08/22/06 — Entourage handles travel chores in style

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Entourage handles travel chores in style

Hyundai Entourage (2007)

It was the magic bus that took us to the Magic Kingdom for a day, the only day that wasn’t spent on a Florida beach.

Loaded to the fenders with five people, luggage, boogie boards and beach vacation paraphernalia, the all-new Hyundai Entourage minivan made the trek down Interstate 95 to Daytona Beach, Fla., without complaint while keeping its three rows of passengers cool and comfortable.

Hyundai Entourage, 2007

An excursion on Interstate 4 to the Disney complex occurred on the only day with rain. There was disappointed on board the En-tourage, but the soaked passengers could relax in the knowledge that the Hyundai comes with a full compliment of standard safety equipment including side airbags and side-curtain airbags, antilock brakes, stability control and traction control.

The minivan was tasked even more at vacation’s end loaded with extra items — including a new surf board — accumulated during the week of adult beverages and sunburns.

It finished its assigned chores admirably offering ample acceleration when merging on the I-95 speedway, a quiet cabin for passengers to take naps along the way, cold air on a hot summer day blowing from the front and rear air conditioners, and a comfortable driving position.

Hyundai’s first attempt at a minivan is a gamble at a time when some companies — namely Ford and General Motors — have announced they may drop their people movers because of a shrinking market.

It may pay off for the South Korean automaker, but like most first efforts, there is room for improvement. That was evident after nearly 2,000 miles. But the things that are not quite right with the 2007 Entourage, are not quite wrong enough to eliminate the van from a short shopping list.

The Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna and Chrysler Town & Country are acknowledged by many as the cream of the segment crop. So when the Entourage is compared against these stalwarts, it suffers a bit.

But not that much, really, when you factor in the company’s now famous long-term warranty and Hyundai’s new-found penchant for reliability and customer satisfaction.

“I’ve got no complaints,” said one satisfied passenger. “It hauled all our stuff and it was really comfortable.”

We drove the top-of-the-line Limited with a base price of $28,795 and an as-tested price of $32,920. Thanks to the $3,950 Ultimate package, it was outfitted with power sliding doors, power rear door, rear entertainment system, fold-in-the-floor rear seats, side-curtain airbags, traction and stability control, adjustable brake and accelerator pedals, backup warning sensors, power sunroof, leather seating and tri-zone climate control.

Usually we can cite price as one of Hyundai’s advantages, but the Entourage Limited with the Ultimate package comes in at nearly the same price as the comparably equipped Odyssey EX with leather and entertainment and only a couple thousand bucks below the well-equipped Toyota Sienna XLE Limited.

A problem with the Hyundai is the equipment not available at any price.

The Entourage does not offer navigation, satellite radio or a backup camera.

We sorely missed a navigation system, something we probably would have enjoyed on a top-line Honda or Toyota. But even more, we missed satellite radio. Losing station signals and hunting for replacements is so last year.

We also missed a tilt feature on the steering column.

Note — Hyundai officials said last week that XM Satellite Radio will soon be available across the Hyundai lineup.

The Entourage comes in three trim levels — GLS, SE and Limited — starting at $23,795, $26,295 and $28,795 respectively.

All models come with the very adequate 3.8-liter V-6 generating 242 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift feature.

Certainly no speed demon — but what minivan is? — the Entourage adroitly handled itself under full load with plenty of power in all situations.

But making use of the available horsepower and torque while at capacity costs at the gas pumps. The Entourage is rated at 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 25 highway. We realized an average of about 21 mpg, a bit disappointing with 87 octane prices edging over $3 a gallon.

The Entourage has accurate steering and predictable handling. And the ride is smooth, downright comfortable in fact, with independent suspension and gas shocks.

What might have been overlooked on a normal 200-mile test week was an erratic cruise control that had trouble maintaining a constant speed. Even on relatively flat grades it varied the speed one-to-two miles per hour.

From the aspect of hauling passengers and cargo, the Entourage measures up adequately against the competition with 32.2 cubic feet of luggage space in the rear and 142 cubic feet of cargo space behind the front seats.

The Odyssey features 38.4/147, the Sienna 43.6/149 and the Town & Country 26.4/166.

Although the second-row captain’s chairs don’t fold into the floor like the Chrysler, the split-bench third row is easy to stow creating a flat load floor. We used the 60 percent half of the third row for our fifth passenger and folded the 40 percent into the floor for sorely needed cargo storage.

The dashboard is attractive and Hyundai has used upscale-looking materials. Fit and finish is excellent. Cruise control and audio buttons are located on the steering wheel. One of the most useable features is the Mercedes-like power seat controls on the front doors.

Hyundai is an unabashed copycat, and that’s a good thing when it appropriates the best of other manufacturers.

Toyota, Honda and Chrysler have the minivan formula worked out to near perfection. But Hyundai is not far behind even if it is the Korean company’s first effort in the segment.

The Entourage is worthy of consideration. And for those people who insist on navigation, Hyundai says that feature will be added in the future. Check with your dealer for more details.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on August 22, 2006 2:31 PM