Niagara Gazette

May 2, 2013

TOM'S CORNER: How do you say the name of that car?

By Tom Torbjornsen
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — My radio program “The Car Show” started airing in 1992 on News-Talk 930 WBEN in Buffalo. The show was new to the public and I was new to radio and automotive journalism. I had to report on all things automotive so when I got the call in the early ‘90s from a friend in the car business asking me to test drive a new product to the US, I accepted the invitation. He was evaluating a car line called Hyundai for a possible franchise deal. My first reaction to the name of the car was, “How do you say it? High-Un-dai?” The particular model I was testing that day was a Sonata. So we all piled into this thing called a High-Un-dai Sonata. At first glance it was reminiscent of my childhood days when we played inside 55-gallon drums in which both ends of the drum had been cut off. Tin can-like clanging best describes my first ride in the High-Un-dai. Not very impressive to say the least. At the end of the test drive my friend asked me what I thought in the presence of the young/new/green High-Un-dai factory rep, to which I replied “It’s great if you enjoy riding in a tin can! I would pass on this non-inspiring product; it’s a piece of junk!” My friend said sheepishly, “Ok then Tom, thanks for telling us how you really feel.” He ignored me and took the franchise and it’s a good thing he did because as they say; the rest is history. It took Hyundai (Rhymes with Sunday) a few years to gage what the American motoring public wanted but when they got it down in the late ‘90s, they got it down. The brand became an Asian powerhouse pumping out one great product after another, starting with the Sonata redo.

Over the years I have stood on the sidelines watching Hyundai roar through the country with one great product after another. Nameplates like Sonata, Elantra, Tiburon, Veloster, Genesis, Santa Fe, Tucson, Azera and Equus fanning the fires of aspiration in both young and elders alike. One award after another stacked up like cordwood.

On and on the awards go, and not for just one or two models, but for the entire model lineup. Very impressive indeed! Recently, I had the pleasure of driving the new Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD Crossover Utility Vehicle. This is an extended version of the Santa Fe of old, adding a third row of seating. If you have ever sat in a vehicle that “claimed” a third row of seating, you know that such a claim is a stretch because the seating room is very limited and only a person who is an accomplished yogi can find comfort in such a seating arrangement. However, this vehicle is quite a different story. The second row of seats fold down and slide forward to make easy access to the third row of seats, thus even I could comfortably climb into the rear seat and experience plenty of legroom Hyundai engineered into the seating design. For those of you who like a choice of colors to choose from, Hyundai offers a broad pallet. Interiors can be gotten in any color to compliment the color of the exterior. Unlike Henry Ford who, when introducing his Model A to the public and asked about color said, “They can have any color they want as long as it’s black.”

On the powertrain side, Hyundai has enchanted their powerplants with some sort of black magic that has endowed them with massive power from albeit small power mills. Via the use of VVT (Variable Valve Timing), Twin Scroll Turbo Chargers which force greater volumes of air through the engine forcing it to generate 20 – 40 percent greater horsepower and torque, twin camshafts feeding multiple valves per cylinder, high performance electronic ignition and electronic fuel injection taking its fuel-feeding cues from a high performance drivability program, orchestrating everything together to create a 4-cylinder fire-breathing dragon. This is not to say that all Hyundais come with 4-cylinder engines. Some vehicles in the lineup use a 4-6 or 8 cylinder engines. Yes a V8 generating 429 HP and 430 Ft Lbs of ground shaking torque in the Genesis R-spec Sedan, a world-class car all alone at the top competing (and beating or matching tit for tat) with the likes of Audi, Lexus, Infinity, BMW and Mercedes!

Hyundai drives their wheels either by rear, front, or all-wheel drive drivetrains. Typically you will find that Hyundai drives their performance coupes and luxury sedans with Rear Wheel Drive. All other vehicles, which include Azera, Sonata, Veloster, Santa Fe and Tucson are either front or all-wheel drive vehicles.

Hyundai offers a wide range of accoutrements for your driving pleasure and safety. Such features as dual climate control, leather seating surfaces, panoramic sunroofs, fog lights to “see” through those soupy nights, factory backup cams and navigation systems, a great sound system generating the high sting of a cymbal to the low rolling beat of a bass; and a great telematics system called Blue Link which guarantees your safe and sure passage on America’s highways and byways. This system has an entire manual dedicated to its use and features.

Yes, this humble little car company from South Korea has come to the US, ran with, and in many cases; beat ‘The Big Dogs.’ This is the kind of Humble Pie I will eat any day of the week when my fellow American motorists win out with a choice like this on the market.

‘Til next time ... Keep Rollin’

"America's Car Show" with Tom Torbjornsen airs 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 9 a.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Saturday on WBBZ-TV.