Tuesday, July 7, 2015

6-Speed $4k Cage Fight: 2003 Hyundai Tiburon vs 2000 Toyota Celica GTS

In the 90s if you wanted a 6-speed gearbox you had to shell out some serious coin for some kind of supercar, a Lambo, Ferrari, Acura NSX, Supra Turbo, 911, and so on and so forth. A few years later, in the early 2000s, just about every kind of lackluster econobox started sprouting extra gears like they were giving them away as a door prize.  Welcome to our showroom, here is your free 6th gear, coffee and gear lube is located by the parts counter, would you like a test drive a Kia today, sir?  That brings us to the subject of today's cage match, which 6-speed manual equipped sport compact would you rather drive: a 2003 Hyundai Tiburon or a 2000 Toyota Celica GTS?

Of course you can rightfully assert your freedom to pilot neither of these fine specimens of Japanese Asian sport coupiness, but with a $4k budget anything with 6 forward speeds might come with two spare Powerglides in the trunk.  Stuck between finding some hooptie German luxobarge (Kaibeezy, did you sell that wreck yet?) and a high mile Japanese or Korean economy coupe, this might be the better choice when it comes to dollars per mile, if not dollars per smile.

First up is this second generation 2003 Hyundai Tiburon GT V6 offered for $3,900 in San Marcos, CA via craigslist.  The Tiburon (named after the Spanish word for shark, tiburón) was South Korea's answer to the Celica/Eclipse/Cobalt and featured boy racer looks, a 2.7 liter V6 pushing 165 horsepower and 181 ft-lbs of torque into the front wheels via a 6-speed manual.  Performance testing from magazines had the Tiburon hitting 60mph in 7.1 seconds, not bad for the day, but severely lacking bite to match its Ferrari 456-esque looks. 

In the other corner is this 2000 Toyota Celica GTS offered for $4,200 in Inland Empire LA Area, CA.  The seventh and final generation of Toyota's world beating Celica featured F1 car inspired looks and a positively screaming 2ZZ-GE inline-4 that didn't stop pouring fuel into the cylinders until the tach was 8250 rpm deep into the redzone (if you get the right years; the 2002 and 2005 model year cars allegedly have a 7800 rpm fuel cut).  The 1.8 liter VVTi equipped 4-banger pushes out 180 horsepower and 133 ft-lbs of torque into a 6-speed manual gearbox and hits 60mph in the 6.5-7.0 second range.

For my money, I'd take the Tiburon, not just because I'm digging the Ant Man paint job, but also because torque.  What would you pick?  Comments below.


  1. The Tiburons were total 7/8th scale Ferrari 456 ripoffs, and that was actually the ONLY thing I liked about them.

  2. I'd take the GTS for the RPM's. A good car that never sold big because the styling was a swing and a miss.

    Chick-car buyers thought it looked too much like a boy-racer.
    Boy-racers though it looked too much like a chick-car.

    Somehow they were both right.

    1. I'd take the rev-y Toyota as well. Too bad Toyota just makes dullard-mobiles now.

    2. Dare I say 'S14 240SX'?

      Seriously, though...the Tiburon doesn't do anything for me, and while I have a certain fondness for various generations of Celica that one was the first step into the basement of the nightmare that is 21st century Toyota design.

      Mechanically the Celica was pretty nice, it looks okay in really bright colors (reds, yellows) that overawe all the ridiculous creases and slashes and gouges, but then Toyota dealers only order black and silver cars for inventory because (a) people who want a black car won't buy anything else and (b) silver's always everyone's second choice so it seems that's all you ever see on the road with these - and a few white ones - and they're the worst colors for the shape. They look pretty decent in Ferrari Fly Yellow...

      It was also an early example of Toyota stripping money out of their product to be competitive, hard plastic door and dash trim, they said they were doing it to save weight but the reality is it was all about the Benjamins.

    3. Your last line made me think of this article I remembered reading 20 years ago....amazingly it was still online. The 3rd to 4th Gen Camry transition is still the worst example I can remember of Japanese decontenting. The 3rd gen was a veritable Lexus---triple door seals, gold plated electrical connectors in places, etc. It's ironic that at the time of this article, Toyota was looking up at the Taurus and Accord, and ultimately achieved their sales goal by making a worse car.


  3. What a fantastic idea this is, El Jefe! I hope you make this a regular feature (it doubles the eBay exposure). The possibilities are endless and endlessly entertaining!

