Back in January at the Detroit Auto Show, Hyundai finally peeled the camo off its newest product, the Veracruz. The Veracruz is aimed right at the heart of the increasingly popular mid-sized crossover segment that includes such perennial best sellers as the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander and new entries like the Saturn Outlook and Ford Edge. Hyundai identifies the Honda and Toyota entries as their main competitors, but interestingly neither was their primary benchmark. That honor falls to the Lexus RX350. More on that in a bit.
Hyundai invited a group of automotive media to a park in northern Oakland County north of Chrysler's headquarters for a first drive of the new Veracruz. We set out on a cool rainy morning in a fleet of new vehicles in various trim levels and front- and all-wheel drive configurations. We only had about an hour and a half to drive, so this was strictly a first impression.
A full review will be coming in the next few weeks but you can find Autoblog's preliminary look at the Veracruz after the jump.
Before we got to hit the road in the biggest Korean CUV to date, Hyundai's Miles Johnson and Product Planning Manager Mike Mino gave us some background on the company's recent history and design goals for the Veracruz. The biggest problem with using existing vehicles as benchmarks to design a car is that anything on the market was designed at least 4-5 years before and the carmakers are already well on their way to the next generation. Hyundai tackled this problem by using a vehicle one level up as the benchmark for the market they wanted to compete in. So while they wanted to compete with the Pilot and Highlander, they claim to have used the RX350 as their benchmark.
The result is a vehicle that is generally better equipped and yet still priced lower than it's direct competitors, a typical Hyundai move. The test vehicle we drove was a high-end Limited model with most of the goodies like a sunroof, dual-zone climate controls and a leather interior. The look and finish of the interior was top notch with soft touch surfaces and well located controls. Like the latest Chrysler small and mid-sized cars, chilled air from the A/C system is ducted through the center console compartment to keep drinks cool.
The front seats were comfortable and felt reasonably supportive over the relatively short drive. The second- and third-row seats, on the other hand, are pretty flat. The second-row bench can slide fore and aft providing plenty of leg room for three passengers, though. The rear door openings are large and access to the third row is fairly easy. Even with the middle row pushed all the way back, my knees didn't touch the seat backs from the back row, which is a minor miracle.
On the road, the 3.8L V-6 moves the 4,300 lb. wagon without seeming to run short of breath. The six-speed automatic shifts imperceptibly and kicks down quickly and smoothly when you put your foot in it. The ride was well controlled with no wallowing over a number of different surfaces and body roll never got out of hand, although it was never really pushed too hard. The steering was nicely weighted with no center slop. The only major flaw that cropped up on our rainy day ride occurred during a full throttle lunch launch at an intersection. On the uneven road surface with intermittent puddles, the traction control seemed to loose its way and started to oscillate applying the brakes back and forth across the front axle generating some very nasty wheel hop. Several later launch attempts on wet pavement, gravel and a split didn't reproduce the shuddering, however.
A decade ago driving a mid-size to large SUV was usually a very unpleasant experience for a typical car lover. They were always based on trucks with terrible handling and ride, sloppy steering that was all over the road and mushy, weak brakes. Sport utilities and crossovers have come a long way in the intervening period and overall the Veracruz was a pleasant ride and very livable. Hopefully in the very near future, we'll be able to give you a better picture of what it's like to live with a Veracruz on a day-to-day basis. In the meantime, if you can't wait, the Veracruz is available now starting at $27,000 and ranging into the upper thirties for the loaded Limited models.