It’s a bit terrifying to learn that Hyundai has been in the car-building business only since 1967. Twenty years ago, Hyundai came to America and found a ready market for its cheaply priced, cheaply built Excel. That the Korean company has gone from building dismal little rust buckets to some of the best vehicles available for the price in such a short time should be the subject of multiple MBA theses.
Case in point: The Hyundai Tucson. Hyundai has been building the Santa Fe sport ute since the 2001 model year, but for 2007, the Santa Fe moves up in size and price. That leaves a niche for a less-expensive SUV — a niche originally filled by the Santa Fe. Enter, then, the Tucson, which is 7 inches shorter than the current Santa Fe but with comparable interior space.
The 2006 Tucson comes in three models: the base GL, midlevel GLS, and upscale Limited, which we tested. The standard engine is a 2.0-liter, 140-horsepower four-cylinder, with a 2.7-liter, 173-horsepower V-6 standard in the GLS and Limited.
Hyundai’s base price for the Tucson GL is just $17,495, plus $600 in shipping. If you don’t mind shifting a five-speed manual transmission, this model represents one of the best buys you’ll find. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, an AM/FM stereo with CD player, 16-inch tires and alloy wheels, and a tilt steering wheel.
Not enough? There are standard four-wheel disc brakes with antilock, standard side and side-curtain air bags, traction control and electronic stability control. Plus, as with all Hyundais, there’s an industry-leading warranty. I typically don’t suggest an SUV as a first car for teens, but man, this Tucson has a staggering list of safety features for the money.
It’s also nice to report that the Tucson is a pretty competent vehicle. The Limited test model, priced at $22,585, had leather upholstery, heated front seats, and an AM/FM stereo with a cassette player and a six-disc CD changer. The 2.7-liter V-6 is spunky and well-matched to its four-speed automatic transmission. Fuel mileage, rated at 20 mpg city, 26 highway, isn’t bad.
Inside, the Tucson is plenty roomy up front, and can seat two adults in the back comfortably, three less comfortably. Handing is surprisingly nimble, and the ride is reasonably smooth on good pavement, a bit jarring on rough roads.
Styling, both exterior and interior, is very nicely executed. The Tucson doesn’t look or feel as inexpensive as it is. For long trips you might wish for something a bit bigger, but around town, it seems like just the right size.
Our test Tucson was front-wheel-drive; all-wheel-drive is an extra $1,500. I wouldn’t spend the extra money unless I lived in a really snowy climate, as the FWD with traction control is quite capable.
The Tucson — a sister vehicle to the Kia Sportage, by the way — is a minor revelation. No wonder Hyundai has Honda and Toyota worried.
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Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smithcan be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5699.