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Car reviews - Hyundai - Terracan - Highlander 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Smooth drivetrain, value, interior space
Room for improvement
Silly name, silly styling, average dynamics

14 Mar 2003

SILLY name, weird styling, average technology but great value. That's the Hyundai Terracan in a nutshell.

The South Korean giant's first attempt at a serious off-roader has all the hallmarks of an emerging car manufacturer not quite in control of the many and varied complexities of the game.

It has nailed some aspects of the Terracan, but quite patently missed the point on others. However considering just a few years ago that Hyundai was a one-trick pony with the budget-buy Excel, it is commendable to get this close so soon with the Terracan.

Terracan apparently means "land ruler" in a combination of Latin and Asian languages. Its styling is similarly tortured, evoking elements of most of its mid-sized rivals such as the previous Toyota Prado and Mitsubishi Pajero without actually arriving at a definite theme. Maybe mish-mash is the way to describe it.

Hyundai has been more focussed on when it comes rather than what's under the skin.

The Terracan is traditional off-roader in that it has a ladder-type frame with a live rear axle, limited-slip rear differential and low range gearing mated to either a manual five-speed gearbox or four-speed Japanese-made Aisin automatic. Only the independent front suspension varies the script a little from the traditional off-roader route.

The entry level Terracan - simply called Terracan - gets a part-time 4WD system which can shift "on the fly" from rear-wheel drive to 4WD at speeds up to 80km/h, while the upper-spec Terracan Highlander has a full-time system which apportions power to the front or rear axles as conditions dictate. Normally, all drive is sent to the rear wheels.

That drive comes from a quad cam "Sigma" V6 engine which we have already seen in Australia in 3.0-litre form in the Grandeur luxury saloon. Punched out to 3.5 litres, it now produces 145kW at 5500rpm and 302Nm of torque at 3000rpm, with around 90 per cent of that on tap from 1500rpm to more than 5000rpm.

Despite the 2.0-tonne-plus tare weight, Hyundai claims 0-100km/h times of 9.5 and 10.7 seconds respectively for the manual and auto, while the 400-metre dash is given at 16.2 and 17.0 seconds respectively.

Hyundai also claims the auto, with its higher overall gearing, delivers the better fuel economy with 14.5L/100km on the city cycle and 9.5L/100km on the highway cycle.

We came up with an average of 13.8L/100km in the auto over our combination of city, suburban, country and off-road driving, which is a very competitive figure for the category.

There is no doubt the engine and auto transmission we sampled were the highlight of the mechanical package. The V6 is quiet - a tribute to noise deadening work underbody here too - revvy and powerful.

Keen to accelerate and carry the weight along impressively, only the arrival of steep hills with a significant load on board really slow it down or subject occupants to any hoarseness and vibration.

It works keenly with the auto box, which proves itself a smooth slusher without any noticeable vices.

The same praise cannot be extended to the chassis, which lacks composure and sophistication on broken surfaces. Throw in some bends and the Terracan goes rocking, rolling, jerking and bouncing in an unseemly fashion.

And on greasy roads you can feel the power redistributing away from the rear wheels after they begin to slide and spin - not quite real time.

The grabby brakes - particularly on dirt - and loose and vague nature of the recirculating ball power steering do not help matters either, although the four-spoke steering wheel is of a nice size and thickness.

In the city and suburbs the Terracan is a much more civilised contender than on the open road.

Slow the pace down and head reasonably seriously off-road and Terracan shows itself to be a competent performer. Low range gearing is suitable for steep downhill crawling, while ground clearance is enough - while not up to Prado and Pajero standard - to negotiate most decent obstacles without too much contact being made underneath.

And in the city and suburbs the Terracan is a much more civilised contender than on the open road. With its standard seven seats, it would be an excellent hauler on the school mum circuit.

The interior is well presented and thought out, except for the fiddly radio head unit which is out of step with the rest of the styling of the centre console area, the driver's seat does not move back far enough on its tracks for tall drivers and the third row seat is definitely kids-only and lacks headrests.

On the positive side, access to the rear is easy thanks to the flip-fold nature of the second row and the industrial carpet on the seatbacks is appreciated by anyone with young kids wearing muddy shoes.

Access to the rear is via the single-piece top-opening tailgate - the spare tyre is mounted under the floor by the way. Access is easy and when you're loading luggage there's heaps of space. Mountain bikes go in without needing to remove wheels, etecetra.

And then there is the equipment.

For the price, there is nothing in the class that comes close - except maybe the new Kia Sorento. For under $40,000 on the road the base model has air-conditioning, driver and passenger airbags, cruise control, CD audio system, remote central locking with alarm, power windows and mirrors, and 16-inch alloy wheels - all as standard.

The Highlander, for under $50,000 on the road with the automatic gearbox, adds climate control for its air-conditioning system, leather upholstery, woodgrain trim, a chrome grille and doorhandles, and anti-lock ABS braking with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD).

Good stuff. Maybe not enough, for some, to compensate for the technical deficiencies, the silly name and the derivative styling. But for others, for whom day-to-day suburban driving is the reality, it will do the trick.

And it will even go a fair way off-road - and get you back afterwards.

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