Background: Hyundai, South Korea's largest automaker, brings a second car-based, sport utility to the U.S. market. Back in the 2001 model year Hyundai introduced the Santa-Fe SUV proving to be a very popular choice in Hyundai's product line. Santa-Fe surprised some in the industry simply because of its size. Often when automakers introduce a new product segment, the philosophy is start small and work your way up. Santa-Fe was larger than popular compact competitors including the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Chevrolet Tracker. Santa-Fe fit more into the mid-size category but withpricing more closely affiliated with compact SUVs. Santa Fe undergoes a second-generation makeover in 2006.
So now that Hyundai is firmly entrenched with a mid-size SUV segment, along comes the 2005 compact, five-passenger Tucson (also named after a southwest U.S. city) to fill a niche. The four-door Tucson made its world debut at the 2004 Chicago Auto Show last February and hit showrooms this past September. It's surprisingly well equipped for an entry-level offering and includes one of the longest-duration powertrain warranties. Tucson, like Santa Fe, features car-like unibody construction designed for pavement surfaces, not heavy off-road duty. It's derived from the compact Hyundai Elantraplatform.
Hyundai's 2004 checked in at 418,615 units, up about 4 percent from 2003. Hyundai first began selling small, low-priced vehicles in the United States in 1986. A total of 7,074 Tucsons were sold between September and December. In 2005, Hyundai estimates approximately 50,000 units being sold during its first full year of sales.
Engine and trim level: Tucson comes with the choice of four or six-cylinder power and three trim levels. The six-cylinder powertrain is noteworthy since the Toyota RAV4, Mitsubishi Outlander and Honda CR-V only offer four-cylinder engines. Also, both Tucson engines come with the choice of front-wheel or four-wheel drive. The Borg-Warner Electronic four-wheel drive system routes up to 99 percent of the available power to the front wheels. As road conditions or torque demand changes, power is automatically routed to the wheels with the best traction. Also available is a left-sidedashboard mounted four-wheel-drive lock button allowing the driver to manually 'lock' the driveline into four-wheel drive for a 50/50 torque split.
A 2.0-liter, double overhead cam 16-valve inline four cylinder engine delivering 140 horsepower is the sole powertrain in the entry GL trim. It's the same engine powering the sporty Hyundai Tiburon coupe. Mid-grade GLS and top-of-the-line LX feature a 2.7-liter, double overhead cam 24-valve all-aluminum V-6 standard producing 173 horses. This engine also powers the 2005 Santa Fe. The four-cylinder tank holds 15.3 gallons of fuel while the V-6 accommodates 17.2 gallons. Regular, 87-octane unleaded fuel is recommended for both powertrains.
For those desiring a five-speed manual transmission, the entry GL is your sole option. Manual transmission is standard in GL while a four-speed automatic (with a 'Shiftronic' feature allowing drivers to manually shift forward gear points up or down without a clutch) is optional. Both GLS and LX only offer four-speed automatic.
The four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive engine delivers the best fuel mileage estimates of 22 miles per gallon city and 27 m.p.g. highway when mated to a five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic. These figures are slightly less than most four-cylinder competitors in the segment. A five-speed manual with four-wheel drive averages a mile-per-gallon less in both categories. The best mileage expectations from the V-6 version are 20 miles per gallon city and 26 m.p.g. highway for two-wheel drive versions. With four-wheel drive, V-6 engines average 19 m.p.g. and 24 m.p.g.respectively.
Standard equipment: All three trim levels include: rear window wiper, power door locks, cruise control, power windows, tilt steering wheel, heated power side-view mirrors, rear window defogger, power-assist rack-and-pinion steering, air conditioning and six-speaker AM/FM radio with single-feed compact disc player. Mid-level GLS adds an MP3 and cassette player while top-line LX adds a six-disc in-dash changer (this is optional in GLS).
Cloth seating comes standard in GL and GLS. Uplevel LX features leather seating surfaces.
Price: Hyundai supplied the Daily Herald with a four-wheel-drive mid-level GLS starting at $21,499. No extras were on board so the bottom line ended up at $22,094 including a $595 destination charge.
The most cost-effective entry, a front-wheel-drive GL with manual transmission checks in at $17,499; with automatic transmission, pricing jumps to $18,349; with manual transmission and all-wheel drive the list price is $18,999. A front-wheel-drive GLS tips the scales at $20,049. A top-line LX starts at $21,299 for a front-wheel drive edition and $22,799 for an all-wheel-drive variant.
Competitively speaking, the lowest-priced RAV4 with manual transmission and delivering 161 horsepower starts at $18,550. The lowest priced CR-V starts at $19,995 and delivers 160 horsepower.
