By Richard J. Newman
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If suburbia has a showcase, it's the soccer field on a Saturday morning. The parents who arrive ferrying children feign groggy indifference, as they clutch their Starbucks and complain about the early hour. Yet their form-fitting sweat suits and stylishly unkempt hair bespeak primping and preparation. Their collapsible lawn chairs, replete with cupholders for those grande cardboard cups, reveal premeditation upon matters of comfort and convenience.

Then there are the vehicles: swept sedans, rigged-out minivans, and cavernous SUVs that disgorge kids, dogs, grandparents, sports gear, scooters, bikes, and, finally, the parents who pilot these craft. Of all the appurtenances, it's the automobiles that complete the picture of privilege, with their chrome and their cupholders and their just-in-case off-road capability. For those few moments, on Saturday mornings, the parents seem as if they have everything under control.

A couple of years ago, if I were driving a Hyundai into this festival of fullness, I probably would have parked around back. No sense bringing anybody down (least of all my own ego!) by trying to enter a mundane econobox in the parade. But this time, I proudly steer the Entourage, Hyundai's brand-new minivan, right into the midst of suburban self-satisfaction. It fits there. It's not a looker, but the Entourage has curves and proportions that give it presence.

Hyundai has put enough effort into design that with a few slight touches, like alloy wheels or a bit of chrome, the Entourage even looks luxurious. The nose tracks adroitly into a standard parking space-no embarrassing three-point maneuvers to make the turn-and when the doors glide open, the interior appointments, when glanced from the outside, are sufficiently comforting. As my own little bundle of suburbia tumbles out of the Entourage, I catch a few fellow parents checking out my ride. Their expressions signal something that is crucial at Saturday soccer: approval.

The Entourage is essentially the same package as the Kia Sedona, with slightly different styling and packaging. Since the Sedona's attributes are basically the same as those of the Entourage, it's worth making a few other observations about Hyundai and its sister brand, Kia (both owned by the same South Korean conglomerate). Only a few years ago, these were cut-rate nameplates, cheap in every sense. Rapid quality improvements and consumer-friendly packaging have raised Hyundai and Kia squarely into middle-market terrain. Hyundai even has a respectable luxury sedan, the Azera. That's quite similar to the path Toyota took on its way to the top of the heap. In other words, drive the Entourage into soccerland, and make a big show of it. It's a vehicle worth being in control of.

Snapshot

 

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Nits: A power seat for the passenger is only available as an option-on the most expensive trim line.

G-forces: A 242-horsepower V-6 engine is the only offering, and it's sufficiently smooth and powerful. I drove the upscale Limited model, which has 17-inch tires and a forgiving suspension that provides a firm, stable, and quiet ride. The base model comes with 16-inch tires.

Gizmology: The controls aren't necessarily the latest technology-the climate system consists of manual dials, for instance, rather than newer digital controls-but everything is functional and ergonomic. The shifter is mounted on the dash, freeing space for a storage unit between the front seats. Rear A/C vents are standard. The base radio/CD player is a voluble 172-watt system.

Kidmarks: In addition to all the usual conveniences, kids will love the power windows in the second-row sliding doors and the second-row captain's chairs that make them feel like royalty. Folding down the second-row seats to climb into the third row is more cumbersome than in other minivans, but once you are back there the third row is spacious and comfy. And the third row flips flat into the floor when you don't need it, as on most other minivans.

Hot or not: Not. But the Entourage is substantial and respectable.

Pain at the pump: Moderate. Mileage ranges from 18 mpg/city to 25 mpg/highway.

Crash course: Earns 10 stars out of 10 on both the government's frontal crash test and the side-impact test. Rollover resistance rating is four stars out of five. Details: http://www.safercar.gov/NCAP/Cars/4238.html
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a private testing group, gives the Entourage a "good" rating, its highest, and calls it a top safety pick. Details: http://www.iihs.org/ratings/ratingsbyseries.aspx?id=564

Standard safety gear: Advanced frontal air bags, side-impact and side-curtain air bags, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control.

Price points: Base prices range from $24,495 to $29, 495. Price as tested: $32,920. (All prices include delivery fees.)

More info:http://www.hyundaiusa.com/vehicle/entourage/entourage.aspx