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2010 Hyundai Tucson: First Drive
Hyundai takes a massive leap forward with the all-new Tucson
By Colum Wood, Jan. 25, 2010

There was little to recommend the previous generation Hyundai Tucson other than the fact that it was thousands less than the competition. Since that old model debuted in 2004, Hyundai has made great strides as a manufacturer. Nowhere is this more evident than with the all-new 2010 Tucson.

FAST FACTS

1. The 2010 Tuscon gets a new 2.4-liter 4-cylinder with 176-hp and 168 ft-lbs of torque to deliver a best-in-class power to weight ratio.

2. Fuel economy surpassed the CR-V and RAV4 and is trumped only by the new Chevy Equinox. Hyundai rates FWD models at 23/31 mpg and AWD models at 21/28 mpg.

3. Pricing ranges from $18,995 to $28,695, with the volume of sales expected to go to the base GLS model with the Popular Equipment Package at $21,695 ($23,195 AWD).

With this new compact crossover, Hyundai has gone from the back of the pack to a serious contended at the very front. Rather than continue to play the catch-up game, always one step behind class leaders like Honda and Toyota, Korea’s largest automaker had made a concerted effort to leapfrog so much of the competition in terms of technology and even style.

Under the hood of the all-new Tucson there’s a new version of Hyundai’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder. It makes 176-hp and 168 ft-lbs of torque, giving it roughly the same power and performance as the old optional V6 while at the same time delivering 20 percent better fuel economy than the old 4-cyl.

As for the all-important fuel economy stats, they are 23/31 mpg (city/highway) for a 26 mpg average. All-wheel drive models deliver 21/28 mpg.

The main reason for the improved fuel economy is a new Shiftronic six-speed automatic transmission (with a manual shifting function), an option over the standard six-speed manual. With an extra gear, or two, over most of the competition, it can rev lower at highway speeds, where it delivers that impressive 31-mpg rating.

Fuel economy is out-matched only by the new Chevy Equinox with its 22/32 mpg rating for front-drive models, while in AWD-form the Tucson surpasses all but the Equinox, essentially tying it with a rating of one more and one less at 20/29 mpg.

Not only is it more efficient, the new six-speed is also quick to downshift and smooth. We point this out because Hyundai’s old 4-speed auto was terrible for jerky changes and constantly hunted for gears when crawling up hills or when stuck in traffic.

Assisting in both fuel economy and performance is a lighter overall curb weight. In fact, at 3,203 lbs, it’s the lightest vehicle in its class and has the best power to weight ratio of any compact crossover. Compared to the old V6 model, the lowered curb weight actually accounts for a 3.6 percent improvement in fuel economy. Additional fuel economy improvements were made thanks to new tire compounds and an electric power steering system.

LEADING ITS SEGMENT IN STYLE WITH A SPORTY NEW LOOK

These dramatic changes under the hood are reflected in the Tucson’s new design, which was penned by the Hyundai team in Frankfurt, Germany. It features the company’s “Fluidic Sculpture” design and an octagonal front grille that is expected to arrive on other models. We have to say it’s easily the best looking compact crossover on the market – rivaled only by the Mazda CX-7. It also seems to be on the cutting edge of a move away from boxy crossovers, leaving the square designs only for full-fledged SUVs.

Inside, the Tucson is an equally massive leap forward from its predecessor. We detested the previous model’s ultra-cheap materials and basic design, which looked like a step down from even the econobox Accent.

The interior of the 2010 Tucson is nicely appointed, designed and solidly built. And the ice-blue lighting is a nice touch.

KEEPING IT SIMPLE: JUST TWO MODELS

Base GLS models are adequately equipped with all that you’d really want, including power locks, windows, mirrors and remote keyless entry. Other standard equipment includes A/C, a trip computer, tilt steering and a six-speaker AM/FM/Satellite Radio/MP3 audio system with iPod/USB jacks. In terms of safety, all cars get ABS brakes, six airbags, traction and stability control. Hyundai also includes Downhill Brake Control (DBC) and Hillstart Assist Control (HAC), which will hold the car briefly when stopped on an incline so it doesn’t slide back when the driver moves from the brake to the gas.

