As the popularity of SUVs continues unabated, more people realize they don't need a large SUV and are opting for smaller models. Just a few years ago a small SUV was almost an oxymoron, then Toyota and Honda hit the market with the RAV4 and the CR-V, both of which became hits. Ford followed soon after with the Escape, which quickly became the top-selling small SUV.
Now Hyundai enters the fray with the very well equipped 2005 Tucson, offering a viable alternative to the established models.
As one would expect off a vehicle from Hyundai, the Tucson is attractively priced with the best warranty in the business. It's no barnstormer as far as performance goes but then neither are most of its competitors.
Tucson comes standard with an impressive list of safety features. Electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, and traction control are all standard. Add to that six airbags, including side-impact airbags and curtain airbags designed to provide head protection for passengers in both rows. The Tucson is the lowest cost vehicle with that level of safety features.
Bigger is better? Many might disagree with this statement and the Hyundai Tucson sets out to prove the point.
Hyundai's larger SUV, the Santa Fe, has always drawn mixed reviews for its looks; some like its unusual curvy lines while others think it's goofy looking. Although the Tucson is built on the same platform as the Santa Fe, its styling is quite different and it is shorter in overall length. In fact, it blends in well with other small SUVs with a somewhat familiar look, not that dissimilar from the Honda CR-V.
The Tucson has clean lines with a relatively big grille up front and headlamps that blend in well with the hood line and edge of the fenders. The front bumper is a large one-piece molding that spans from the lower edge of the hood underneath to form a spoiler. Its side profile is fairly flat as it barely protrudes in front of the grille opening. At the back, the edge of the rear bumper reaches up to the tail lights and sticks out from them by a couple of inches adding protection.
The GLS and LX models come with lower body cladding that runs from the front bumpers around the fenders and along the lower edges of the doors to the rear bumpers. Finished in matt black the cladding is not too obtrusive.
Even though the Tucson is not intended for serious off-roading it does have a relatively short front and rear overhang for improved clearance. This is largely thanks to the wheelbase, which is as long as that on the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape even though those two vehicles are several inches longer overall. The Tucson also has a wider track, which helps improve its stability.
The rear tailgate slopes forward, avoiding the van-like vertical look of many SUVs. The rear window can be opened separately from the main tailgate although it is not very big, making it ineffective for loading much more than small light stuff.
All models come with 16-inch alloy wheels; the GL has five spokes while the other models get six-spoke wheels. A roof rack and tinted windows are also standard on all models.
There's nothing cheap or Spartan about the interior of the Tucson although it could not be mistaken for a luxury vehicle. Nonetheless it does have some nice touches such as a low-key silver plastic trim around the center stack and gearshift. The large radio and climate controls are mounted reasonably high up for easy reach, as is the gearshift lever. The instrument pod contains three gauges with a decent sized speedometer in the center with a smaller tachometer and fuel gauge off to the sides.
Big storage pockets in each of the four doors contain an indent for a large cup plus room for several maps or whatever. In addition there are a couple of cupholders in the center console. It's also nice to see a proper parking brake lever in the center instead of a pedal-operated parking brake.
There is a decent amount of rear luggage space that can be hidden out of sight by a solid rear cargo cover/parcel shelf. A washable large rubber mat covers a hidden under-floor storage area and helps protect the flooring, as well as providing a non-slip surface. There are six tie-downs at the side for securing cargo in addition to three grocery bag hooks.
The rear seatback splits 60/40 to fold down with the push of single button for even more space. There are no fewer than three 12-volt power outlets; apart from the usual one at the front there is one in the rear cargo area and one at the back of the center console for use by the rear seat passengers.
Thanks to the long wheelbase ingress and egress to the rear seats is good and once inside rear seat passengers will find the head and leg room is reasonable for all but the tallest people. The GLS comes with brightly colored cloth seats that some people find too gaudy while others like the pattern as it brightens up the interior.
We had the opportunity to drive a couple of variations of the Tucson powered by the V6 engine. Around town and out on open highways the 173-horsepower V6 engine delivers adequate power for what is a relatively heavy vehicle for its size.
The four-speed automatic shifts smoothly. Those who want to be more in command can move the shift lever across to use the Shiftronic semi-manual mode that allows you to choose when to change gears. Just a few years ago such an option was only offered on high-end sports cars.
