Minivans have gotten a bad rap. They make so much sense yet are perpetually out of fashion. Granted, they aren't pretty, and certainly aren't macho. But they pack more people in comfort and safety into a shorter, handier length than any other kind of vehicle. That's why so many people buy them. But even more people should buy them. They are a common-sense kind of choice.
And the Hyundai Entourage is a common-sense kind of minivan. Even its name suggests its function: Entourage is French for all the people and things that seem to follow me around. That's a concept American parents can understand.
The Entourage has just enough room for six in pleasant yet functional surroundings. (Seven is a squeeze.) It has a five-speed automatic transmission to help get the best fuel economy and performance out of its V6 engine. Its ride is comfortable, and yet the Entourage has no barge-like tendencies when it comes to handling.
Most sensible of all, the Entourage offers the same kind of safety equipment you'll find on the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. Established life-savers that come standard on the Entourage include electronic stability control (to control skids), and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist. Side-impact air bags inflate from the front seats for torso protection, and air curtains cover the side windows for vital head protection in a rollover or side-impact crash. Front-seat active head restraints move forward in a rear-end crash to minimize whiplash injuries.
In fact, with a five-star crash test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Entourage has the best crash-safety ratings any minivan has yet earned. And yet Hyundai says the Entourage is the lowest priced minivan you can buy with power sliding doors and a backup warning sensor.
Changes are few for 2008. Last year's mid-level SE has been dropped in favor of more generous option packages for the base-level GLS; while this year's Limited comes with more standard features and fewer options. When we added up the numbers ourselves, we found that a Limited with all the goodies lists for $200 less this year than last year.
One more common-sense feature is Hyundai's long warranty. The bumper-to-bumper coverage is five years or 60,000 miles, while the powertrain is covered for 10 years or 100,000 miles. That's more than either Honda or Toyota; although those Japanese automakers have a superior track record when it comes to reliability. But attractive features, performance and pricing make the Entourage worth a serious look.
Hyundai Entourage GLS ($23,995); Limited ($29,895)
All-new for 2007, the Hyundai Entourage is the first minivan to wear the Hyundai badge; but it is not the first minivan from the Hyundai Business Group. Kia, a Hyundai subsidiary since 1998, has sold the Sedona minivan here in the U.S. since 2002. Sedona was completely redesigned for 2006; and the Hyundai Entourage shares its structure with the Sedona.
The Hyundai Entourage is more deluxe than the Kia Sedona. Pricing of the standard-wheelbase Sedona LX and EX is lower than for the Entourage GLS and Limited, respectively; and the Kia vans serve up correspondingly less standard equipment. (The Sedona offers an entry-level, short-wheelbase model that the Entourage does not.) But it's worth pricing and comparing them with the equipment you want before signing on the dotted line for either.
The Entourage and Sedona are very close in appearance. Both are crisp and contemporary, perhaps a little more interesting than the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, but certainly not as unusual as the Nissan Quest.
The defining character line of the Entourage and Sedona is a bevel just below the window glass that winds forward to become the top surface of the front fenders, just before opening up to accommodate the interestingly complex front light clusters. Below this bevel, sheer, slab-like sides turn in only slightly at the bottom; above it, the greenhouse, cowl, engine hood, and front grille opening all unite in an integrated sweep. Blacked-out window frames visually unify the side windows into a single oblong that tapers toward the rear, cooperating with that bevel line (again) to gently suggest a wedge profile.
The theme is purer on the Hyundai Entourage, where the hood and grille opening stand up and out more distinctly from the fenders than they do on the Kia Sedona. We are less sure that we prefer the Hyundai's bold chrome grille bar, topped by an oversized circle-H badge that vaguely suggests a plated pig's snout, or the broad, blacked-out opening in the Hyundai's lower bumper, over the Kia's more intricately crafted body-color upper grille and three-part lower bumper opening. On the other hand, the Hyundai's seven-spoke alloy wheels somehow look a lot more than one spoke richer than the Kia's six-spokers.
Out back form clearly follows function, with a pleasant arrangement of blocky shapes, including large, rectangular taillights. Kia locates its turn signal and reverse-light cluster about midway up the dominant red lenses; Hyundai pushes the contrasting-color patch closer to the bottom, visually lowering the whole assembly. There's more detail in the Hyundai's tailgate handle and bumper, which may be a good thing or not.
There's nothing mini about today's minivans. The Entourage rides on a wheelbase of 118.9 inches, about the same as a '65 Chevy Impala. Minivans are the full-size suburban sedans of the new century.
