Hyundai proved it can produce a serious SUV with the Santa Fe. Now it's back with the Korean firm's first compact SUV (although some dub it a crossover) which is only slightly smaller than its stable-mate and explains why the Sante Fe will soon grow in size. The Tucson therefore offers terrific value for money. Price $17,999. Warranty: powertrain 10 yr/100,000 mi.; total vehicle 5 yr/60,000 mi. EPA fuel mileage: 22 city/27 highway.
First Glance at the Hyundai Tucson
This is a great opening line. Okay, it's not a great opening line. Actually, there is no opening line, no "hook" by which to pull you in. The problem, you see, is that the 2005 Hyundai Tucson did not ring my emotional bells. Left me absolutely unmoved. Not that the Tucson is a bad vehicle, far from it. A very good vehicle in fact. But it's an appliance. Takes you there, brings you back, and with that 10-year powertrain warranty should provide more trouble-free trips to there and back than you'd care to remember. I'm not unaware, I assure you, that an appliance is all most people need and in that respect the Tucson crossover/wagon/SUV or whatever it's supposed to be, is very satisfactory. Even in the base, 4-cylinder, 5-speed manual front-wheel-drive version I tested. It's roomy, spunky, reliable, reasonably comfortable, and for those who need more, is also available with a V-6, which comes only with a 4-speed automatic. All-wheel-drive can be had, plus leather, sunroof, and all the trimmings. Against others in its class the Tucson is about average, offering a little more of this, a little less of that, but in one respect it has a huge edge. Very well equipped, it offers tremendous vaue for money.
In the Driver's Seat
The Tucson boasts something we rarely see from the driver's seat: fenders visible to their tips, making it easier to manoeuver. The smell of plastic, however, was overwhelming. What kind of plastic trees do they grow in Korea, anyway? In time the odour seemed to dissipate, though maybe I got used to it, like a stablehand opening a barn door in the morning. The Tucson's cabin offers a muted interior in tones of gray, accented by a black console, and trim that reminds one of exotic metal. Just about every car, including luxury models, has some these days; the automotive equivalent of a Hong Kong Rolex. Seats adjust, manually, for reach, rake, tilt; the upholstery, though not unattractive, reminded me of what you'd find in a renovated airliner. A lot more comfortable, thankfully. Sightlines are excellent but air control and radio symbols are too small. An understanding of braille would help here. A clever armrest raises and lowers, reveals a tray within a larger compartment, can pinch your finger if you're not careful. Rear seat passengers sit high, with an astonishing amount of headroom; the 60/40 seats fold flat and even when upright there's enough cargo room for a small safari. To Santa Monica beach, at least.
On the Road in the Hyundai Tucson
Under every Tucson sits a modified Elantra platform, which accounts for its civilised ride and handling, at least by SUV standards. Suspension is fully-independent, able to handle uneven surfaces with little thumping or pitching, yet entering a turn too quickly provides a reminder that an SUV will never handle like a car. If you really overdo things or unwittingly hit a slippery patch, be thankful that Hyundai made electronic stability control standard equipment. Interlinked with throttle, brakes, and traction control, the system senses understeer or oversteer, helps compensate until you find yourself again heading in the intended direction. The 4-cylinder engine is also identical to the Elantra's, with a healthy 140 hp. Assisted by a 5-speed manual, it provides ample acceleration. If an automatic is the transmission of choice, though, I'd opt for the V-6, especially if steep hills and full loads are part of the plan. The four is noisy once the revs exceed 3000 rpm, much more so than in the Elantra, a shame because the Tucson is otherwise a quiet vehicle. Perhaps the lords of Hyundai cut back on the soundproofing in the belief that younger SUV buyers, at whom it is aimed, like a little roar with their ride. In sports cars, maybe.
During my former career writing ads for clients like GM and Ford, the words I most hated to hear in briefings were "value for money." Inevitably the phrase was a euphemism for "dull car." Therefore I'm reluctant to use it when reviewing the Tucson. Yet what can I say when faced with a standard equipment list that includes six airbags, stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, power windows, door locks with remote keyless entry system and alarm, heated power mirrors, air conditioning, rear wiper, aluminum wheels, AM/FM/CD player with six speakers? Plus a 5-year total vehicle, 10-year powertrain warranty and a price that undercuts the competition. Dull? Well, it all depends on what you're looking for. A young family that enjoys outdoor living won't find the Tucson dull. Activity-minded folks won't rate it as dull. The word may not even come to mind for singles struggling with a tight budget. So on this occasion I'll say the Tucson delivers more value for money than any other vehicle in its class. Which is high praise indeed for an, uh, appliance. Excuse me while I go hug my refrigerator.
Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.