Hyundai's sleek new Tucson carlike crossover vehicle should help this South Korean automaker stay among top sellers in a crowded market.
The 2009 Tucson was a slow-seller. Its production totaled 15,411 units that year, compared to 191,214 for the rival Honda CR-V.
The 2010 Tucson is Hyundai's first crossover mainly designed and engineered in Europe. If one doubts that the auto world is becoming more complicated, consider that the Tucson is built in South Korea but was designed and engineered in the automaker's Frankfurt, Germany, facilities--with some input from its U.S. and South Korean facilities.
Hyundai says the Tucson was developed as an "urban cruiser," but it has available all-wheel drive and Hyundai's first hill-start assist and downhill brake controls.
The much sleeker Tucson is longer, lower and wider than the stubby looking 2009 model, with sculptured hood creases, swept-back headlights, sleek greenhouse and wraparound taillights.
Four adults easily fit. Expanded front seat tracks allow taller drivers to get more comfortable. Occupants sit rather high in supportive seats.
Controls are sensibly placed, and main gauges can be easily read, But some secondary digital gauges are impossible for a driver to read quickly during daylight. And driver visibility is poor to the rear with small rear-quarter windows, so the large outside mirrors must be used a lot. At least a rearview camera is optional.
The rear cargo area is large, especially with the split rear seatbacks folded forward.
The interior of base GLS models has a lot of hard plastic that makes the cabin look rather plain, although not cheap. The standard leather upholstery in the high-line Limited gives the interior a significantly upgraded look. Interiors are quieter on all versions.
The new model has slightly more cargo capacity and is 61 pounds lighter for better fuel economy and more nimbleness, thanks to use of such things as ultra-high-strength steel. The Tucson weighs from 3,179 to 3,516 pounds, depending on the model and front- or heavier all-wheel drive drive setup.
Transmitting power are a standard six-speed manual transmission or responsive new six-speed automatic with an easily used manual-shift feature.
The only engine is a 2.4-liter, 176-horsepower four-cylinder that is very strong. It has dual overhead camshafts, 16 valves and variable valve timing and provides swift merging and good 65-75 mph passing--at least with just two adults aboard. It replaces both a 2-liter, 140-horsepower four-cylinder and a 2.7-liter, 173-horsepower V-6.
The new "four" has more power than the old four-cylinder and V-6, but allows better fuel economy than either of the 2009 engines. The 2010 front-drive Tucson with the manual gearbox delivers an estimated 22 mpg in the city and 30 on highways. Figures with front-drive and the automatic are 23 and 31. Opt for the AWD automatic and it's 21 city and 28 highway. The best the 2009 Tucson could do with its old five-speed manual and front-drive was 20 and 25.
The new engine has slightly less torque than the old, larger V-6, but a new six-speed automatic transmission that replaces a dated four-speed automatic helps acceleration and fuel economy.
The fuel-saving electric power steering is quick, but takes getting used to because it's stiff when moved off the on-center position. However, the turning circle is very tight (34.7 feet curb-to-curb), which helps when maneuvering in tight quarters.
The ride is supple with the Tucson's all-independent suspension, but some may feel it's too firm on bumpy pavement-giving the Tucson a decidedly European ride.. Handling is sharp, with a wider track and larger stabilizer bar diameters. The brake pedal has a progressive feel, helping the Tucson stop quickly and surely.
There's plenty of safety items. They include six air bags with a rollover sensor, anti-lock brakes and electronic stability and traction controls.
The Tucson comes with front-drive or an AWD system that works in fuel-saving front-drive mode until more traction is needed. A driver-selectable AWD lock allows for a 50/50 torque split between front and rear wheels for off-road or very slippery conditions.
Front-drive models cost from $18,995 for the base GLS model with a manual gearbox to $24,345 for the Limited version with an automatic transmission and front-drive, or $25,845 with that transmission and AWD.
Both GLS and Limited trim levels are well-equipped for the money. Affordable pricing, lots of standard equipment and one of the industry's longest warranties (100,000 miles for the drivetrain, for instance) have made Hyundais a popular make.
Standard GLS items include air conditioning, tilt wheel, AM/FM/Satellite radio/CD/MP3 audio system with six speakers, iPod/USB auxiliary input jacks and iPod cable and roof antenna. There also are power windows, door locks and mirrors and 60/40 split fold-down rear seatbacks and rear wiper/washer.
An economy indicator is rather distracting, but a trip computer provides distance to empty, average fuel consumption, average vehicle speed, elapsed time and instant fuel economy.
A $1,700 Popular Equipment package for the GLS adds leatherette bolster/cloth insert seats that adds to interior ambiance, telescopic wheel, cruise control, privacy glass and 17-inch alloy wheels.
A $3,700 option includes the above package, navigation system with a 6.5-inch screen, rearview camera, premium audio system and automatic headlights.
The Limited adds leather seats, heated front seats and a power driver's seat. There also are dual automatic temperature controls, 18-inch alloy wheels with wider (55-series vs. 60-series) tires and chrome grille and door handles and automatic headlights.
Want to go whole hog? Opt for the $2,850 Premium Package for the Limited. It contains Hyundai's first panoramic tilt/slide sunroof, navigation system and rearview camera, premium audio system with external amplifier and subwoofer.
The new Tucson has a lot going for it. Its styling, price and features may grab lots of prospective buyers, and its seemingly endless warranty may be a deal clincher, as it's been for many Hyundai models.