06/12/07 — Veracruz goes after Lexus

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Veracruz goes after Lexus

Hyundai Veracruz (2007)

The latest Hyundai television advertising campaign has probably caught your attention by now.

One ad compares the mid-sized Hyundai Sonata to a BMW 325. The audacity of the South Korean automaker to compare the 20-grand Sonata family hauler with the 35-grand German sports sedan. The ad suggests the Sonata has more room and horsepower, a better warranty and equal amenities at almost half the price.

It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek. No one looking for a BMW is going to switch to a Hyundai. And really, once you get past a few numbers, there’s no comparison. The ad is aimed at people looking for a family sedan who can say, hey, if we buy the Sonata we’ll have everything the BMW offers.

Hyundai Veracruz, 2008

Well, not quite.

Perhaps less laughable is the comparison, made in a companion ad, between the new mid-sized Veracruz crossover and the decidedly more expensive Lexus RX350, the gold standard of the segment.

You could make a case for the Veracruz against the Lexus.

The Veracruz features an energetic but refined 260-horsepower V-6 engine, a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift feature, a stylish cabin outfitted with quality materials including wood and metallic accents, room for seven passengers, a full array of safety equipment and the now-famous long-term Hyundai warranty.

Prices start at $26,305 and climb to $34,000 for the top-of-the-line Limited with all-wheel drive.

Perhaps not many Lexus buyers will swing over to the new Veracruz. Hyundai, however, may gain conquests of Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot and Chrysler Pacifica owners.

But when you figure a RX350, outfitted about like the Veracruz Limited, comes in at over 40 grand it might behoove money-conscious buyers to take back-to-back test drives.

It isn’t that much of a stretch.

We ran into an old friend, a retired car dealer, in a business supply store the first week the Veracruz reached showrooms. Our conversation quickly steered toward the current new-car market. He asked what we thought of Hyundai and invited us out to look at his new Veracruz in the parking lot.

The upshot is this knowledgeable car man picked the Veracruz over an RX350.

“I just couldn't see that much difference,” he said. “I saved thousands of dollars, got a great warranty and, damn, I’m happy with this Hyundai.”

At one event this spring, Hyundai offered up several RX350 models to journalists. “Drive these,” they said. “And then drive the Veracruz.”

The mere fact Hyundai officials had no fear of back-to-back comparisons says something about their confidence in the new crossover. The fact that many journalists walked away amazed at the similarities speaks volumes for the new Hyundai.

But more to the point, let’s talk comparisons with the Pilot, Highlander, Pacifica, the Subaru Tribeca and the Mazda CX-9. Those vehicles are more likely the conquests if the Veracruz is to be successful.

Three things really stand out with the Veracruz — passenger space, an upscale interior, and performance — when comparing the Hyundai to the aforementioned products.

Passenger space is important and the Highlander and Pilot, for instance, have cramped third-seat accommodations. Adults need not apply for those seats. The Veracruz, on the other hand, offers an adult-friendly third row that is easily accessible by fold-out-of-the-way second-row seats. You might not enjoy a long trip back there, but it’s an acceptable place for a short jaunt to the restaurant.

With the third-row seat in use, storage is limited to a meager 6.5 cubic feet. But remember, this is a mid-sized vehicle.

The middle seat is comfortable and adjustable by up to five inches fore and aft. If cargo space behind the seat is not paramount the middle offers scads of legroom. We pushed the seats as far forward as they would go and still found adequate space for legs and feet. Sacrificing a bit in the middle gives third-row passengers more room.

The Veracruz has 87 cubic feet of storage space with all seats folded flat and a generous 40 cubic feet behind the second row. The Pilot, by comparison, has 88 total cubic feet of storage and 47 behind the second-row. The Highlander has 81 and 40.

Hyundai has addressed the performance hot button with an energetic 3.8-liter V-6 generating 260 horsepower mated to its first-ever six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift feature.

The powertrain gives the two-ton crossover solid if not spectacular performance that should satisfy its constituents in all circumstances including merging and passing. It has been measured in a 0-to-60 time of around 8 seconds.

It’s a good compromise between performance and gas mileage. The new Hyundai is rated at 18 city and 25 highway in two-wheel drive and 17/24 in all-wheel drive.

And the Veracruz has an adequate towing capacity of 3,500 pounds, important to people who pull small boats or other recreational equipment.

We found the well-appointed interior hushed, perhaps as quiet as the Lexus although we haven't done a back-to-back comparison. Suffice it to say the Veracruz, with exceptional torsional and bending rigidity and scads of sound-deadening materials, stacks up well in solitude against the Honda, Toyota, Subaru and Chrysler.

Hyundai has been over the years an unabashed copycat taking the best designs of its competitors and incorporating them into its vehicles. So it is no surprise that the dashboard layout mimics Lexus. Wood and metallic accents are well done and set off the interior, particularly when the leather package is part of the equation.

Safety has not been overlooked and the Veracruz has already earned top five-star crash ratings for driver and front-passenger protection and a four-star rollover rating.

The Veracruz comes in three trim levels starting at $27,685 including destination charge for a two-wheel-drive GLS. Base price for all-wheel drive is $29,385. The mid-level SE begins at $29,385 and the up-level Limited starts at $33,685.

All models get the V-6 engine and a generous amount of equipment including a full range of power accessories, air conditioning, stereo with CD player and MP3 capability, cruise control, keyless entry, antilock brakes and stability control.

Features such as 18-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, upgraded audio system, power liftgate dual-zone climate control, leather seating and rear parking sensors come either as options or standard equipment on higher trim levels.

Unfortunately the Veracruz does not yet have a navigation system available. Seems like a major oversight since everything the Veracruz competes against, including the Lexus, has navigation available. Hyundai officials said the option is coming soon.

The competition in this segment is fierce including the highly-regarded and slightly larger General Motors trio — the GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook and Buick Enclave — so it’s hard to predict the immediate success of the Veracruz.

But it seems Hyundai has done all the right things — including keeping its long-term warranty — to give the Veracruz the opportunity to succeed.

We were impressed and we feel many potential buyers will be too.

Jim Meachen can be contacted at meachen@mac.com.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on June 12, 2007 3:29 PM