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BALBOA ISLAND, Calif. — It's amazing how a Porsche look-alike (at least from the front end) that costs around $15,000 can look perfectly at home parked at the entrance to one of Southern California's toniest resorts, the Four Seasons Hotel in Newport Beach.
Hyundai's Tiburon sports coupe seemed to fit right in as the valet-parking attendant came to get my keys. Guests asked what it was and gaped when I smugly boasted of its low price though they seemed to sniff at the Hyundai name. "Sure looks like one of those German sports cars to me," said a tuxedoed young man with a debutante on his arm, shaking his head in disbelief.
His was a typical reaction wherever I drove the car in this beach town filled with SLK 230s, 911 Carreras and Z3 coupes. But what's rather puzzling about the impact of Hyundai's 2000 model is that it's been around awhile and while this is its first major revision since its introduction three years ago, though hardly a complete re-design, the new version isn't dramatically different from its predecessor: the same low, wide stance, aggressive grille, and power shoulders. Well, why mess with a great-looking design?
Restyling does, however, re-emphasize the sporty coupe's familiar, bulging, musclebound fenders and the SCCA Pro Rally racing-inspired front end. There's a new air intake and air dam, and the rear end has been updated though it's a lot less macho than the front end. In fact, the back of the coupe reveals its Asian heritage, with rather tame styling and similarities to the company's Sonata sedan. The trunk lid, at least, has some character: a sculpted ridge at the breakline.
Hyundai correctly describes the Tiburon as a solid, dependable and practical car cleverly disguised as a sleek, sporty coupe. While its rakish good looks hardly appear practical though aerodynamics assist fuel economy, the Tiburon (it’s Spanish for shark), has a trunk that swallows a lot of stuff and is astonishingly large for a sport coupe, holding 12.8 cu ft of cargo, compared to 13.9 cu ft for a Lexus LS400. As for the back seat, which is relatively deep and comfortable though no place in which to spend days of touring, there's a bit more room than in many coupes of this size.