Tucson, Arizona; where cacti emerge in spires from fields of desert wildflowers visually rivaling the most profound man-made sculptures; where the rich and famous travel to experience world-class spa treatments steeped deeply in Native American mystique. A lush desert oasis - an oxymoron, you say?

That is my thought exactly when hearing that the 2005 Hyundai Tucson could provide style, innovative safety systems AND value. It's simply not possible - or so I thought.

The Tucson is Hyundai's newest entry in the small SUV market. It's built to compete with the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. The exterior flaunts a sleeker and more sophisticated look than Hyundai's other SUV, the Santa Fe. The interior seems a step up from the Santa Fe as well. Brushed aluminum accents on the simple control panel give the illusion of a luxury-brand price tag. Gas mileage in the Tucson is also an improvement over the Santa Fe (which is scheduled to offer a seven-seat model next year).

The rear seat boasts tons of legroom for adult passengers, but more importantly fits any type of child seat available; rear facing seats fit with room to spare so the front passengers can actually adjust their seats. The back seat splits (60/40) and folds easily. It also reclines, making it easy to adjust to the proper angle for child seats.

The Latch connectors are a bit tough to get to. I manage to use them the first time I install my daughter's seat, but I have a very difficult time unlatching them to vacuum up the kid crud that's accumulated under the seat.

My other two complaints are that the center rear seatbelt comes down from the ceiling and the seatbelt receptors in the back are flimsy. Note to car manufacturers: Call me and we'll discuss the seatbelt buckle problem.

By far, my favorite feature of the Tucson has to do with Hyundai's social consciousness with regards to safety standards. Since January 2003, every Hyundai built to sell in the US includes side impact airbags. The Tucson also includes curtain side airbags. Side impact airbags save lives, yet when they're offered as an additional cost add-on many people opt to save their budget over their life. Hyundai recognizes that making these airbags standard is the right thing to do and simply does it. Hyundai, thanks for looking out for us even when we don't look out for ourselves!

The Hyundai Tucson is a budget friendly way for small families to get it all - or close to it. A stylish car-like SUV with electronic stability control, 6 standard airbags, good gas mileage and cargo space that's equally functional for strollers or sports equipment: All this for an entry level base price of $17,499 (note: base price listed below in specs is for the GLS version). Pinch me!

*For more information on the Hyundai Tucson and its safety features visit Cars.com.


LATCH Connectors: 2

Seating Capacity (includes driver): 5


Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair - Ample

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair - Ample


Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair - Great

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times