Think back to high school. Remember that awkward looking classmate that came back from summer break an Abercrombie and Fitch model? That pretty much sums up the 2010 Hyundai Tucson. The outgoing version was virtually invisible, blending into traffic so successfully you d swear it was penned by the team that dreamed up camouflage.
Those who prefer anonymity will not be drawn to the new model. It could be argued that the designers were influence by Nissan Rouge or Buick Enclave, neither of them wallflowers. Designed in their Frankfurt based studio, the hexagonal grille is fresh (no small feat these days). Sill cladding starts at the rear bumper then swoops down as it approaches the front wheel well. One brushstroke defines the front fender, a second draws the back one and a third ties the door handles together. Hyundai calls the design theme fluidic sculpture and as a piece of sculpture it s pleasing to walk around and study.
The car Hyundai has dropped off is a fully loaded Limited AWD with the Premium Package that stickers for $29,490. Prices start at $19,790. Look over your shoulder CR-V, Forester, RAV4, Escape and Rouge, Tucson is gunning for your market.
Solid as a statue
Tucson s chassis is made with lots of ultra high strength steel which is good in so many ways. First, the structure feels very rigid going down the road. Second, using stronger material means you can use less of it, creating a lighter car. The 2010 vehicle is 3 inches longer and an inch wider yet manages to weigh 61 pounds less. Good for driving dynamics and fuel economy. Finally, there s safety. Solid structures protect occupants better. Hyundai expects the 2010 Tucson to earn NHTSA s top five-star crash test rating for front and side impacts (most likely a 4 for rollover which is about the best these kinds of vehicles can do).
A chassis with less flex also allows engineers to tune the suspension more accurately to create a better handling vehicle. Here Tucson doesn t disappoint. Body roll is minimal. Owners won t be tossing it around like a Miata (sorry, MX-5) but this rig is nimble in cut and thrust city driving and confident in the curves. It also has the tightest turning radius in class. The ride quality is firm though not harsh. There are MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link suspension in the rear. All four wheels get coil springs and gas-charged dampers. Larger stabilizer bars both front and rear help keep Tucson composed in the twisties.
Test drive a Tucson and you ll notice the electric power steering has an almost magnetic need to return to center. At first it feels artificial, after 3 days it s become somewhat natural. You ll also notice road noise. While Hyundai says the new Tucson has less than the old one, that doesn t make it quiet. Compared to its competitors it may be about the same but the Tucson seems more upscale. Am I penalizing it because it offers the impression of being a more expensive vehicle? Perhaps. Life is so unfair.
What makes it go
The only power choice is a 2.4-liter 176 HP 4-cylinder. Torque is rated at 168 lbs-ft at 4,000 RPMs. Fewer buyers will choose the 6-speed manual than the 6-speed automatic in my tester (there s a manual mode for those who need to select their own). This well behaved gear box is Hyundai s own design. It s lighter and has fewer moving parts than the 5-speed it replaces.
Tucson is peppy around town, 0-60 happens in 8.3 seconds. Most buyers will be happy with the acceleration and fuel economy. EPA rates this model at 21 city/28 highway. AWD normally runs in a 95/5 front drive bias. Lock the system with a button on the dash and it holds closer to 50/50. Anti-lock disc brakes all around scrub off speed nicely. Stop on a steep incline and Tucson stays put even with your foot off the brake. Hill decent control makes heading down intense rugged grades less stressful. More useful on an everyday basis, Hyundai claims the turning radius is tightest in class.
Lots of features inside
Limited models get a tilt/telescope steering wheel to help drivers get comfortable. Armrests and the center console get a little bit of padding but generally door panels and dash materials are hard plastic. At least they look good and there s enough metal like trim to visually break up the blackness. Lighting is a soothing indigo. Heated leather chairs are comfy for normal folk, larger people might want to do a personal test. Active headrests, a welcome safety feature to reduce whiplash in an accident are too far forward for some of my passengers liking. Controls for radio tuning and the heated windshield are a bit of a reach for the driver.
Luxury car designers take note, the Bluetooth phone operation, iPod interface and touch screen nav system are exceptionally easy to use (though I find the screen a skosh small). Dual zone climate control is here, so is a backup camera and great view of the sky courtesy of a panoramic glass roof. Remember, this vehicle goes for $29,490.
For the few of you cross shopping BMW
Hyundai says the Tucson s interior has more room than an X3 which happens to be over 6 inches longer. Three adults should be comfortable in the back seat. Foot room is good, normally there s a big driveshaft tunnel but Tucson s floor is pretty flat. Wish there was a power port for the kid s electronics. The rear seats are fixed too, no adjusting for maximum leg or cargo room. There are map pockets on both seatbacks and bottle holders in the door sides.
Oh, the beauty of standardized testing. Using the TP Trunk Test metric I can compare the old Tucson cargo hold with the new one. The outgoing model held 7 bundles when they were slightly smaller (sad that I keep track of things like that). The 2010 version easily holds 8. If you want the security cover out of the way, it stores near the floor and keeps stuff from rolling out the back. Don t want to get the trunk carpet muddy? Whether it s designed to or not, the load floor reverses to an easy to clean plastic side.
Not the company you once made fun of
Used to be people bought this brand because they couldn t or wouldn t afford any other new car. That s changed. Hyundai is distancing itself from the poorly made products of its past. Their 100,000 mile warrantee, standard electronic stability control and cagey marketing has helped significantly. More importantly, the build quality of this tester is first rate. Summing up, Tucson looks more expensive than it is, performs well, does the chores and offers good value. Looking for a compact crossover? Hyundai Tucson is a must drive.