A $1,700 Popular Equipment package adds redundant audio controls on the steering wheel, cruise control, Bluetooth, an auto up/down driver’s window, a leather wrapped tilt-telescopic steering wheel and shifter as well as letherette/cloth seats, which deliver better side bolstering than even the upgraded leather ones. The leatherette/cloth color combo on our tester wasn’t the most attractive, however.

Outside there are a few nicer trim items including roof side rails and 17-inch aluminum wheels (up from steel wheels and hubcaps). A $3,700 navigation system, backup camera and premium audio setup is also offered.

As for the top-trim Limited model, it gets everything in the Popular Equipment Package plus automatic climate control, leather seats (in a beautiful saddle brown in our tester), heated front seats and even an eight-way power driver’s seat. This immediately surprised us as we reached for the under-seat manual pull to side the seat back, not even thinking that a Tucson could come with power. And to top that, the driver’s seat even has power lumbar support.

Outside Limited models get some nice chrome accenting and 18-inch wheels with wider tires, helping to deliver an impressive amount of grip to this nimble handler. A final item worth noting is a front wider de-icer, an amazing feature that more cars should have – especially in climates like Michigan.

A $2,850 Premium Package can also be added to the Limited model, which includes the same goodies as in the GLS model premium package but with a panoramic sunroof.

The different trim levels and packages offer a $10,000 spread, from $18,995 to $28,695 for an AWD Limited model with the premium package. As expected, if you want AWD you’ll have to opt for at least an automatic transmission and the Popular Equipment Package.

Those looking at an AWD model should know that like most vehicles in this class, Hyundai uses a part time system that sends power to the rear wheels when necessary. A push-button on the dash can activate a differential lock to deliver power evenly between the front and rear, and remains active until 25 mph.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS: TACKLING MICHIGAN IN JANUARY

Held in Michigan, we had a unique opportunity to drive the new Tucson in some real world conditions. The roads were hardly glass smooth and the weather was far from 80 degrees.

The 2.4-liter is peppy for solo commuting and will deliver more than adequate power when the CUV is loaded up. The fully independent suspension is quite sporty, meaning that you still feel the bumps, but on rough pavement the car never gets unsettled.

A part of the Tucson’s dynamic demeanor is its heavily weighted steering. It’s a lot of fun when tossing the CUV into a corner, but as most people looking at getting a compact crossover are more concerned with groceries and baby seats, we have to think it’s a bit too heavy, requiring excessive effort in parking lots or tight low speed turns.

If you do decide to toss the Tucson into a corner, it delivers a surprising amount of stability and grip, without feeling even remotely top-heavy.

Our only other critique is that we did notice perhaps a bit too much wind noise around the A-pillar. It’s quite minimal and overall the Tucson delivers a huge improvement in noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH). In particular, the noise from the engine has been reduced significantly, a noted problem on past models, which were so loud during start-up you might have though the engine was sitting in your lap.

THERE’S ALWAYS A CATCH: CARGO ROOM

Slipping into the rear seats, the Tucson delivers adequate room for adults, although it’s not overly spacious, like the Equinox. As for cargo room, it’s rated at 25.7 cubic feet behind the rear seats and expands to a total of 55.8 cubic feet. That might sound fine, but it actually makes the Tucson one of the least spacious vehicles in its class, falling almost a full trunk-size behind the class-leading CR-V with 72.9 cu.-ft. In fact, while the space in the rear has grown roughly 3 cu.-ft. from the past generation Tucson, the total cargo room is down by almost 10 cu.-ft. This is truly surprising as the new Tucson is 3.3-inches longer and 1-inch wider than the outgoing model.

THE VERDICT

With a massive leap forward in design, fuel economy, horsepower, interior materials and build quality, the 2010 Hyundai Tucson has managed to go from dead last to a contender at the front of the pack. In fact, in many ways the Tucson might just be the leader and we’d almost be ready to say so outright were it not for the limited cargo room.

There is, however, one last bit of good news. We already mentioned the price listings, but those numbers mean a lot more when stacked up against the competition, many of which are thousands more when comparably equipped.

The new Tucson might be Hyundai’s first true example of a Japanese quality vehicle at a Korean price.

LOVE IT
  • Sporty new design
  • Peppy new engine
  • Class-leading fuel economy
LEAVE IT
  • Steering might be too heavy for some
  • Bit too much wind noise around A-pillar
  • Small-for-its-class cargo room

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