"Bring it," said our contact at Hyundai. "We know we have a great price/value story in the Veracruz, but forget that. We want to take on the Lexus, straight up." Okay, pal. You got it.
With its most recent round of product introductions, Hyundai has gone from price-driven alternative to legit player in several vehicle categories (the same can be said for corporate cousin, Kia). The designs, most of which now originate in Southern California, are clean and handsome, quality has jumped by leaps and bounds, and performance has come up to class average in most cases. The Veracruz (June 2007) is Hyundai's newest crossover entry, slotting in above the Santa Fe with more room and features and a third-row seat.
Lexus's RX pioneered the notion of the midsize, car-based, luxury crossover in 1999 and was Motor Trend's first Sport/Utility of the Year. That original RX 300 got a makeover, becoming the RX 330 in 2003, and the larger-engined RX 350 in spring 2006 as a 2007 model (our tester is a 2008). It remains the gold standard in the category and has spurred at least a half-dozen imitators.From a brand standpoint, Lexus flies first class all the way. Hyundai established itself two decades ago with compact cars sold primarily on price and has been trying to upgrade from coach ever since. But the two end up meeting at the intersection of RX 350 and Veracruz Limited AWD.The Limited is the top-drawer Veracruz, combining every feature Hyundai has in its bin, plus all-wheel drive. The RX isn't available in 2WD, and even a base-equipped RX 350 is lavish by comparison. But as equipped here, they both have all the stuff a luxury crossover buyer will want, including leather upholstery, heated seats, power everything, impressive audio systems, a comprehensive safety package, power rear liftgate, rear-seat DVD player/screen, 18-inch rolling stock, traction and stability-control systems, and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. The Hyundai's 3.8-liter V-6 is rated at 260 horsepower. Lexus's 3.5-liter V-6 cranks out 10 horsepower more, but requires premium fuel to do so (the Veracruz runs on regular).
As tested here, the Lexus costs just over $10 grand more than the Hyundai, but packs a few goodies the Veracruz can't match. This RX has an optional nav system with backup camera, which would add $1500-$2000 to the price of the Hyundai-except for the fact that it doesn't offer one. Hyundai says it's coming before the end of this year. The RX also has adaptive HID headlights, real wood trim instead of the Hyundai's plastiwood, and a power retractable cargo-area tonneau. So some of that price gap is made up for by meaningful equipment. But the Veracruz gets a few swings in, too, with sweeteners like a 115-volt powerpoint in the cargo area, adjustable pedals, and a "coolbox" console.You don't have to stare too hard to figure out what Hyundai was looking at when it styled the Veracruz; think of it as an RX 350 at about 110 percent. Both are attractive, clean, and modern, devoid of unnecessary gingerbread. The Veracruz is 4.4 inches longer overall, riding on a 3.5-inch-longer wheelbase. It's also 2.8 inches taller and four inches wider. The only layout difference is that those few extra inches in all dimensions allow Hyundai to add a folding third-row seat, increasingly important to crossover/SUV buyers these days. And it's a useful way-back seat, too; plenty of room in all dimensions for average adults. It's split 60/40, and each panel folds with the flip of a lever. The second-row seat slides forward for easy access and is also adjustable fore and aft. With all seats folded, both carry a ton of stuff, although the Veracruz's cargo bay looks larger than the 2.1-cubic-foot EPA volume difference between it and the Lexus indicates.
In terms of performance, the RX's 10 more horsepower has about 400 fewer pounds to pull, so it wins all the acceleration contests. It's ahead by a second at the 0-to-60 mark, and that differential holds most of the way through the quarter mile, where the edge is still eight-tenths of a second. Both engines are strong, relatively quiet (with the nod to the Veracruz), and have wide torque bands thanks to variable valve timing. In the 60-to-0 braking contest, the Lexus stopped five feet shorter than the Hyundai, but since production tolerances between vehicles often results in variances larger than that, call it a draw.