The design of the Hyundai Entourage cabin is comparable to that of the Honda Odyssey. It looks like the engineers spent some time checking out the Odyssey. Like the Odyssey, the Entourage has a tray between the front seats that folds down. Even the inside door handles for the second row seats seem the same. The Entourage's third row folds flat into the floor, another feature shared with the Odyssey. And in the Entourage, a spring-loaded mechanism makes it easier to pull up than the third row in the Honda Odyssey.
The basic controls are pleasingly simple and easy to operate.
The leather upholstery on the Limited model contributes to the feeling that the Entourage is aimed at some pampering and not just day-to-day transportation.
The Entourage's second row uses individual captain's chairs, each of which can be moved forward or rearward seven inches. That is a helpful feature that allows some flexibility with legroom and cargo capacity.
Flexibility is a good thing for anybody planning to sit in the third row. The third row is designed for small to mid-size children. It is worth noting that Hyundai measures what appears to be a generous 34 inches of third-row legroom with the second-row captain's chairs in their forward-most position. The reality is 27 inches of third-row legroom if the people in the captain's chairs insist on pushing all the way back.
Hyundai rates the cargo capacity behind the third row at 32 cubic feet. That's about twice the size of the trunk of a mid-size sedan, but such calculations typically involve stacking stuff to the roof. With the third row folded flat, the cargo capacity is rated at 80 cubic feet.
The Entourage has active head restraints that are designed to reduce neck injuries by moving forward to cushion the head in a rear-end crash. In crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Entourage moved ahead of all the other minivans by getting a Good rating in the rear-impact crash test. The Honda Odyssey got a Marginal rating for rear impact while the Toyota Sienna and Nissan Quest got Poor ratings. All four earned Good ratings in frontal and side-impact protection.
While some people disdain minivans as being less appealing than a big truck-based SUV, this involves a moderate amount of delusion. Those people haven't driven a modern minivan.
The Hyundai Entourage is a lovely highway cruiser, quiet and stable. It handles rough surfaces well, which is a good plan for a vehicle intended as a people carrier and not a sports sedan. But a particularly deep pothole sends a quiver through the body that suggests the structure isn't as solid as it could be. Driving the Honda Odyssey on the same roads shows it has a better structure. On the other hand, the Odyssey does not ride as comfortably.
Like most modern minivans, the Entourage is front-wheel drive, and with all the serious mechanical pieces up front that puts a lot of weight in the nose. That contributes to a locked-down and reassuring feeling on the interstate. But it also means the Entourage pauses a bit when asked to change direction and head into a turn. This isn't a problem, but the Honda Odyssey, which is also front-wheel drive, responds more crisply, but the downside to the Odyssey's quicker reflexes is its stiffer ride.
Like its competitors, the Entourage has a V6 engine, in this case a 3.8-liter all-aluminum unit with state-of-the-art continuously variable valve timing. It is rated at 250 horsepower and drives through a five-speed automatic transmission. Five-speed automatics are becoming more common and, done thoughtfully, they are a good thing. The reason is that the extra gear makes it possible to have improved fuel economy as well as better acceleration.
The Entourage's five-speed automatic can be shifted manually by tapping the gear shift lever. This can be useful in mountain driving when the driver could easily shift to a lower gear helping to slow the vehicle. But it's mostly there for the driver who from time to time simply enjoys controlling the shifting or using it to reduce hunting in heavy traffic or on winding roads.
We test drove the Entourage with a load of luggage, two adults and two small children and found the drivetrain quite capable on the New York State Thruway and on mountain roads. It's neither as smooth nor as responsive as the V6 in the Honda Odyssey.
Fuel economy estimates for the Entourage are an EPA-rated City/Highway 16/23 mpg. During about 300 miles of highway cruising with an Entourage and an Odyssey at a steady 65 miles per hour, the Honda got better fuel economy. We calculated 26.3 mpg for the Odyssey, compared to 24.5 mpg in the Entourage, both on 87 octane fuel.
The Entourage is Hyundai's first minivan, and a remarkable vehicle with good safety equipment and good crash protection at a competitive price. Short-term studies have shown Hyundai's quality has improved considerably, but the unknown is its long-term durability. Meanwhile, Honda and Toyota are known quantities. For consumers the issue is whether all the Entourage's attractions offset that unknown factor.
Chris Jensen test drove the Entourage in New York. John F. Katz provided styling commentary from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.