- The Washington Times - Friday, November 30, 2001

NICE, France Hyundai is not only on its way up in the United States but also in Europe.

The South Korean manufacturer is as ambitious as ever, hoping to join the ranks of the global top five automakers by 2010.

Very soon Hyundai will announce the opening of an assembly plant in North America. Here in Europe, Hyundai has its own Research and Development Center in Germany. They have hired Pininfarina, one of Europe's leading styling studios to design the body for the small Matrix that is still selling very well.

Furthermore the Santa Fe has been positively received as a serious representative of the growing sport utility vehicle segment. Even in the declining sports car class, the Tiburon, which is called Coupe in Europe, has been going steady.

Earlier this month, in the south of France, Hyundai presented the new Coupe for the first press test drives, after the car made its world debut in Germany at the Frankfurt Motor Show, in September.

With this model Hyundai is going to try to stabilize its share in the sports car segment and to tempt customers from other Asian brands. The South Koreans have built the Coupe on the shortened platform of the new Elantra. The wheelbase and the length of the car both increased two inches. It grew one inch in width.

The exterior design with the bold edgy headlamps adds to a mature look. Seen from the side the new Coupe has something of the look of a Ferrari 456 and that's not only because of the louvers behind the front wheels. Bold exhaust pipes provide a sporty look at the rear.

Hyundai now has a second power plant available for the Coupe: the aluminum 2.7-liter V-6 Delta engine that we know from the Santa Fe and the Sonata. In the Coupe it has 167 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and a maximum torque of 181 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm. That engine can be teamed with a manual six-speed gearbox or with Shiftronix an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission with sequential shift. Unchanged will be the 2-liter four-cylinder (140 hp) that has been powering the present Tiburon.

The German technicians of Hyundai's Research and Development Center in Frankfurt adjusted the suspension especially for the European taste. The Coupe has four disc brakes; the front ones are ventilated with anti-lock and EBD (electronic brake force distribution) standard on all versions.

The cockpit of the new Coupe is sporty-looking with dials that are ringed with metallic satin-finished bezels and red indicator needles. The three gauges in the center console of the GLS version suit a sports car like this. They provide readouts on engine torque, instant fuel consumption and battery voltage.

The interior offers more front and rear headroom than its predecessor. Recaro-styled front seats with extralong seat cushions and large side and thigh bolsters provide comfort and sporty support. Leather seats are available for the GLS trim only. For easy entry of rear passengers, the Coupe has a walk-in memory system.

The new car comes with climate control and a choice of factory installed audio systems. The top of the range for North America is the H280. The 2.0 has 16-inch wheels; the V-6 rides on 17-inchers. The latter is also equipped with traction control

Hyundai knows very well that its 2-liter engine is not a real sporty one. But during my first test drive through southern France, I could appreciate its nice behavior and willing response to the throttle. The noise in the new Coupe is more insulated than before, also in the V-6. I would have liked a more potent "vroooom."

The six-cylinder suits the sporty coupe very well. Too bad I could feel the engine moving whenever I pushed the throttle. I think the engine mounts should be improved. Hyundai probably did not apply more solid mounts, as they often transmit engine vibrations to the cockpit. I especially liked the suspension setting.

In short turns like traffic circles the car stays neutral. In fast turns it shows some understeer. During an "attack" from a Frenchman on the motorway, I had to swerve and the Coupe just shortly slid on four wheels, but recovered quickly with minor steering effort. Steering is precise and direct; the brakes do their work as you might expect from car that has a top speed of 128 mph.

In brief, driving the new Coupe is fun.

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