It’s hard to find a manufacturer with more positive momentum than Hyundai these days. A few short years ago, Korea’s foremost automaker was still laboring under a stigma of poor build quality and uninspiring design. But when their revolutionary 10-year warranties hit the market, consumers took notice, and responded. Now Hyundai is building dependable machines with beautiful Italian-designed bodies, for thousands less than their Japanese competitors.
Hyundai may have to wait a few more years to catch Japan’s sporty sedans and coupes, but we had real, even-handed expectations for their minivan, the new-for-2007 Hyundai Entourage. Minivans are utilitarian vehicles. Families buy them, run them into the ground, and do it all over again. Hence, the criteria for evaluating them are much different.
First and foremost, there’s dependability. No family wants to use Dad’s pickup or 911 Turbo to bring the kids to hockey practice while the minivan sits in a shop. Secondly, there’s practicality. Where minivans are concerned, this chiefly concerns the flexibility of the seating arrangements; the size, number, and adjustability of the vehicle’s cupholders; and the availability and functionality of the rear-seat entertainment system. Children dictate minivan purchases, in short.
Price is also a significant consideration when buying a minivan. Most likely minivan buyers have two or more children, and perhaps a four-legged friend or two. Living beings tend to be the source of a consumer’s greatest expenditures, and precious little is left to spend on other stuff. It is in this area that Hyundai scores its first major hit.
Reading the window sticker for our tester Entourage SE produced a kind of reverse sticker shock. Our Entourage carried a base price tag of $26,295. Aside from Hyundai’s “Premium Entertainment Package” ($2,900) and the floor mats ($175), everything was standard. Everything. As is the case with Hyundai’s entire product range, we found an eye-popping amount of standard features that the Entourage’s Japanese and American competitors will charge you a premium for.
Listing all of them would make for an awfully boring road test, so we’ll just share our favorites. Firstly, dual power sliding doors. When ambling across a parking lot with small children stuck to your limbs, these doors are a gift from the heavens. Just push the button on the key fob, and load your precious cargo. The sliding doors also house power windows, which puts the Entourage ahead of much of its competition.
Once inside, Hyundai’s laundry list of options protects that precious cargo with all manner of safety kit. “Active Front Head Restraints” position the heads of the front-seat occupants correctly in a collision, via the now-ubiquitous, ethereally fast computer processes that detect when the system is needed.
Hyundai never skimps on the airbags, and the Entourage is no exception. In addition to the two up front, all Entourages have seat-mounted airbags for the front passengers, and side curtain airbags in all three rows.
To help you avoid an accident in the first place, Hyundai throws in electronic stability control, traction control, and anti-lock brakes all around. With 250 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque on tap from its 3.8L V6, this unexpectedly quick family hauler can surprise you, so the driver aids are welcome. Also noteworthy is the Entourage’s trick tire-pressure monitor system. Not to belabor an obvious point, but the average Entourage pilot is going to be distracted a good bit of the time. A gentle reminder on the state of the van’s rubber is a very welcome touch.
Other nifty standard features include fog lamps, heated sideview mirrors on both sides, and tri-zone climate control. The list of standard stuff is a lot longer, but these are the big-ticket items that really impressed us by not costing a penny.
Moving on to the non-standard stuff, the Entertainment package was our only significant cost option. At $2,900 it’s not exactly cheap, but it does a lot. Most importantly, it keeps kids happy with a rear-seat entertainment system with a 10.2-inch LCD screen. It also upgrades the Entourage’s stereo system to an Infinity surround unit. Bizarrely (but we’re not complaining), the package includes heated front seats. Hyundai throws in an electrochromatic rearview mirror and a Homelink system, to help the Entourage’s pilot navigate the many treacherous forms of parking. Given that the Entertainment package takes care of those up front as well as those in back, we think it’s worth the sizeable chunk of change Hyundai asks for it.
Now that we’ve nearly exhausted ourselves discussing the Entourage’s safety and convenience features, the exterior deserves some attention. The Entourage looks the part of a dependable family hauler. But more than that, it looks big. And that’s probably because it is-longer, taller, and wider in fact that a Honda Odyssey.
Despite its size, the Entourage’s styling gives it a tidy, almost cute look. It’s halfway between a Ford Freestyle and a Nissan Quest, meaning it has a Japanese face and a thoroughly American posterior.
The Entourage’s large dimensions pay off inside. The Entourage has an interior volume of 172.3 cubic feet, beating Dodge’s Grand Caravan, Honda’s Odyssey and Toyota’s Sienna.
But in the minivan world, interior volume is only half the story. The other half is the flexibility of that volume-i.e., how nifty the seating configuration is. The Entourage doesn’t disappoint here, either. The second row of seats-a nicely executed pair of captain’s chairs-easily flip forward and fold. They are also removable, but you might need an extra pair of hands to take them out. The third row will fold its backrests flat, or can be easily tucked away inside a depressed floor compartment. When the seats aren’t tucked into it, the floor compartment is mighty deep, earning the Entourage 32.2 cubic feet of storage space behind the rear seats. That’s impressive.
We had our tester for a week, and never found any of the seating configurations cumbersome or limited. Hats off to Hyundai for making its version of musical chairs work just as well as those offered by the big boys.
Driving dynamics are usually low on the minivan driver’s list, but as ‘fast-car’ guys we feel compelled to mention them. As we’ve mentioned, the 3.8L V6 is surprisingly lively. It’s torquier than some of its competitors, so driving around town is perfectly effortless. Highway passing could be better, but we suspect that is due more to the Entourage’s weight-around 4,500 lbs.-than anything else. The 5-speed automatic has a manual shift mode, so if wringing every last ounce of power out of your car is your game, you can play it here. Both ride and handling are perfectly civilized, and the Entourage is surprisingly quiet, given minivans’ general propensity to make lots of noise.
We here at Roadfly regard the Entourage as one of the biggest bargains to ever come through our office. Hyundais have always been competitively priced, and now their quality has caught up to their budget appeal. A fully loaded Toyota Sienna Limited will cost you well over $40,000-more than ten grand north of our Entourage’s sticker. If you’re on a budget, or just don’t want to spend your kid’s college money on a minivan, you cannot afford to miss the Hyundai Entourage.