Chicago Auto ShowCHICAGO – The on again-off again minivan program for Hyundai Motor America is back on, and visitors here to the Chicago auto show will be the first to see the South Korean auto maker’s initial minivan offering for the North American market.

Hyundai unveils its 7-passenger ’07 Entourage minivan, which rides on a purpose-built unibody minivan platform that it shares with Kia Motors America’s Sedona, today at the auto show media preview.

Like many vehicles in the segment, it will feature third-row fold-in-the-floor seats configured in a 60/40 split. (See related story: The Return of Entourage)

The auto maker is playing up the “fullsize” dimensions of its new minivan, with an overall length of 202 ins. (512 cm) and a width of 78.1 ins. (198 cm). Interior volume measures 172 cu.-ft. (4,870 L), which Hyundai says tops the Honda Odyssey.

True to Hyundai’s brand strategy, the Entourage will be loaded with standard features, while priced competitively. Hyundai says the Entourage will have dual power sliding side doors as standard equipment on some models. Other options include adjustable pedals.

Other standard features include skid-preventing electronic stability control (ESC); anti-whiplash active front head restraints; six airbags, including side air curtains for all three rows; 4-wheel with an antilock disc brakes; and tire pressure monitoring, which uses an illuminated readout on the dash to alert drivers if one or more tires are under inflated.

Hyundai Entourage on sale this spring.

The Entourage joins the Santa Fe, Tucson, Sonata and Azera as vehicles in Hyundai's growing lineup with standard ESC – an offering the auto maker says is unmatched by any other non-luxury automotive brand.

Power will come from a standard 3.8L DOHC V-6 rated at 242 hp and 251 lb.-ft. (340 Nm) of torque, mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission with “Shiftronic” manual shifting.

Hyundai says the Entourage styling was inspired by the new theme introduced on the all-new ’07 Santa Fe. Observers, however, see plenty of styling inspiration from the Entourage’s key competitor, the Odyssey.

The Entourage will come in three trim levels: the GLS, SE and premium Limited. Although exact pricing has not yet been announced, Hyundai says a well-equipped model will sell for about $23,795.

Production is starting this week at the Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd.-Kia Motors Corp. assembly plant in Sohari, South Korea. Models are expected in U.S. showrooms this spring.

The new model arrives as the minivan sector is bristling with activity. Volkswagen AG will sell a minivan based on Chrysler Group’s next-generation of minivans in 2008. (See related story: Chrysler Confirms VW Minivan Production)

Likewise, Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., purveyor of the Subaru brand, has announced plans for a minivan in the U.S., based on its Subaru Legacy platform, in 2007 or 2008. (See related story: Minivans: Limited Prospects)

A new Kia Sedona also arrives this year, manufactured on the same assembly line as the Entourage.

Meanwhile, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. minivan offerings are struggling in the marketplace and likely will be scaled back within the next three years.

Three-door model joins Hyundai Accent lineup.

And the three stalwarts of the segment – Chrysler, Honda Motor Co. Ltd. and Toyota Motor Corp. – are battling for every point of market share.

Toyota’s Sienna and Honda’s Odyssey both are relatively new and selling well. But Chrysler’s Town & Country topped them both in 2005, as sales jumped 44%, largely due to the innovative Stow ’n Go second-row fold-in-the-floor seating system.

Chrysler remains the dominant player in minivans, with about 40% of the market. The No.1 model in the segment is the Dodge Caravan, which sold 226,771 units in 2005, according to Ward’s data.

Hyundai will attempt to play at both the low and high end of the minivan sector. Its Limited model will come with leather heated seats, a power liftgate, backup warning sensors, surround-sound audio and a rear-seat entertainment system with an 8-in. (20-cm) liquid crystal diode monitor.

In addition to the new Entourage, Hyundai unveils the third generation of its Accent lineup. The ’07 GLS sedan now is joined by the all-new 3-door GS and SE models.(See related story: Hyundai Tests Tuner Waters With 3-Door Accent)

Hyundai says it has sold more than 570,000 Accents since its introduction in 1994. The Accent GLS 4-door arrived in December, while the 3-door models go on sale in the spring.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com