    I've been vocal about my support of both of these brands here on DT, so it would be a tough call for me. But the task has been presented and even though two may enter, only one may leave. So let's consult the MasterBlaster and pick one, for Pete's sake (anybody seen Pete lately?).

    Reliability - Toyota, hands down...or is it?!?
    Parts costs/availability - ??...probably Toyota
    A bit different - Hyundai
    Fun to drive - Toyota
    Better looking - Hyundai
    Clean - Hyundai
    Upgrade potential - Toyota

    Utterly invisible - Toyota...somehow, they made it into the ultimate undercover cop car. How'd they do that?
    Bordello interior - Hyundai
    The motor...was replaced? - Toyota

    The final tally adds up to the winner (for me): the Tiburon! If I bought this car, I'd start popping those trim pieces off as fast as possible and spraying them some other color. And then I'd tear out the carpeting and put in a nice thick shag and one of these...


    1. I mean, it could double the eBay exposure.

  4. Never liked the Tiburon, don't ever want one, can't see driving it , ......
    The Celica has grown on me through the years, and structurally and mechanically the Tiburon has no comparison to the Toyo.
    I would use the Tiburon for LeMons racing though.

  5. I would have said the Celica hands down if I hadn’t driven a Tiburon of this vintage a few years ago.
    As far as looks go, I appreciate a good looking car but it is never a purchasing factor for me as you can’t see much of the car when you’re driving it. I have no problem settling for Miss Congeniality.
    I test drove the Hyundai when I was looking for a belt-way beater for a two-year commute from Pennsylvania to Fort Meade Maryland.
    The Tiburon wasn’t the best crafted car I drove but I was very surprised by the excellent seating position, crisp gear box, taught handling, a delightful V6 growl, and low-end grunt. I only drove it because the Focus SVT I came to drive was sold and it was the only other stick shift on the lot. I didn’t buy the Hyundai but I did extend my test drive by an extra 20 minutes, quite surprising.

    1. Interesting observations, MarveH. I think lots of enthusiasts just don't want to give the Koreans the credit they deserve. The speed and relentless rate of progress they've exhibited has been jaw-dropping. Even though they're clearly the underdog, gearheads continue to poo-poo them while waxing poetic about the "good old days" of the Japanese and the path they laid down for the Koreans.

    2. Where they were in the US...


      Where they're at now, less than 30 years later...


    3. I think the knock against the Koreans is that they haven't figured out suspension tuning yet. I am basing this on my sample of one, when I rented an Elantra in Tucson in 2013 that had 3 digits on the odo. It felt numb in the steering department, with a uncomfortable firmness that someone confused with good handling. In the canyons outside of Tucson the rear would step out on bumps in curves that reminded me of driving my dad's old F-150 over washboarded gravel roads.

      When you read comparo tests of say the Genesis Coupe against the BRZ and MX-5, it comes out with comments adequate power, but being a step behind on handling.

      I remember reading an article in R&T probably 15 years ago that Korean roads were crappy outside of cities and the average Korean prefers a tuning different than the average N. American or European. I will grant that was 15 years ago though, and they are probably not just tuning for their own market now.

    4. I believe you pegged it in your last paragraph. They also have no racing history and they're clearly shooting for a wider audience. I chose to see that as a good thing and their ongoing success seems to support that notion. Not every car needs to be set up for the 'Ring.

      I think it's also only fair to judge on the widest array of a company's products possible than just one or two examples. That would sort of be like driving an i3 and basing your conclusions about all BMWs on that one experience.

      I've also read comparisons of the Genesis Coupe versus cars like the Miata and Suba-ion twins. I can't say that I find the connection between those cars very logical. They couldn't be more different cars, aimed at completely different demographics. How many folks cross-shop the Miata and the Genesis Coupe...especially with the V6? That's just downright odd. I don't believe there are many people who do that. Now, the GC and the Infiniti G Coupe...maybe. But even then, the $10K price difference and any nameplate snobbery probably prevents even that from happening much. A more likely cross-shop would probably be the GC and, say, a Mustang.

    5. Hyundai is working on making a racing history for themselves. Kia runs an Optima touring car in the Pirelli World Challenge and Hyundai started their WRC program a few years ago. I was present for Hyundai WRC's first win at Rallye Deutschland last year, and I have to say they've build an impressive operation. Granted mostly using European talent (engineering, crew, drivers) but you have to start somewhere.

