Move Over, Musso, Let Hyundai Terracan Take OverIf you're looking for a macho ride, Hyundai's new off-roader Terracan is just the ticket. Although it's not the incredible hulk that a Lincoln Navigator or Cadillac Escalade is, Terracan is plenty big enough to get you a wide berth in a Seoul street battle.
About the name: "Can" is said to come from "khan," Turkish for ruler or prince － hence, "terra-can," ruler of the earth.
The new shape is fluid, more rounded than that of Galloper, Terracan's predecessor, and the windscreen more steeply raked, but overall, there's a lingering boxy look particularly in the middle and rear pillars. Over pavement, the steering is truck-like ponderous and vague, a design compromise for the demands of on- and off-road driving. But the ride is more solid now, something best appreciated off-road. The double wishbone front suspension is a carryover, but the rear gets a new five-link setup that replaces the primitive leaf springs of the past.
Unlike Santa Fe and other "soft" sports utility vehicles which share the monocoque body used on passenger cars, Terracan is hard to the core. Built on a ladder frame foundation, the design of choice for truck makers, Terracan can safely withstand off-road torture that would leave Santa Fe whimpering. There's nothing new in the frame, but engineers have tweaked the body-to-frame mountings to achieve greater overall rigidity.
A peek under the hood is a disappointment. The turbocharged intercooled 2.5-liter diesel, a carryover from Galloper, is claimed to be quieter, but get your earplugs out because the valve clatter is vintage diesel. Peak torque is 24 kg.m @ 2000rpm, adequate for hill climbing but you'd be advised to book your highway passing maneuvers weeks in advance. Wait for the all-new 2.9-liter TCI that's due out soon. Co-developed with Detroit Diesel and utilizing the latest common rail fuel-injection system, the 2.9 promises to be every bit as quiet and charming as Santa Fe's diesel. Opt for the quieter, smoother 3.5-liter DOHC V-6 and get 207 ponies, double that of the diesel, plus torque to spare. But it's a gas guzzler, so unless you've got money to burn, steer clear.
Hyundai's automatic gearboxes are getting to be wonderfully predictable: The absence of shift shock and gear noise is something you've almost come to expect. Terracan's four-speed automatic is no exception. While there's no H-Matic, you can drop down a gear for engine braking with a minimum of fuss. Our test unit came with the full-time Borg Warner 4WD system, an option. Leave the 4WD control knob in the Auto position and the system automatically rations out the torque between the rear and front axles. Just set and forget: The rarely used low setting provides 50:50 torque distribution for slow, steep descents and ascents.
While interior styling and ergonomics are improved, the wow factor is still missing. The cabin seats seven with front and middle-row seats providing outstanding comfort, but the two jump seats in the rear row force you to squat with your chin between your knees. Then again, seven-seaters get a huge tax break that five-seaters don't. Our test unit came with leather seats, rain sensing wipers, an eight-CD changer, faux wood-grain trim, sunroof and automatic climate control, plus an instrument package with compass, barometer and altimeter. Given all the luxury, the absence of power seats was odd.
Terracan will lock horns with Ssangyong's Musso, the current market ruler, and it will clean Ssangyong's clock. With its Mercedes-Benz power train, the Musso deserves its title but it's getting long in the tooth and there's little money for a replacement.
Verdict? For serious off-roading, you can't go wrong with Terracan, but for a more civilized ride, Santa Fe wins. Prices start at 19.9 million ($16,583) for the bare bones EX250 and peak at 37.7 million for the fully outfitted VX350. Price of the JX250 as tested: 27.6 million.
Next Week: Mercedes Benz ML320
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