2009 Veracruz New Car Test Drive
For South Korean automaker Hyundai, the Veracruz marks yet another bold step upward in price, quality, and performance.
While Hyundai's compact SUV, the Santa Fe, rivals mid-size SUVs from established manufacturers, the Hyundai Veracruz meets them head-on. Its powertrain goes toe-to-toe with the competition, primarily the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, and Subaru Tribeca. Veracruz offers no weak-kneed four-cylinder engine or aging four-speed automatic transmission. Instead, Veracruz boasts a modern V6, standard, and still delivers frugal numbers at the fuel pump. Its transmission is a thoroughly modern six-speed automatic, putting Hyundai one gear up on Honda, Toyota and Subaru. There's a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, again giving away nothing to the competition.
The Hyundai Veracruz even enjoys a styling advantage. This is Hyundai's first venture into the crossover market, so it has no mistakes to be corrected, no design vocabulary that has to be slavishly followed, no legacies to be exorcised. It's a clean-screen project, but with the additional benefit of being able to learn from what others have tried. And learn Hyundai has. The Veracruz presents a clean, uncluttered face, a balanced, sleekly executed profile, and maybe a bit of a copycat rear; but at least a copy of a winner.
Veracruz is put together with care, too. Gaps between body panels, while not Lexus or BMW grade, are close and consistent. Interior trim materials feel as good as they look, and they look very good. Gauges and controls look and feel good, too, with interesting blue-tone night-time instrument lighting and just the right amount of clickiness and rotational resistance.
Besides well-designed and smartly packaged seating for seven, including easy access to the third-row seats, a host of upscale features are standard on even the base Veracruz GLS. Anything missing there is available on the SE or Limited; or in an option package, including a rear-seat entertainment system with wireless headphones and remote, plus a new-for-2008 navigation system.
Also new for 2008 are an available power tailgate and 115-volt power outlet for the mid-range Veracruz SE; while most of last year's Ultimate Package is now standard on the top-of-the-line Veracruz Limited.
Suspension is independent all the way around (preferred for ride and handling), with comfortable, front-to-rear shock absorber and spring balance over a longish wheelbase (the longest, in fact, in the class) that smoothes out most freeway pavement heaves. A wide stance and responsive steering combine with four-wheel disc brakes, which aren't numbingly over-managed by computerized mappings and algorithms, to earn a refreshingly high, fun-to-drive rating.
Finally, Hyundai left nothing on the shelf when it came to outfitting the Veracruz with safety gear. There are six airbags, including side-curtain coverage for all three rows of seats. Antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution are standard. So is a full-featured electronic stability system. And the front seats have active head restraints that move up and forward to cushion the head in rear-impact crashes.
Deeper bottom cushions on the front seats would be nice. So would a height adjustment on the front passenger seat. We would also prefer the slot for the Shiftronic, manual-like shift function to be on the driver's side of the main shift gate, instead of on the outside, away from the driver. We heard some wind noise in one test vehicle that wasn't in the other. But these are nitpicks, and we're hard put to find anything to complain about here.
The 2008 Hyundai Veracruz is a seven-passenger crossover that comes with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD). The sole engine is a 260-hp V6, the transmission a six-speed automatic with a semi-manual shifting feature called Shiftronic.
Veracruz GLS ($26,900) and GLS AWD ($28,600) come with a respectable quantity of standard features, starting with air conditioning with secondary rear-seat controls; cruise control; AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 audio system with six speakers and three-month XM trial subscription; tilt-and telescope steering wheel with cruise and redundant audio controls; the common collection of powered accessories; and P245/65R17 tires on aluminum alloy wheels. Front buckets with fold-flat, passenger-side seatback; a 60/40-split flip-and-fold second row; and a 50/50-split, fold-into-floor third row comprise the seating arrangement. The GLS Premium Package ($1950) adds a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, eight-way power driver's seat, heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and backup warning system.
SE ($28,600) and SE AWD ($30,300) add the power driver's seat, auto-dimming inside and outside rearview mirrors, programmable HomeLink garage/gate remote, automatic headlights, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, roof rack side rails, cooled front center console storage bin, fog lights, and P245/60R18 tires on 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels. Options for SE include the Premium and Leather Package ($4200), which adds the sunroof, a power liftgate, leather seating surfaces, heated front seats, 115-volt power outlet, 315-watt Infinity audio system with CD changer, and backup warning system. The Entertainment Package ($5750) includes the Premium and Leather Package plus a rear-seat entertainment system with an eight-inch LCD monitor; a conversation mirror; and an upgrade to a 605-watt Infinity audio system with Logic 7 surround sound.
The Limited ($34,050) and Limited AWD ($35,750) make leather seating and heated front seats standard; plus dual-zone automatic climate control with auto-recirculation, the 325-watt Infinity audio system and conversation mirror, the sunroof, the power liftgate; and a windshield wiper de-icer. Added for 2008 are a power tilt/telescopic steering wheel; power adjustable pedals; memory settings for the driver seat, exterior mirrors and steering wheel; proximity key with immobilizer; rain-sensing wipers; 115-volt power outlet; and lighted door scuff plates. Options for Limited include a Rear-Seat Entertainment Package ($1500) and a Navigation Package ($1750); both include the 605-watt Logic 7 stereo, although the navigation system deletes the CD changer.
Dealer-installed accessories include roof rack cross rails ($205), a trailer hitch ($350), auxiliary audio jack ($95), first aid kit ($20), carpeted floor mats ($125), composite cargo tray ($100), sunroof wind deflector ($85), and wheel locks ($50).
Safety features include the mandated front airbags plus side-impact airbags for front-seat passengers (torso protection), full-cabin side curtain airbags (for head protection), three-point seatbelts and height-adjustable head restraints at all seating positions; active front seat head restraints; and child safety seat anchors and latches in the second-row seats. Wear those seatbelts because they are your first line of defense in an accident. Antilock brakes (which allow the driver to steer the car through panic stops) are standard and augmented by electronic brake-force distribution (which optimizes brake application front to rear) and brake assist (which quickens brake application in emergency stops). Standard, too, are an electronic stability control system (which helps the driver keep the vehicle from spinning out in turns or in emergency maneuvers) and traction control (which limits tire spin in slick conditions). A backup warning system that warns of unseen objects and assists when parking and maneuvering in tight places is optional and we strongl.