Driving down a smooth, slippery, muddy gravel road would have been a great place to test the electronic stability control system. However, the road featured a high crown for drainage with a big ditch along each side. Much as we would liked to have tried to induce a slide we did not want to risk crashing a test vehicle. On the other hand we drove reasonably briskly and not once did we feel the vehicle begin to slip, so perhaps it was working and the system was so transparent in operation that we did not realize it.
A brief drive along a rocky dirt track showed that the Tucson can manage some light off-highway duty. Without low gearing and aggressive off-road tires it was not able to climb a really steep slippery slope. But judging from the skid marks it didn't look as though many vehicles had managed to get up that particular slope, so it was not a fair test.
Unlike traditional part-time four-wheel-drive systems Hyundai uses a system that automatically adjusts the amount of power going to each wheel as needed. Most of the time the electronically controlled system routes up to 99 percent of the power to the front wheels. Then as road conditions change the system diverts up to 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels. In this way power is routed to the wheels that have the best traction. In really slippery conditions the driver can push a button on the dashboard to lock the driveline in a 50/50 torque split.
We drove all-wheel-drive and front-wheel-drive models and in general driving we found the ride and handling to be slightly better in the 4WD versions. This might seem counterintuitive, but it was probably because there is slightly more weight in the back on the 4WD model making the weight balance better. What's more, on wet and slippery roads there was a distinct lack of wheel spin from the front wheels on the vehicles with 4WD. All told, the 4WD option is worthwhile.
The steering felt connected although it was a tad light in feel. The brakes were smooth and stopped the vehicle efficiently.
We did not have the opportunity to drive the base GL model with a four-cylinder engine. Judging from the performance of the V6-powered Tucson we expect performance to be anemic especially with an automatic transmission. If you're willing to do your own shifting then the four-cylinder GL with a five-speed manual would be more promising. However, Hyundai does not expect this to be a popular model.
Hyundai has come a long way in terms of quality and reputation in the past few years. Judging from our look at the company's latest model one can safely place the Tucson alongside comparable models from established players. What's more it costs hundreds of dollars less than its rivals yet it is loaded with features.
The Tucson is not a sporty vehicle, but the V6 engine provides enough power to satisfy most people. Overall, the Tucson is the right sort of car for someone looking for a roomy entry-level vehicle that costs less than its rivals, yet includes plenty of state-of-the-art safety features, lots of comfort and convenience features along and an industry-leading warranty.
New Car Test Drive correspondent John Rettie is based in Santa Barbara.
Build and price your dream Hyundai Tucson in just a few easy steps.
|Build & Price|
2013 Hyundai Tucson$20,500 | 33,322 mi
2013 Hyundai Tucson$21,890 | 14,141 mi
2013 Hyundai Tucson$21,995 | 16,406 mi
2013 Hyundai Tucson$21,995 | 31,754 mi
2013 Hyundai Tucson$23,250 | 8,463 mi
2013 Hyundai Tucson$23,995 | 27,693 mi
2012 Hyundai Tucson$17,464 | 40,383 mi
2012 Hyundai Tucson$19,400 | 38,372 mi
2012 Hyundai Tucson$19,762 | 61,116 mi
2012 Hyundai Tucson$19,873 | 21,335 mi
2012 HYUNDAI TUCSON$19,896 | 34,009 mi
2012 Hyundai Tucson$19,991 | 41,272 mi
2012 Hyundai Tucson$21,400 | 24,770 mi
2011 Hyundai Tucson$14,592 | 81,815 mi
2011 Hyundai Tucson$16,995 | 42,639 mi
2011 Hyundai Tucson$17,392 | 67,300 mi
2011 HYUNDAI TUCSON$17,590 | 63,306 mi
2011 Hyundai Tucson$17,912 | 35,961 mi
2011 Hyundai Tucson$18,275 | 42,204 mi
2011 Hyundai Tucson$18,447 | 77,812 mi
2011 Hyundai Tucson$18,806 | 37,171 mi
2011 Hyundai Tucson$18,995 | 34,311 mi
2011 Hyundai Tucson$19,488 | 46,250 mi
2011 Hyundai Tucson$20,869 | 45,480 mi
2010 HYUNDAI TUCSON$14,877 | 55,014 mi
2010 Hyundai Tucson$17,492 | 32,721 mi
2010 Hyundai Tucson$18,750 | 41,014 mi
2010 Hyundai Tucson$19,599 | 64,246 mi