Thursday, January 18, 2007

DRIVEN: 2007 Hyundai Entourage

Story by Mark Atkinson
Photos courtesy Hyundai Canada

It’s not often that we test a minivan here at Inside Track, seeing as Streetwise reviews are generally aimed at the more sport-oriented enthusiasts. However, most folks face the reality of needing a people hauler in addition to their sports car or hot hatch.

Usability, space and decent fuel economy were tops on my list of vehicles to take on a trip to New Brunswick as three adults and two dogs going away for a week during fall creates an incredible amount of luggage and detritus. Hyundai was more than happy to let me take their new 2007 Hyundai Entourage on the 10-day journey.

First things first. The Entourage is essentially a slight reworking of the all-new Kia Sedona minivan, albeit with Hyundai’s own touches. The Entourage was very much an ‘on-again-off-again-on-again’ program as Hyundai initially cancelled its planned introduction, then changed its mind and called ‘game on!’

It’s a wise thing that saner heads prevailed as the Entourage really is another example of the Korean company really doing their homework and putting out a great product that truly competes with the best in the segment.

Forward of the A-pillar, the Entourage features unique, more up-market styling compared to its Kia sibling, while the rest of the body gets a few chrome touches to differentiate the two. The design is ‘standard minivan’ but you really can’t complain too much about that.

It’s inside that the Entourage really shines. There are cubbies and cup holders everywhere, two big glove-boxes, door-mounted driver’s seat controls, logical HVAC and stereo controls on the dash, and clear, bright gauges. In the back, our top-level GLS tester featured second-row HVAC controls, and a roof-mounted DVD player with a flip-down LCD screen and two sets of wireless headphones. Hyundai has also adopted the current trend of roll-down sliding-door windows, which really is one of those ideas that makes you wonder why it hadn’t been done that way in the past.

Also, the flip-down fish-eye ‘brat’ mirror allowed those of us traveling in the front to keep an eye on those two pooches to prevent any unneeded snooping through luggage for hidden treats.

The seats do deserve some praise as the front chairs were comfortable for the 15-hour journey to Fredericton, although a little more rearwards travel would be appreciated by those long of leg. In the back, the third-row seats fold perfectly flat into the cargo floor with a very easy pull-pull system, however Hyundai hasn’t caught up with DaimlerChrysler’s second-row fold-flat seats.

Those second-row seats do travel fore and aft on rails and recline for comfort, and while removing them is relatively painless, replacing them can be frustrating and awkward.

Still, with the rear seats folded and one second-row throne pulled and stowed in the back with the cargo, it was amazing just how much stuff you could pack in while leaving plenty of room for dog beds and water bowls. This was a good thing as my girlfriend has started packing relative to the size of the vehicle we’re taking. Hyundai claims the most interior room of any minivan on the market, and given its ability to swallow the whole enchilada without complaint, I’m not about to question that fact.

Thankfully, the Entourage’s large size is offset by its wonderful powertrain. Hyundai has come to the table with its new DOHC CVVT-equipped 3.8-litre V6 as found in the Azera sedan, albeit tuned for more torque delivery. In the Entourage, the engine puts out 242 hp @ 6000 rpm and 251 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm, second-highest in each category behind the Odyssey (2 hp) and Ford Freestar (12 lb-ft.) respectively, and gives the vehicle a ULEV rating.

Mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic, the Entourage really pulls strong through the bottom part of the rev range, albeit with the penalty of torque steer if you really cane it. Passing situations are addressed easily, and the manu-matic transmission allows for easier gear selection when cruising up and down the Appalachians in eastern Quebec. No getting stuck behind a logging truck for us!

The rest of the time, the Entourage was happy to cruise at a comfortable speed along the Trans Canada, although road noise was higher than we would have liked. Still, the surprisingly taught suspension did soak up all the major road imperfections without throwing the whole vehicle around in the process. Around town or on the two-lane back roads along the St. John River valley, the Hyundai was sprightlier than it had every right to be, although I think the Odyssey or Nissan Quest would still be the outright sporty handlers.

Over the course of the 4,000-plus kilometer trip, the Entourage averaged about 11 L/100km, which stretched fill-ups to about 550 km with lots of room for error. And, despite the relatively big power ratings, the Hyundai only needed regular gas.

As with all Hyundai offerings, the Entourage’s biggest playing card is its value. The already very well equipped base GL starts at $29,995, while our full-bore GLS Leather tester, which adds 17-inch ally wheels, upgraded six-speaker stereo, power driver’s seat, ESP, front heated seats, power sliding doors and tailgate, fog lights, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, back-up warning sensors, trip computer and the DVD player rang in at $37,195 with no options.

Add to that Hyundai’s standard five-year/100,000km powertrain and comprehensive warranty, three-year 24-hour roadside assistance and the IIHS Top Safety Pick award, and the Entourage truly is a real competitor to the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna.

So would the Entourage really appeal to the ‘enthusiast’ driver? Well, given its broad dimensions, I imagine you could fit a kart in there without too much hassle. Anyone have a tape-measure?

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