Inside: The well-equipped, attractive interior is user friendly and easy to follow. The mostly analog instrument panel features a circular middle speedometer flanked by fuel and oil gauges to the right and a left-side tachometer. Towards the bottom of the speedometer is a digital window with odometer and a convenient secondary transmission gauge indicator. A square, cruise control appendage is found at the steering wheel's 5 o'clock position. Front headlights activate from the turn signal stalk while both front and rear wipers activate from a right-side stalk.
One handy yet simple idea usually reserved for higher-priced offerings are inside door air vents near the side view mirrors helping to keep this area of the window fog-free. The front region of the driver's door arm rest is home to power door, lock and mirror functions. A latch unlocking the fuel door is on the floor left of the driver's bucket seat. Both flip-down sun shades include extenders and square mirrors. A flip-down holder for sun glasses is found in front of two ceiling mounted map lights.
In between the front bucket seats are dual inline beverage holders, a parking brake and small arm rest/storage bin. All four doors have map pockets with circular molding in front to accommodate more beverages or soda cans.
In the middle of the dash is the stereo/compact disc player above three easy-to-grab dials monitoring ventilation controls. Both are surrounded by a brushed aluminum frame with built-in rear-window defrost and hazard buttons. Above all is a bi-level dashboard top.
The second row incorporates a 60/40 backrest split. The seat backs fold flat onto the cushions when more cargo-storage room is needed. Two adults travel in optimal comfort in back. Three would be a push. Drivers have good visibility in all directions with minimal blind spots. Entering the vehicle requires a sit down, not a jump up motion needed in larger SUVs.
Outside: Tucson's 170.3-inch overall length is about four-inches longer than the Toyota RAV4, one of the few other true 'compact' sport utilities. Honda's CR-V measures in at 178.6 inches and the Mitsubishi Outlander at 179.1; both are considered 'mid-size' by their parent companies.
Tucson incorporates gray cladding along the wheel wells and side door bottoms. The hatchback opens two ways: the entire door, hinged at the top, opens up from the bottom. For quick trips to the hatch area, the window opens up independently from the door.
All strap-like door handles are body colored as are the side-view mirrors. A circular, fuel tank door is on the left-side rear fender. The temporary spare tire is not mounted on the back hatch area, a design utilized when compact SUVs first arrived. Instead, it's reachable from inside the vehicle under the cargo area's flat floor.
Safety: Since January 2003, all Hyundai vehicles sold in the United States are fitted with side-impact air bags as standard equipment. Tucson comes equipped with many air bags including driver and front passenger air bags, driver and front passenger side air bags and side curtain bags for front and rear seat occupants. It's worth noting that Tucson's big brother, Santa Fe does not offer side curtain airbags in 2005 editions.
Also standard are remote keyless entry, child safety rear door locks and alarm system. Antilock brakes with traction control and stability control are optional across the board.
Warranty: When Hyundai's American division was in financially dire straits back in the late 1990s, one of the first moves to regain credibility with a fickle buying public involved offering one of the industry's first 10-year/100,000-mile (whichever comes first) powertrain warranties. The strategy worked. Sales rebounded from a low of 60,000 annual sales in 1998 to a much healthier 418,615 in 2004. In fact, other automakers looking to spark sales took note and began extending powertrain warranties past the traditional three or five years.
The bumper-to-bumper warranty covering many parts outside of the powertrain is good for five years or 60,000 miles. Corrosion coverage is also good for the same five-year/60,000-mile duration. Roadside assistance is good for five-years with unlimited mileage.
Wheelbase: 103.5 inches
Overall length: 170.3 inches
Overall width: 70.7 inches
Overall height: 66.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,548 pounds
Final thoughts: Several automakers have introduced, car-based SUVs during the past year including Chevrolet (Equinox), Saturn (VUE) and Mitsubishi (Outlander). All qualify more as mid-size, than compact. Even existing smaller SUVs that have been on the market for a while (RAV4 and CR-V) have grown in size since their debut.
Tucson's smaller size (and corresponding price) fills a small niche for those looking for SUV versatility while on a tight budget. Tucson's competitive pricing is made even more attractive when considering that it starts less than a Toyota RAV4, yet has more standard features and safety nuances.
Those who may remember Hyundai's less-than-stellar quality reputation from the late 1980s can rest assured times have changed for the better. Hyundai's invested great amounts of cash and effort to bring standards up to and sometimes past industry benchmarks. These changes are documented in industry studies such as the J.D. Power and Associates quality rankings in which Hyundai has steadily improved.