2010 Hyundai Tucson
Base price: $18,995 – $24,345
As tested: $22,590
MPG: 23 city/31 highway
- Exceptional value and performance
- Roomy, quiet, comfortable, well built
- Terrific new styling, long warranty, excellent fuel economy
- Need three rows of seats
- Could use more cargo area
- Not as sporty as some small crossovers
By Jim Prueter
All new Tucson may be 'Best in Class'
Automotive television advertisements tend to all have the same theme: who’s the fastest, has the most hauling power, is brawniest, boasts the biggest engine, has the best handling, etc. You get the picture; they all seem to have a high-performance angle.
I would argue that, while all of that is entertaining and certainly aspirational, most of us buy vehicles with a more practical checklist in mind. Like, how well does the price fit into my budget, what kind of gas mileage will it get, how are we actually going to use the vehicle, what are the safety factors, how good is the visibility, is it comfortable. And, of course, everyone wants to drive what most would consider a sharp looking vehicle. This is particularly true if it’s the family grocery-getter versus a high performance hobby car or work truck.
Those factors might be the reason there is a big move toward smaller vehicles, in particular the compact crossover utility vehicle segment. It’s flush with decent offerings from almost every manufacturer, like Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4, Honda CRV, Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, Kia Sportage, Subaru Forester, Mitsubishi Outlander and numerous others.
We were fans of Tucson when it arrived in 2005, but over the years this segment became crowded with terrific choices, better looking sheetmetal and interiors, and Tucson fell well behind competition. Recognizing the potential of the segment, the South Korean manufacturer called upon its Frankfurt design studio to build a vehicle that could not only better compete with, but could potentially leapfrog to lead the market segment, currently dominated by Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4.
Tucson is one of seven new vehicles Hyundai plans to introduce within the next two years and features the company’s “fluidic sculpture” design theme. It was recently followed by the highly acclaimed and newly redesigned Sonata.
Researchers show that Hyundai is growing in consumer awareness and acceptance, and not just because of Toyota’s damaged reputation in recent months.
“Hyundai is benefiting from a perfect storm,” said James Bell, market analyst for Kelley Blue Book. “It’s not just the new products Hyundai is introducing or the Toyota crisis. Honda’s mainstream vehicles, like the CR-V and Accord, are a bit stale.”
He elaborated, saying that Hyundai surpassed both Toyota and Honda in February to become the number one brand in customer loyalty. The new Tucson was shoppers’ most-considered vehicle of all 454 on Edmunds.com. That’s huge.
Having started out two decades ago as a late night talk show punch line for poor quality, Hyundai has not only repaired its image, it’s put a high gloss polish on its reputation. Hyundai sales rose eight percent last year in a market that was down 21 percent overall.
If you still rank Hyundai a notch below Toyota and Honda, it’s time to change your perspective. Hyundai has arrived and then some. Perhaps you’ll pay more attention when you look at the superior Hyundai warranty — 60,000 miles overall, 100,000 mile powertrain — on a vehicle that gets five to 10 percent better gas mileage than the segment leaders.
The first thing we noticed about the new Tucson was its dramatic new styling. The curvaceous lines and flowing design create a modern, attractive, downright sharp vehicle. Even the less expensive of the two models doesn’t look cheap or compromised to save a few bucks.
But overall Tucson is a small vehicle; there’s no third-row seat option. For that you need to move to Toyota RAV4. While it’s a few inches longer than the previous generation, it’s still shorter than Ford Escape and a full six inches shorter than CR-V and RAV4. On the positive side, with its 34-foot turning radius, it’s a snap to maneuver and park.
Tucson is built on a modified Hyundai Elantra platform and is available in either the base GLS or upscale Limited trim levels. Both use the same 2.4-liter dual overhead cam, four-cylinder, 176-horsepower engine mated to a six-speed manual shifter or six-speed automatic transmission developed by Hyundai. It is particularly smooth and efficient. Front-wheel or all-wheel drive is offered on both models. The all-wheel drive allows you to lock it into true full-time four-wheel-drive mode rather than operating on an “on demand” basis.
A V-6 engine is no longer available, as it was in the previous generation, but the ubiquitous 2.4-liter four-cylinder has three horsepower more than the 2009 model’s optional 2.7-liter V-6. Our 2010 front-wheel-drive GLS was rated at 23 miles per gallon in the city and 31 highway, compared to the 2009 V-6’s 18 mpg city, 23 highway.
Our tester didn’t feel like a V-6, but it didn’t seem to matter either. We never felt like our Tucson was underpowered; getting up to highway speed was in no way a white-knuckle experience. Nor did the engine have the traditional “buzzy” sound common with most four-bangers under full acceleration. And Tucson and Chevy’s Equinox are the only vehicles in the segment that top 30 mpg.
Inside, the new model features a more spacious cabin that’s well designed and comfortable. It feels more like a midsized crossover, particularly in the back seat, which is often neglected in terms of leg and hip room. Still, we think it’s a mistake that Hyundai chose to fix the rear seatbacks. The previous model’s seats reclined a few degrees, and seats in competitor vehicles both recline and slide fore and aft. Tucson also discontinued the fold-flat front passengers bucket seat, which increased cargo space — another disappointment in the new model.
Dash is clean and classy with lots of nicely appointed silver trim that minimizes the economy look and feel of the previous Tucson. The speedometer and tachometer are deep set into the dash — looks good, functions even better. Things fit well together; there are no sharp edges, loose fits or wide gaps. Materials are low-gloss, which improves the look. Most important is the ample amount of legroom for this too-tall driver, something that’s almost always lacking in compact vehicles.
Standard equipment includes Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free phone operation, remote keyless entry, 160-watt, six-speaker audio system with iPod cables, a USB slot, XM Satellite radio, 17-inch steel wheels, full power, tilt steering wheel and rear window wipers.
We recommend the popular equipment package ($1700) that adds telescoping steering wheel, alloy wheels, steering-wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, privacy glass, roof rack, body-color door handles, heated mirrors, illuminated vanity mirrors, and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. A two-pane panoramic sunroof and a navigation system are also optional.
The Limited model adds push-button start, heated leather seats, 18-inch wheels and tires and a few other extras for the $24,345 base price.
We found the Tucson's ride to be compliant, agile and well-controlled. We especially liked the electric power steering, which, by the way, saves a bit more gasoline than a pump-based power steering unit. Body lean is minimal for a crossover, brakes feel good and visibility is better than expected given the cutting rear roofline. The ride was steady and the cabin absent the sibilance common in this class vehicle.
A few things we didn’t care for include the ceiling-mounted seat belt for the middle passenger in the back seat hanging and swinging around, fussy one-touch power windows that make it almost impossible to get the window to stop just a few inches from the top for ventilation, and telescoping steering wheel absent from the base GLS model.
Standard safety gear includes electronic stability and traction control, antilock braking system with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, six airbags, active front head restraints and downhill brake control and hill start assist control.
The 2010 Tucson has not been crash tested as of this writing.
Overall, the new Tucson is a major leap ahead of its predecessor and perhaps good enough to reside at the top of the compact crossover utility vehicle pile. We were thoroughly impressed and, other than a few niggling miscues and omissions, came away thinking that it would be great if all vehicles were this nice, delivering exactly what is expected from them.
If you are considering a compact utility vehicle, you’d be remiss not to test drive the new Hyundai Tucson.