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Expert Reviews 1 of 6
By Kelsey Mays
December 22, 2009
Another year, another model from hard-charging Hyundai. This time it's the Tucson, a small crossover that impressed us upon its arrival for the 2005 model year. With its 2010 redesign, the Tucson has done some leapfrogging of its competition — it's fuel-efficient, stylish and high-rent — but it falls just short of a slam-dunk. This segment is packed with great choices, and the Tucson is light on utility. If your needs are light, though, it's certainly worth checking out.
The Tucson comes in GLS and Limited trims, with front- or all-wheel drive. I test-drove both. 'Fluidic Sculpture' Love it or hate it, the new Tucson looks interesting. If the last Tucson looked affable, this one seems sophisticated. Hyundai described its styling as "fluidic sculpture." It's certainly fluid. The cut lines don't really go anywhere. The creased lights resemble Infiniti's, and the upper and lower grilles are edgy and controversial, in a Honda CR-V sort of way. The Tucson doesn't look like much else in Hyundai's lineup, and I suspect the adventurous tack will pay off.
My second impression: The Tucson is small. Though a few inches longer than its predecessor, it's still slightly shorter than a Ford Escape, and it's at least 6 inches shorter than a CR-V or Toyota RAV4. City drivers will appreciate the Tucson's dimensions — as well as its 34.7-foot turning circle, which beats all three.
The size issues may be intentional. Hyundai's Santa Fe, which has an optional third-row seat, is a step up in size from the Tucson. It's generally larger than this crowd, but not quite as big as large crossovers like the Ford Flex and Honda Pilot. Space, the Missing Frontier Fluid sculpture, it turns out, affects the cabin. The driver's seat offers the high seating position of a traditional SUV, but the roofline is low, and the rear windows taper off near the C-pillars. The results are rear sightlines similar to a Nissan Rogue's, and that vehicle finished last in our survey of blind spots among small crossovers last February. Drivers around 6 feet tall may find the driver's seat cramped: It can only go so far back, and the doors and dashboard encroach on space for your knees. I sat in a CR-V and RAV4 back-to-back, and both have more room for a driver to stretch out.
The rear seats offer decent headroom and adequate legroom, but some adjustability would be welcome. The earlier Tucson's backseat reclined a few degrees, and the seats in a lot of competitors both recline and move forward and back. These are fixed.
Cargo volume behind the backseat totals 25.7 cubic feet. Fold the rear seats down, and the Tucson's 55.8 cubic feet of maximum cargo volume ranks near the bottom of the class. The last Tucson addressed the compact dimensions to some degree with a fold-flat front-passenger seat, so even though the sum total of cargo room was small, you could at least shoehorn something long in there. Not so much anymore: The new Tucson ditches the fold-flat front seat, and maximum cargo volume is down 10 cubic feet.
Cargo Volume Compared (cu. ft.)
Behind 1st row
Behind 2nd row
2010 Toyota RAV4
2010 Honda CR-V
2010 Subaru Forester
2010 Ford Escape
2009 Hyundai Tucson
2010 Chevrolet Equinox
2010 Nissan Rogue
2010 Hyundai Tucson
*In two-row RAV4. Three-row RAV4s with the third row folded have 37.2 cubic feet behind the second row.
Interior Quality Cabin quality is competitive for this segment, with a consistent, low-gloss appearance for most of the plastics within immediate view. Most buttons operate with high-grade precision, but I'm not crazy about the silver paint on a number of them, which can obscure the labels.
The optional navigation system uses a 6.5-inch touch-screen. It's fairly easy to use, with plenty of street labels and excellent graphics. Other amenities include a panoramic moonroof, dual-zone automatic climate control and heated leather seats. The leather in the Limited trim feels rich enough for a pricier car; it's a far cry from the cut-rate textured cloth in the base Tucson GLS. A respectable leatherette/cloth mix that's optional on the GLS splits the difference. Getting Around Rather than carry over some variation of the last Tucson's engines — a 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a 2.7-liter V-6 — the 2010 Tucson is available only with a new 176-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder that works, in most configurations, with a six-speed automatic. The combination makes for capable acceleration around town, but uphill stretches left me wanting for last year's V-6, whose higher torque provided some much-appreciated muscle when pushed hard. Still, as four-cylinder crossovers go, the Tucson has enough oomph.
The six-speed automatic kicks down without too much delay, and its shorter gear ratios allow for quicker thrust off the line than a CR-V or four-cylinder RAV4. In either trim, the automatic comes with front- or all-wheel drive. A six-speed manual transmission comes in the front-wheel-drive GLS. It has medium throws and poorly defined gates, but manual crossovers have never been known as crisp shifters.
Though never especially engaging to drive, the Tucson handles capably, with decent turn-in precision and a natural, well-weighted steering wheel that unwinds easily to 12 o'clock. Ride quality is acceptable; the suspension preserves decent comfort, but bumps make their way up to occupants easily enough. There was no discernable difference in ride quality between the 17- and 18-inch wheels, but the Tucson is no Ford Escape, which, in terms of ride comfort, is still the one to beat.
Four-wheel-discantilock brakes are standard, and the pedal's linear response is on par with others in this class. Gas mileage with the automatic, at 23/31 mpg with front-wheel drive and 21/28 mpg with all-wheel drive, is impressive, pretty evenly matching the uncommonly efficient four-cylinder Chevy Equinox. It's a major leap for Hyundai, considering the outgoing Tucson was one of the thirstier small crossovers on the market.
EPA Gas Mileage (City/Highway, MPG)
Four-cylinder engines, automatic transmissions
Source: EPA data for 2010 models
Safety & Features The 2010 Tucson hasn't yet been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Standard features include the usual raft of airbags, and the side curtain airbags now include a rollover sensor. The Tucson also gets antilock brakes and an electronic stability system.
For a bargain price of $18,995, the front-wheel-drive Tucson comes standard with an iPod/USB-compatible stereo — a nice inclusion — as well as power windows and locks, air conditioning, keyless entry and a height-adjustable driver's seat. An automatic transmission runs $1,000. All-wheel-drive shoppers will have to spring for an equipment package that adds cruise control, steering-wheel audio controls and a litany of other items. It's a prerequisite for all-wheel drive, boosting the minimum price for an AWD Tucson to a not-so-inexpensive $23,195.
A front-wheel-drive Tucson Limited, which comes standard with the automatic transmission, starts at $24,345. Load it up with navigation, the panoramic moonroof and all-wheel drive, and you'll have a downright rich-feeling crossover — but it will set you back more than $28,000. Tucson in the Market In 2009, Honda, Ford and Toyota moved dozens of CR-Vs, Escapes and RAV4s for every Tucson Hyundai sold. Hyundai thinks it can do better, and there's little reason to doubt it can. In its waning years, the old Tucson appealed on value and not much else. Its successor sacrifices some utility for design, but the resulting crossover is flat-out desirable. Value notwithstanding, that's a solid recipe for larger appeal.