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First Oz drive: Hyundai off-roader gets serious

The price is right: At a starting price of $36,990, the V6 Terracan undercuts its Japanese rivals by thousands of dollars.

It has a strange name, but the rest of Hyundai's Terracan 4WD makes sense

14 Nov 2001

WHILE its name may cause head scratching, the rest of the package which comprises Hyundai's new Terracan mid-size four-wheel wagon leaves little left to ponder.

The burgeoning South Korean car-maker's first entry into the serious end of the Australian off-road market offers great value, plenty of equipment and improving quality - three trends often associated with Hyundai these days.

But that name! It's a combination of the Latin terra or "land" and khan, which in a variety of Asiatic languages means "ruler". Put them together and you get "land ruler".

Hyundai Automotive Distributors Australia actually wanted to call it Highlander, a suggestion nixed by headquarters in Seoul, so instead the top-spec model in the two-model range here gets that as a suffix.

Which brings us to pricing. The base model simply referred to as Terracan retails for $36,990 and the Terracan Highlander for $42,990, both coming standard with a five-speed manual gearbox. A four-speed Japanese-made Aisin-Warner automatic adds a hefty $2999 to the total.

Considering Terracan is a seven-seater, with measurements about the same as the Mitsubishi Pajero or Toyota Prado and a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine that outdoes them both on power and matches them on torque, that is an excellent price even before you take equipment into account.

That's impressive too. 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 are all standard.

The Highlander 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).

All this is housed within a body that lacks the crispness and internationalism of other recent Hyundais like the LaVita, Santa Fe and soon-to-be released Tiburon sports car. Perhaps that's because it was styled at the Namyang technical centre on home soil rather than being farmed out overseas. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that it shares boxy design signatures with other class stalwarts like the Prado and Holden Jackaroo.

It also shares its fundamental engineering philosophy with them, as in the tradition of the true off-roader it is built on a separate full-length chassis with a live rear axle for improved wheel travel over the rough stuff and dual range transmission with low crawler gears. Only the independent front suspension varies the script a little.

The 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 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 0-400m dash is given at 16.2 and 17.0 seconds.

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.

Despite the growth in sales of this medium size class, Hyundai is conservatively predicting just 2000-2500 sales for Terracan over the first 12 months on sale. It predicts Highlander will take 60 per cent of those sales with most people buying either model opting for the auto.

That automatic model, incidentally, is the only one you can get right now. Because of production schedules at the Ulsan plant, the manual versions will not be on sale until late December or January.

PRICING
Hyundai Terracan $36,990
Hyundai Terracan auto $39,980
Hyundai Terracan Highlander $42,990
Hyundai Terracan Highlander $46,980

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

BEING good value for money is one thing, but being good value overall is quite another. Cars that struggle for quality engineering often attempt to keep up with keen pricing and a good equipment level.

After our introductory drive, it appears the Terracan falls into the "good overall" category, although we say that with some caution.

That is because our experience yo-yoed wildly depending on the car we were driving during the launch on NSW central west roads around Bathurst. The Highlander we sampled proved itself a stable, accurate and dependable mount on tarmac, on dirt, in town or in country.

It sat flat, rode all but the worst bumps efficiently, steered crisply and was a good drive - something not often associated with these big, heavy wagons.

Yet the Terracan we drove was skittish, uncertain in the steering, and more prone to body roll and upset - in other words it felt more like a 4WD wagon of this size and type should.

We reported our concerns to Hyundai and later investigation revealed a worn out shock absorber, which would certainly tally with the driving experience.

No debate about the engine, which is a gem - strong, smooth, quiet and prepared to work right through the range, ably assisted by the auto, which only transmitted any jarring back through to the driver on kick-down when urgent progress was demanded up hills or in a passing situation.

In reasonably serious off-road conditions it showed itself to be a competent performer. Low range gearing was suitable for steep downhill crawling while ground clearance was enough - while not up to Prado and Pajero standard - to negotiate most decent obstacles without too much contact being made underneath.

The interior is impressively smooth and well presented, even if it is not in keeping with the style Hyundai has established for other vehicles in its range recently, except for the fiddly audio head unit.

The car feels quite compact inside, yet that is misleading because there is plenty of room in the second row for full-size adults to sit behind a full-size driver. The third row is strictly kids only and the seats do not have headrests or fold cleverly into the floor, rather than being attached to the cabin sides.

The Terracan's lower ride height than Pajero and Prado succeeds in giving it a less truck-like feel, however, you are still high enough to have a good view, and that is aided by the acreage of glass.

Overall, the best of our experience indicates Terracan is a good place to be if you are interested in a mid-size four-wheel drive. The worst of our experience casts doubt on that, but that should have been a one-off problem only.

We look forward to driving it again more fully on more familiar territory.

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