2010 Hyundai Tucson Road Test Review

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All new for 2010, Hyundai's Tucson compact SUV has an entirely new outlook on life. This formerly somewhat dowdy do-all's latest makeover adds confident, dramatic lines with a silhouette that speaks of urban freeways rather than country back roads.  Under the hood, a new engine offers a significant boost in fuel economy as well.  It seems like a familiar tactic, though not one that's been commonly seen at this price point. Then again, if luxury SUVs like BMW's X3 and Audi's Q5 are going sporty and carlike, why not the affordable ones as well? 

Aimed primarily at "soft-roaders" like the Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue, the new Tucson features extroverted styling that enables it to stand out in the crowded compact crossover/SUV class.  Improved economy and comfort are the biggest news.  The Tucson is also the lightest vehicle in its segment, which provides a number of performance and efficiency benefits. 

The Tucson is still petite, but it's grown for 2010, gaining an inch (2.5 cm) of width and three inches (7.6 cm) in length.  The styling is pulled almost entirely from the "ix-onic" concept truck… or perhaps vice versa, as Hyundai often uses concept vehicles to tease upcoming production cars.  Whatever the origin, this is a striking little sport-ute.  The Tucson's new face is dominated by a narrower, hexagonal grille with strong upper and lower elements and recurring X shapes.  Diamond-shaped door handle cutouts distinguish the sides, and a steep rake to the rear hatchback cuts cargo space but provides a racy look.  Up-level Tucsons are set apart by two-tone cladding, while piano-black and chrome accents, mirror-mounted turn signal repeaters and fog lights are used on the Limited model.  In full-dress trim, the Tucson is a very handsome little SUV indeed.

The interior looks more finished than before, a drastic improvement in materials and refinement.  Hyundai's first panoramic sunroof is available as well, brightening the cabin.  There's ample seating for four, and five will fit in a pinch.  The X-shaped theme continues on the new dash, which features dramatically improved materials and trim; there's no more industrial-grade plastic here.  Soft-touch buttons and a striking layout bring functionality to the Tucson's radical new look inside. 

The sloped hatch results in extraordinarily tiny D-pillar windows and a smaller cargo area, but the Tucson will still carry up to 1,580 litres (55.8 cubic feet) of cargo when the seats are folded down.  Hyundai hasn't skimped on amenities either, as an iPod/USB connecter and satellite radio are standard.  Bluetooth connectivity, automatic climate control and a CleanAir ionizer are optional.  The CleanAir unit kills germs and limits mold in the AC ducts, providing a comfortable interior environment for allergy sufferers.  An upgraded navigation system is also available.  It includes a 6.5" screen, XM NavTraffic, a rearview camera and voice recognition.  The navigation package also adds a 360-watt sound system with a subwoofer. 

Underneath the skin, Hyundai put emphasis on noise reduction when redoing the Tucson.  A three-layer dash panel and firewall keeps engine noise down, while foam in the B- and C-pillars and a denser hood mat keep road noise down.  The exterior aerodynamics have also been designed to cut wind noise.  As a result, the Tucson is extremely quiet, even on the freeway where tire noise is the largest distraction.  

On-road handling is confident thanks to a new independent rear suspension and thicker stabilizer bars front and rear.  The front bar is hollow to reduce weight, and the Tucson is as nimble as an economy car on the road, with only the slightest hint of top-heaviness in corners.  The feeling of security is aided by the standard electronic stability control and traction control.  Anti-lock brakes are also standard equipment. 

Under the hood is a new 2.4-litre sixteen-valve four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing.  It's shared with the new Santa Fe SUV.  Output is rated at 176 horsepower, and the Tucson returns impressive 10.2/7.6 L/100km city/highway estimated fuel economy rating on the more conservative EPA cycle.  The 2.4 is a deliciously torquey engine, and the Tucson is light enough to make the most of the power.   The engine sits freakishly low in the chassis, contributing to the low, stable centre of gravity and nimble handling. 

A six-speed manual transmission is available in the two-wheel drive version, unusual for a compact crossover.  This will no doubt please the three-pedal faithful, but to be honest the manual transmission's clutch is extremely light, and lacks feel.  The six-speed automatic is better suited to the Tucson (something I don't frequently say) and provides performance that belies the compact powerplant.  It's geared well too, so the Tucson feels relaxed at freeway speeds, unusual for a compact sport-ute.  A maximum of 176 horses is average for the class, but the Tucson's light overall weight improves performance significantly.  When the going gets rough, the available all-wheel drive system uses a driver-selectable lock that holds a 50/50 power distribution up to 40 km/h (25 mph). 

The fresh dose of style and efficiency go a long way toward giving the Tucson something that it lacked previously:  personality.  As the compact SUV/CUV market becomes more crowded, that's the X-factor that's going to determine success or failure, and the new Tucson is poised to make a much greater mark than before.  Of course, attractive pricing doesn't hurt either, and the Tucson's bottom line of $22,999 makes things even more attractive.  All-wheel drive starts at $26,699, and the well-equipped Tucson Limited stickers for $32,449, well below most in this class.  Once again, Hyundai drives home value.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Crossover, Hyundai, 2010, Tucson, $20,000 - $29,999,

Organizations: Hyundai

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