Hyundai Chief Operating Officer Steve Wilhite posed that question to a group of journalists who were assembled to hear a presentation about his company's new Crossover SUV, the 2007 Hyundai Veracruz.
"Value." "America's Best Warranty." "Cheap cars."
That's the answer he was looking for. Apparently, conquering the economy car market is not Hyundai's goal. Hyundai wants to be considered alongside the premium brands in the marketplace as a smart alternative to the best popular brands in the automotive industry. Other companies have tried this strategy with mixed results. As Wilhite speaks, the memory of Volkswagen's recent failure to go upscale with the Phaeton hangs over the room like stale cheese.
But Wilhite and Hyundai are very serious about this repositioning. In fact, they've brought out an equal number of Lexus RX 350s for us to test drive back-to-back with the new Veracruz. We're going to spend the day switching between the RX and the Veracruz as we drive a mix of roads in the hills just east of San Diego.
Veracruz is a good-looking SUV. Its most distinctive feature is a gently rising beltline that connects expressive multi-projector headlamps to prominent taillights, emphasizing a sense of forward motion. Contrasting rocker panels give a little bit of ruggedness to the design, and makes it appear higher than its 8.1" of actual ground clearance. Veracruz looks very familiar, evoking echoes of the upscale competition in its lines and details. Fit and finish were good, but not spectacular.
Continued below . . .
In the Driver's Seat
There's no in-dash, integrated navigation system available for Veracruz. GPS navigation is pretty much the entry point of luxury features these days, so that's a big strike against the Hyundai. There is an aftermarket portable Garmin Nuvi unit available through Hyundai dealers as a $700 option, but I didn't have the opportunity to test one. Veracruz has a Bluetooth interface installed, but it's not integrated with the audio system or with any other controls. You have to -- gasp -- manually lower the volume on your radio if you want to speak on the phone. The great thing about an integrated navigation/audio/Bluetooth unit is how seamlessly one central set of controls can operate many aspects of your vehicle and especially communications. Veracruz's approach is more modular, and much less elegant.
On the Road
Under the hood lurks a 3.8 liter 24-valve double-overhead cam V6 engine with continuously variable valve timing, the same powerplant that you'll find the Azera sedan. With 260 hp and 257 lb-ft of torque on tap, the 4320 lb Veracruz accelerates briskly and has plenty of power to pass at freeway speeds. A smartly-geared six-speed automatic transmission is your only option, with either standard front-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive (roughly $1,700).
Veracruz's first two rows are comfortable and roomy for adults; the third row is for kids only. Headroom in the third row is limited by the sloping roofline, and the hip-to-floor distance is way too short for adult comfort.
If you're considering a Veracruz, there's a growing list of vehicles from other manufacturers to compare. GM's new lineup of crossovers, the GMC Acadia/Saturn Outlook/Buick Enclave, is formidable. Ford's Edge and Lincoln's MKX are innovative crossovers with available premium features. Don't overlook the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander, or the Nissan Murano, a design leader. Mazda's CX-7 is sporty and fun. If you want a premium crossover, there's no shortcut -- you're going to have to lay out a few more bucks for a Lexus RX 350, an Acura MDX, an Infiniti FX 45 or a Cadillac SRX.
Hyundai hasn't built a premium crossover SUV, but they've built a very decent one that's going to make some waves. But be careful, Hyundai: It's more fun to sell luxury cars than economy cars, but it takes more than blatant assertion to move your brand from one tier to another.