    6. Forgot to mention the Hyundai tie in with Rhys Millen. He has successfully run their engines & chassis in Rallycross and Pikes Peak (taking the win there in 2012 with a Genesis Coupe). The subsequent Pikes car was a Daytona Prototype spec chassis but still used the production based V6. He lost only to Sebastien Loeb in the monster Peugeot, which was on another planet (almost).

    7. Thanks CFlo, for adding that. That's all further proof of their unstoppable forward progress. The lessons they learn from all of that will be applied to their cars, I'm sure.

      But I'm not sure it's necessary or even that beneficial. In fact, I think it's a waste of money, energy and time. Suzie Homemaker (my apologies to all Suzie Homemakers out there that might be insulted by this) doesn't identify or even decry lesser handling and/or less-tactile steering. For better or worse, if the car goes where the driver wants it to and there's little or no work involved, most folks are happy these days. If you want historical (American) proof, just look at American cars of the 60s and 70s. The handling and steering were not good. And yet many folks (including enthusiasts and myself) wax poetic. It was bad. Really, really bad. Hop in an old Caddy and saw away at the steering and experience no change in the path of the vehicle. My beloved Comet would roll over at the sight of a mild corner at mild speeds, scraping the door handle into the tarmac. And you know what? That was just fine. It kept me out of trouble and made me think twice instead of what many folks are doing, driving like morons in their gigantic SUVs. Maybe automakers should put those qualities back into their vehicles instead of making them "better".

      My pal Gianni is right, as always. But I think even he would admit that his experiences with cars that were and are currently his have all been vehicles that prized handling and steering feel almost to the exclusion of every other quality. He chose them for those qualities and he understands them extremely well. But he's an outlier. That being said, I think Hyundai is closing in on producing a vehicle or vehicles that would please even him. If they stick with the GC or a GC-like vehicle, they'll get there. But, again, why? There's only the halo effect at this point in time and even that isn't what it was in the not-so distant past. Who sells the most cars world-wide? Yep, the company known for sleep-inducing cars...

      Back to the comparisons...other than the Q60, Mustang and the like, I believe another, more comparable comparison could be made; to the BMW 228i. That car is $11,000 higher MSRP, 108 less horsies, weighs 700 pounds more and depreciates $8,000 more over five years. I'm not knocking the 2, it's just a more equal comparison and that doesn't negate the fact that the 2 is a really, really great car. Besides, we've already established that many of those negatives can be gotten rid of by purchasing one used. No surprise there and true of just about any car.

      For those of about to scream at me about the M235i...think about it first. Much to their chagrin, I'm sure, Hyundai does not have a single product that competes directly to any M model. Again, that's just fine. Leave it to everybody else to target and occasionally better those cars.

      Yep. The Korean aren't coming...they're here. Here's a good example of a GC that's essentially brand new, but with a $10,000 discount.


    8. Oops. More like a $7,000-$8,000 discount.

    9. The magazines do the Miata vs. Toybaru twins vs. Hyundai because they need a 3rd car and the Camaro or Mustang doesn't fit (muscle car vs. sports car) so Genesis.

      Buyers probably go Miata: Hairdressers car, FRS/BRZ, not enough power, Genesis: Plenty of power, who needs to go around corners? Then they go an buy a 5.0L Mustang...

  6. So many cars, so little timeJuly 8, 2015 at 8:06 AM

    Neither of the above. For my bargain-basement 6-speed fix, I'll take either a C4 Vette (6-speed starting in 1989) or an E39 BMW 540i/6 (6-speed starting in 1997). Shouldn't be too hard to find [a high-mileage] one at close to the $4K price ceiling.

  7. Let me throw my 2003 Honda Accord V-6 Coupe mit 6 speeds. Plenty of room in the hatch for stuff. Looks almost current. 25MPG on regular. Makes a nice sound when WOT.

    1. Are you German, Timothy? You wrote the word "mit"...which makes me think you might be or that was a clever reference.

    2. Not Germanic, just clever, but wait I do have a Karmann Ghia.

    3. Not Germanic, just clever, but wait I do have a Karmann Ghia.

    4. Aha! Creative is good, very good.

  8. 'em R girlz kars

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Which one does the ferret prefer?

    2. gentlemen prefer blondes but ferrets prefer chickens


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