2007 Hyundai Veracruz Limited

As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, the Crossover SUV is slowly becoming America’s preferred family vehicle. And – don’t fall out of your chairs when I tell you this – Hyundai is slowly becoming a preferred brand when Americans think of exceptional quality and value.

Hyundai’s latest entry into the crowded Crossover market – the Veracruz – is one of the most impressive vehicles in its class. There’s no question they’ve taken a direct shot at their Japanese counterparts – Toyota, Honda and Nissan. And, truth be told, this South Korean automaker has its sights set on the luxury divisions of Japan’s big three.

At first glance, the Veracruz has a remarkable similarity to the Lexus RX350. Maybe you caught the Hyundai commercial where a wife accidentally gets into an RX350, thinking she’s joining her husband in their new Veracruz. While the commercial is pretty funny, it’s clear Hyundai’s not holding back any punches and gladly welcomes the comparisons.

Hyundai’s for Real

I have an interesting perspective on Hyundai’s rise because I used to test drive vehicles extensively through the 1990s and took an eight year hiatus till resuming again this year. Back in 1999, Hyundai represented excellent value but didn’t quite match up to the craftsmanship and quality we’ve come to expect from Japan’s established automakers.

After jumping in the Veracruz for the first time, I was pretty blown away. This is no wannabe luxury vehicle. It is a luxury vehicle and it delivers on all fronts. Yet Hyundai still has that “value” stigma that’s difficult to shed. Americans think it’s a decent car for the money. The reason you buy a Hyundai, after all, is to save money.

I believe the Hyundai Veracruz is going to seriously change that thinking.

Here’s what I really like about the Veracruz: It’s everything you’d want and expect in a high-end luxury vehicle and it’s a Hyundai. Yes, you read right – I like it because it’s a Hyundai.

Call me the anti-status seeker, but my dilemma has always been that I love the luxury brand vehicles but I hate to be seen in them. In other words, I love all the creature comforts but I don’t want people to think I’m buying a brand for its status and what it represents. The beauty of the Hyundai is you score all those creature comforts, yet you’re not buying a Lexus, Acura or Infiniti.

And if you think I’m insane mentioning Hyundai in the same breath as the Japanese luxury brands, I suggest you not take my word but read what others are saying or take a test drive yourself.

My test vehicle was a 2007 Veracruz Limited which is loaded with standard features such as auto temperature control, leather seats, 18” alloy wheels, auto dim external power mirrors, backup warning system and power everything including a rear tailgate.

I especially liked the standard remote keyless entry which allowed me to simply push a button on the door handle to unlock the door, as long as the key was in my pocket or with me. And I didn’t need the key to start or drive the vehicle. Leaving the key in my pocket was just fine.

Choice of three trims

The Veracruz comes in three trims: GLS, SE and Limited. And you get a choice of FWD or AWD on each trim level. My vehicle featured front wheel drive. The Veracruz is powered by a 3.8 liter six cylinder engine, with six-speed automatic transmission, that produces 260 horsepower and 257 lb.-ft. of torque. I didn’t particularly feel that fast in the Veracruz, but it’s certainly not going to make you feel inadequate on acceleration.

I had the opportunity to drive the Veracruz from San Diego to Orange County, about 50 miles of highway driving each way, and I was really impressed at how well road noise was nearly eliminated. The Veracruz felt extremely solid going over bumps or highway reflectors. Steering was tight and responsive. And, if I didn’t know better and closed my eyes for a moment, I would’ve sworn I was driving a Mercedes or BMW.

My vehicle was also outfitted the standard array of in-dash CD changer, MP3 capability and XM Satellite radio. The one issue I had with the satellite radio was tuning to new stations. Oddly, this is a two-step process. Once you turn the knob to the station you want, that’s not enough. I had to also push the knob in to activate and, thus, play the station. Since there are over a hundred satellite stations, and the tuning knob is extremely sensitive, it’s very easy to accidentally turn the knob while trying to push the knob in.

My test vehicle was also outfitted with a $3200 option dubbed the “Ultimate Package” which features premium black saddle interior, adjustable foot pedals, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, rear seat DVD and surround sound, rain sensing wipers and the 115-volt power outlet I mentioned earlier.

For those that love finding their way around with GPS-based navigation systems, you'll be disappointed that the Veracruz doesn't offer a navigation system. For a family vehicle that could make road trips a ton of fun, this is one option I believe Hyundai will need to address to keep up with the Joneses.

But my kids loved the Veracruz. Okay, admittedly, any car with a built-in DVD player is enough to catapult a car to “love” status for them. That said, having three rows of standard seating to easily sit seven, including adults, is the major reason these crossovers are replacing the mini van for official family vehicle status.

Configuring the seats

If I folded the rear seats down, I had a ton of cargo room, making it a cinch to store my bike (with front wheel removed) or two bikes for that matter. Moving the seats back into place was simply a matter of grabbing a handle and pulling the seat up till it snapped into place. Unlike conventional 60/40 arrangements, the Veracruz’s rear seats are a 50/50 configuration since there are only two seats across the third row and you have your choice of folding either, or both, down.

The center console features a “cool box” that, as the name indicates, keeps drinks or other items kind of cold. A knob at the bottom of this compartment allows you to turn this cooling feature on or off.

There’s also a 115 volt power outlet in the back, in addition to an extra standard 9 volt vehicle power outlet. Storage behind the rear seats is plenty to haul groceries but not much more. There are four hooks for grocery bags attached to the two rear seats which double as tie-down hooks when using the rear cargo area for storage.

One minor inconvenience I noticed and couldn’t solve was the fact the DVD player wouldn’t start again in the same place after turning off the car. Well, I take that back a bit, it would start again in the same place but I could only hear the audio. Maybe there’s some trick to this but I couldn’t figure it out nor could I make sense of it in the owner’s manual.

Safety Features

From a safety perspective, the Veracruz delivers everything you’d expect in a high-end vehicle that received the U.S. Government’s highest crash test ratings. Airbags are everywhere: standard, roof-mounted and side curtain to protect all three rows of passengers. There’s standard electronic stability control with traction control and standard ABS brakes with electronic brake force distribution.

There’s a lot to like about the new Hyundai Veracruz and I’m certain we’ll start seeing a lot more of them as the public gets word of its quality craftsmanship and stunning array of standard features. In my humble opinion, this is the vehicle that’s going to have a lot of Americans stand up and take notice of this progressive South Korean automaker.

At $32,305 base price for the Limited, it’s not exactly a best value contender. But for those that want to forego some of the extras, you can sort yourself out in the GLS for a very affordable base price of $26,305. And, for that reason, I’ve classified this as a best value vehicle even though my test vehicle weighed in at a rather pricey $36,525.

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