If it looks like a Lexus, feels like a Lexus and even drives pretty much like a Lexus, then it must be a Lexus. Right?
Not necessarily! In this case, its actually a Hyundai Veracruz, an all-new, seven-passenger crossover vehicle which the Korean manufacturer began shipping to its dealerships in May.
Despite the easily observed similarities between the Veracruz and the Lexus RX 350, Hyundai representatives made it clear during a regional press introduction that its new vehicle is actually targeted at more pedestrian family haulers such as the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander.
Chris Hosford, vice president of communications, said consumers do not consider Lexus and Hyundai as competing brands so We dont anticipate anyone shopping for a Lexus to cross-shop it against a Hyundai.
Still, company officials do not deny that the premium brand of Toyota was very much a focus of the Veracruz development process, and they see their new vehicle as an important key in raising the Hyundai brand image.
We did use the Lexus RX as the functional benchmark in terms of refinement and appointments, explained Mike Nino, director of product development.
The idea, of course, was to build a vehicle that would not only compete with the Pilot, Highlander and other similar vehicles, but would offer more features at a similar or lower price.
Its way too early to know if Hyundai will succeed in its goal, but it seems certain that the Veracruz will get the attention of the competitors. A relatively brief excursion on highways and winding two lane roads demonstrated that it has a premium feel, an easy drivability and lots of room for the average family and the gear it is likely to carry.
The third-row seats fold flat to increase cargo space from 6.5 cubic feet to 40 cubic feet. Push the second-row seats forward and cargo room expands to 86.8 cubic feet.
The Veracruz is available in three levels of trim, all of which feature the same drivetrain, suspension, steering and brakes.
Power comes from the same 3.8-liter V-6 engine that motivates the companys Azera sedan. Featuring four valves per cylinder, continuously variable valve timing and an aluminum block and cylinder heads, it produces 260 horsepower and 257 pound-feet of torque.
The only available transmission is a six-speed automatic with manual controls that was obtained from supplier Aisin.
All models can be purchased with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The all-wheel drive system automatically directs the power to the wheels with most grip. For extreme conditions, it has a lock mode which splits the torque evenly between front and rear wheels.
While the Veracruz was not designed for serious outback use, the vehicles 8.1 inches of ground clearance will allow it to traverse many rough and rutted off-road trails.
The Environmental Protection Agency lists average fuel mileage for front-wheel-drive vehicles at 18 miles per gallon of regular gasoline around town and 25 on the open road. For AWD vehicles, the estimates are 17/24.
The independent suspension features MacPherson struts at the front wheels and a multilink setup at the rear. It is tuned more for a comfortable ride than for aggressive back-road driving, although it is easily controlled in tight turns if a driver keeps in mind that he is not piloting a sports sedan.
Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering gets the Veracruz around the turns and four-wheel, antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and panic-stop assist will bring the crossover to a quick stop.
All models are comprehensively equipped with safety features, including electronic stability control, traction control, front and side airbags for front seat passengers, side-curtain airbags for all three rows of passengers, tire-pressure monitor and active front head restraints.
The Veracruz also comes with a long list of standard equipment which increases from model to model. Included in all Veracruz vehicles are a stereo system with CD player and MP3 accessibility, heating/air conditioning with rear-seat controls, trip computer, cruise control, steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, and power outside mirrors with heaters.
A power sunroof is optional on GLS and SE models and standard on the Limited. Leather seating is unavailable on the GLS, optional on the SE and standard on the Limited.
Base prices will climb from $26,995 for a GLS model to $28,695 for the SE, to $32,995 for the Limited. Add $1,700 to each figure for all-wheel drive. A fully optioned Limited model will approach $38,000.
Hyundai officials expect 40 percent of buyers to choose the Limited and 30 percent to choose the SE and GLS models. The also expect 60 percent of buyers will choose all-wheel drive.
A short drive is not enough to draw any definitive conclusions, but it would appear the Veracruz has the credentials to become a contender in the mid-size crossover field.
The Veracruz surprised me with its level of refinement. Whether just sitting behind the wheel or driving it on mountain roads, the impression was that I was driving a more upscale vehicle with a price tag at least $5000 more than was on the price sheet.
The styling is a bit conservative by today's standards, but very tastefully done and, in my opinion, better looking than all the vehicles it competes against. The driver's seat was comfortable for the couple of hours I was behind the wheel. It would have been less, but we made a wrong turn and wound up having to go over the Tappan Zee Bridge that crosses the Hudson River just north of New York City. 15 miles and $4.00 later, we were back on our route heading towards the Catskill Mountains.
Standard Equipment (partial list)
3.8 liter 260 hp V6 engine
6-speed shiftable automatic transmission
17 inch alloy wheels
4 wheel disc brakes with ABS
Dual front side mounted air bags
Front, rear and third row head air bags
7 passenger seating
Tilt and telescopic steering wheel
Heated power mirrors
Remote power door locks
Audio and cruise controls on steering wheel
Front and rear air conditioning
XM Satellite radio
AM/FM in-dash single CD/MP3 player, CD-controller stereo with 6 speakers
SE Model Adds... (partial list)
18 inch wheels and tires
Front fog/driving lights
8-way power driver seat
Leather-wrapped steering wheel & Shift knob
Inside and outside self dimming mirrors
Limited Model Also Adds... (partial list)
Power glass sunroof
Rear parking sensors
4-way power front passenger seat
Dual zone front climate control with rear air
Interior air filtration
Infinity premium brand stereo system with 6 CD player and 8 speakers
Major Available Options (Partial List, depends on model. Some items only available as part of an option group, see your Hyundai dealer for details)
Ultimate Package includes: black/saddle leather interior, adjustable pedals, integrated memory systems for exterior mirrors, power driver's seat and power steering wheel, power tilt and telescopic steering wheel, 605-watt Infinity Logic7 surround sound, AM/FM stereo, 6-disc CD changer with MP3 playback, 10 Infinity speakers with subwoofer, rear seat DVD entertainment system, XM satellite radio, 8" LCD screen, wireless headsets, remote control, 115v cargo area power outlet, rain sensing wipers, proximity key with immobilizer and lighted door scuff plates. (Only available on Limited)
Entertainment package includes: Infinity Logic7 surround sound, 6-disc CD changer with MP3 playback, 10 Infinity speakers with subwoofer, rear seat DVD entertainment system, 8" LCD screen, wireless headsets, remote control, 115v cargo area power outlet, conversation mirror, power tilt and slide sunroof, leather seating surfaces, heated front seats and backup warning system.