LAS VEGAS — Last year with the XG 300 near-luxury sedan, Hyundai Motor America wanted to see if the U.S. was ready for an upscale Hyundai.

With this year''s release of the ''03 Tiburon sports coupe, Hyundai poses an analogous question: Is America ready for a cool Hyundai?

The South Korean auto maker perseveres with its mission of invading new market segments with something at least as good as the competition, only cheaper. And the Tiburon, completely revamped for the current model year, is the first to truly play up the cool quotient, keeping pace in the youth-appeal department with the Mitsubishi Eclipse, Toyota Celica and Ford Mustang.

Tiburon in its outgoing generation was a little light on refinement and power. The ''03 model now better challenges the established competition on those fronts. And unlike the competitors, it''s a sports coupe that more of the target market can actually afford.

Tiburon bases at $15,999 for the 4-cyl. and ranges up to a still-reasonable $19,997 for the V-6 hitched to a 6-speed manual transmission. The V-6, when fully loaded, comes with leather seating, 17-in. wheels and a power moonroof.

The “value story,” as Hyundai officials like to say, is a result of low labor costs and favorable exchange rate as a result of production in South Korea. The Tiburon also is built on the Elantra platform, which officials say chops investment cost.

The biggest change for the Tiburon''s third generation is the first-time option of a V-6 for the GT trim. The all-aluminum DOHC 2.7L V-6 — the same one used in both the Sonata and the Santa Fe — produces 181 hp, right in the ballpark of its competitors.

Both versions of the sports coupe come with a revised 5-speed manual transmission as standard. Also offered on both models is a 4-speed automatic with Shiftronic. The 6-speed manual, offered in ''03 for the first time, is available only with the V-6.

The Tiburon has grown in every dimension since the last incarnation, with its 99.6-in. (253-cm) wheelbase extended by 2.2 in. (5.6 cm) and its 173.0-in. (439.5-cm) length is 2.1 in. (5.3 cm) longer than the last version. The stretch job makes for a relatively roomy cabin and comfortable cockpit.

The Tiburon''s new exterior style, with a high beltline and a chopped greenhouse, borrows heavily from competitors. There''s also a well-executed hint of Ferrari in the rear quarters.

Hyundai is actively engaging the after-market to begin making tuner parts, officials say. The vehicle is on sale, and Hyundai''s capacity-restricted U.S. sales target is about 28,000 units.