Completely redesigned for 2010, Tucson checks in as the smallest of three crossover/SUV vehicles from South Korea's largest automaker. Hyundai's Tucson first arrived on the scene in the 2005 model year and joins a segment exploding in popularity. Small and mid-size crossovers, popularly known as cute utes, combine fuel efficiency with a high seating position and cargo-carrying versatility. The Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander, Chevrolet Equinox, Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4 are just some of the worthy competitors.
Many longer established cute utes have supersized a bit, now measuring closer to a mid-size product. While RAV4 (181.9 inches in length) and Honda CR-V (179.3 inches) have added girth, a new segment of 'small boxy station wagons' has arrived to fill an entry-level void. Nissan's Cube and Kia's Soul sport five doors including a hatchback, but promote less horsepower.
Even though its 3.3 inches longer than the previous generation with an overall length of 173.2 inches, Tucson is one of segment's smallest. Its diminutive size along with high-strength steel help it check in at a svelte 3,203 pounds, one of the most weight conscious of its segment.
For years, the Hyundai brand was looked upon as a low priced (and sometimes lower quality) frumpy alternative to more established Asian automakers. Not any more. With high standard content, safety features equal to the competition and modest stating prices, this new Tucson is smartly styled with a competent build and boosting an engine more fuel efficient than the outgoing versions.
Tucson makes the buying process less cumbersome in 2010 by dropping a 173 horsepower six-cylinder engine and the number of trim levels. Two trims remain in 2010: GLS and Limited. Both come with the choice of front or all-wheel drive.
An all-new 2.4-liter, 176 horsepower four cylinder (three more horses than the out-going V-6) is the sole 2010 offering. The 176 rating is more than the four-cylinder Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue and Subaru Forester. Tucson is one of the few small or mid-size crossovers available with a manual transmission. An all-new, lighter weight fuel efficient six-speed automatic is available in GLS and standard in Limited. Expect 22 miles per gallon city and 30 mpg highway with the front-drive manual. The fuel leader is the front drive with fuel efficient six-speed automatic transmisison, averaging 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.
Those thirsting for V-6 power in a Hyundai crossover must move up to the mid-size Santa Fe or the three row Veracruz. Tucson is built from the same platform as the compact Elantra sedan. The South-Korean-built Tucson requires regular, 87-octne fuel. In 2011, Tucson plans on offering an even higher mileage 2.0-liter four cylinder to the mix.
New exterior styling has a distinct European flair. No accident since much of the design execution took place at studios in Germany. The roof profile gently slopes rear ward from the B-pillar apex towards the 45-degree hatch window (with standard wiper) and wind spoiler. Strap-like body-colored handles are housed in a diamond-shaped recess. Black body cladding along the very bottom stretches around to the rear to help diminish road dings. Narrow tail lights wrap around to side fenders while long headlight housing wraps between the side fenders and raised hood that narrows towards the smallish front grille with Hyundai 's logo front and center.
Even though Tucson is diminutive, designers took the time to remember those long and tall. Rear doors swing open wide enough so leg entry is acceptable. The rear lift gate, hinged at the top, opens high enough so those six-feet tall and shorter don't unnecessarily knock their noggin. A cupped recess helps when closing the light-weight door. A spare tire resides under the cargo floor.
The five-door Tucson's $18,995 starting price ranks it as one of the lowest-priced cute-utes. Our tester, a front-drive GLS with new six-speed automatic transmission, checked in at $19,995. After adding $1,700 for the popular equipment package and $100 for carpeted floor mates, the bottom line ended at $22,590 including a $795 destination charge. A four-cylinder, front-drive RAV4 starts at $21,675, a front-drive Nissan Rogue with standard CVT transmission and front-drive checks in at $20,340 while a front drive, four cylinder Chevrolet Equinox starts at $22,615
Don't expect higher-end nuances like power lift gates or power seats in this entry vehicle, but power windows, mirrors and locks come standard. Each trim includes stand alone option packages. GLS includes a $1,700 popular equipment package (steering wheel cruise/audio controls, alloy wheels). The GLS navigation package includes popular equipment goodies plus a 6.5-inch dashboard screen with rearview camera ($3,700). The Limited's standard fare includes leather seating surfaces, heated front seats, power driver seat while its optional premium package ($2,850) adds a sunroof and navigation/rearview camera. Both Tucson trims include side curtain airbags, front seat side-impact air bags, dual front air bags, anti-lock brakes and stability control.
Tucson comes standard with two seating rows. Both RAV4 and Outlander offer an optional third row. In back, Tucson accommodates two averaged-sized adults comfortably; three would be a crowd. Seat backs fold down on cushions with a 60/40 split once tabs on top of the seat backs are pulled and released. Headroom throughout the vehicle is good. Leg room is a bit tight in back. For those with little ones utilizing child seats, a strap retracts out of the ceiling's second row right side. With rear seats folded, Tucson has 58.8 cubic feet of space, less than most competitors, most of which are a pinch larger in size.
No less than eight cup holders were spotted, so thirsts should be quenched. Bucket seats are firm and supportive. Brushed aluminum trimming enhances the dash. A foot operated parking brake opens up the region between front buckets for dual in-line cup holders, floor mounted transmission shifter with grab knob baseball stitching (part of popular equipment package) and a square, deep storage bin with audio jack for portable electronics. Also in front of the floor mounted shifter is a USB plug, along with dual power outlets, for the latest gizmos. The glove box is one, non-sectioned bin. A retractable holder for sunglasses is positioned in front of ceiling lights.
The instrument panel has two deep analog gauges with a blue-light digital center window where the fuel gauge is housed. Power window and mirror controls rest at a 45-degree angle on the driver's door. The ignition cylinder is built into the steering column. A user-friendly ventilation system includes textured dials for fan speed and temperature along with decent sized buttons (with icons) for direction. The sound system is directly above with standard XM radio and CD player. Satellite radio includes a 90 day free trial after which a monthly subscription is needed to continue.
The large rear hatch window and four doors contribute to good road perception. The brake pedal has a decent amount of travel, without an immediate grab. Tucson handles adequately for its size and pleasant to drive.
With a plethora of competitors, Hyundai's limited powertrain warranty may help break any tie. Coverage is for 10 years or 100,000 miles. No gas-electric hybrid Tucson is currently available (Ford Escape has a hybrid sibling), although Hyundai introduces a gas-electric hybrid of its mid-size Sonata sedan in 2011.