Hyundai has redesigned its compact Tucson crossover utility vehicle for 2010, giving it a sleek new look based on the company’s “Fluidic Sculpture” design theme, and making it a bit larger than the previous model, but also lighter in an attempt to boost fuel economy.
Prices for the new model begin at $18,995 (plus $795 freight) for the base GLS six-speed manual model, and $19,995 for the same vehicle with the optional six-speed automatic.
Our tester, though, was the top-of-the-line all-wheel-drive Limited model ($25,845), with the Premium Package ($2,850). This one comes only with the automatic transmission; the manual gearbox is available only in the entry-level GLS.
All-wheel drive is offered in both the GLS and Limited models, however, with the all-wheel-drive GLS beginning at $23,195, which includes the automatic gearbox as well.
The five-passenger Tucson, which is based on the chassis of the Elantra sedan, shares its architecture with the similar Kia Sportage.
It competes in a popular segment that includes the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, but the new Tucson is roomier, has more technology, and has improved fuel economy.
There is room for up to five people, which is typical in this class. But you can get a third seat in the RAV4 or Mitsubishi Outlander, to increase capacity to seven passengers, something not offered in the Tucson, Sportage, CR-V or other competitors.
With this newest Tucson, Hyundai continues its practice of offering more value than most of its competitors.
Even at the base price, the GLS automatic model has such standard features as downhill brake control, hill-start assist, and XM satellite radio, all for $1,495 below the price of a comparably equipped CR-V, the top-selling vehicle in this class.
The Tucson is the first of seven new vehicles Hyundai plans to introduce over the next two years, and also the first to feature the company’s Fluidic Sculpture theme. Design and engineering were completed by Hyundai facilities in Frankfurt, Germany.
Under the hood is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated in the Tucson at 176 horsepower and 168 foot-pounds of torque. That’s more power than that of the 2009 model’s optional 2.7-liter V-6, rated at 273 horsepower, and quite a jump from the base 2.0-liter four-cylinder of last year’s Tucson, which had 140 horsepower. There is no optional engine this year.
EPA mileage ratings are much higher, as well – 23 mpg city/31 highway with front-wheel drive and the automatic transmission, and 22/30 with the manual. For 2009, the four-cylinder’s mileage was 20/25 and the V-6’s was 18/24 with two-wheel drive.
For our 2010 Limited all-wheel-drive test vehicle, ratings were 21 city/28 highway, compared with 18/23 for last year’s V-6 all-wheel drive.
The new model is 3.3 inches longer and one inch wider than the 2009, which gives it a roomier cargo area. It has a longer wheelbase and is wider than the CR-V and two other competitors, the Ford Escape and Subaru Forester.
Cargo space is 25.7 cubic feet behind the rear seat, and 55.8 cubic feet with the rear seat folded. The rear hatch flips up in one piece for easy access to the cargo area, but there is no optional power hatch offered.
Among new standard safety features are side-curtain air bags for both rows of seats, complete with rollover sensors. Other new features include an optional touch-screen navigation system, Hyundai’s first panoramic sunroof, and a Bluetooth hands-free phone connection.
Other standard safety gear includes front seat-mounted side air bags, tire-pressure monitoring, electronic stability control with traction control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, and active front headrests.
The base GLS model comes with 17-inch steel wheels, air conditioning with air filter, 160-watt AM/FM/XM/compact-disc audio system with six speakers and iPod/auxiliary jack and iPod cable, power windows/mirrors/door locks with remote, trip computer, tilt steering wheel, front armrest storage box, rear seatback pockets, rear center armrest with cup holders, bottle holders in the doors, 60/40 split-folding rear seatback, rear washer/wiper, under-floor cargo-area storage, and active headrests.
Adding the GLS Popular Equipment Package ($1,700) brings a telescopic steering wheel, 17-inch alloy wheels, auto up/down driver’s window, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, Bluetooth, illuminated glovebox and vanity mirrors, cruise control, steering-wheel audio controls, soft-touch interior paint, body-color door handles and heated outside mirrors, privacy glass, roof side rails, and an engine cover.
For $2,000, the navigation system can be added to this package. It includes a rearview camera, 360-watt audio amplifier with subwoofer, and automatic headlights.
All Limited models come with the GLS Popular Equipment Package plus leather seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, power driver’s seat with lumbar support, dual front automatic climate control, solar glass, cargo cover, automatic headlights, fog lights, and front wiper de-icer.
On our vehicle, the Limited Premium Package ($2,850) tacked on the panoramic sunroof, navigation system, rearview camera, and external audio amplifier and subwoofer, but deleted the roof rails.
The all-wheel-drive system does not have low-range gearing for serious off-road driving, and ground clearance is just 6.7 inches. The Tucson could handle many well-maintained, unpaved state and national park roads, but not the more-rugged jeep trails.
We had the opportunity to test the Tucson Limited all-wheel-drive on some snowy roads in the Great Smoky Mountains around Asheville, N.C., the day after nine inches of snow fell. While the main roads were mostly clear by that time, some secondary roads were still slick, the Tucson handled them with ease.
The all-wheel drive works automatically to send power to wheels that have the most traction, with up to half of the torque available for the rear wheels. The driver can lock the system into all-wheel drive using a switch on the dash, but otherwise the vehicle operates in front-wheel drive until wheel-slippage is detected.
Passing other vehicles on the two-lane country roads around Asheville was easy on level or downhill stretches. But on uphill grades, there sometimes wasn’t enough power to allow for overtaking other vehicles in the allotted passing zones on these typical mountain roads. For consumers in hilly areas, an optional engine with more power would be helpful.
Steering was precise and predictable. The new Tucson has electric power steering, which does not take power from the engine as a normal hydraulic steering system would. That helps increase fuel economy.
The only other extra on our tester was the carpeted floor mats ($100), giving us a total price of $29,590 for the Limited all-wheel-drive model with freight and options.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; email@example.com.