but about building quality cars that are also serious fun!


  • Engine: 2.7 Liter Twin-cam, 24-valve Engine V6
  • Horsepower: 181
  • Torque: 177 Lb Feet
  • 0-60 MPH: 7.1 Seconds
  • 1/4 Mile: 15.4 Seconds @ 91 MPH
  • 60-0 MPH: 114 Feet
  • EPA Mileage: 18 MPG City 26 MPG Highway