The all-new 2010 Hyundai Tucson is the strongest evidence yet that this ambitious company, once a fledgling Korean maker of cheap econoboxes, has become a bona fide international manufacturer of first-quality world cars. Just a glance back at the prior model of Tucson demonstrates how much progress Hyundai has achieved with its brand-new compact crossover. The preponderance of the Tucson's design and engineering took place in Hyundai's Frankfurt-based European tech center, and the product shows it. This is a get-serious crossover (very little about it suggests a truck) that is well appointed, efficient, fuel-stingy and pleasingly fun to drive. It declares in no uncertain terms that Hyundai is the real thing.
The 2010 Tucson is 61 pounds lighter than the previous model, while being longer and wider than its chief rivals, the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Subaru Forester. The Tucson is also the winner in the power-to-weight ratio battle, the key to good performance with good fuel mileage, outstripping, the CR-V, Escape, Forester, as well as Toyota's RAV4 and Nissan's Rogue.
The Tucson is hotly competitive in efficiency, as well. With its 2.4-liter 176-hp inline four, combined with a Hyundai-exclusive new six-speed automatic transmission, the Tucson delivers an exceptional 31 mpg on the highway, leaping far ahead of the preceding model's 25 mpg. And the compact, extremely light new transmission places Hyundai in an elite group of manufacturers who have built their own six-speed automatic.
But obsessive engineering makes Jack a dull car buyer: the new Tucson is far more than long lists of comparative quantities and outputs. Its styling will attract many buyers who have little interest in engineering. And the Tucson's presence is newsworthy because it is so un-Korean. What does that mean? Simply that this sporty, aggressive new design is decidedly European in flavor, capturing the crisp, agile look German styling studios are famous for.
And the Tucson skillfully tricks the eye, to its own benefit. Just as the huge Audi Q7 manages to appear smaller and more athletic than it is, the new Tucson does just the opposite. Its very high beltline and somewhat squinty side-window configuration make this vehicle appear larger and more capacious than it really is. The impact of this is apt to give the viewer a feeling of getting more for the money. Skillfully done.
Simply put, the all-new 2010 Hyundai Tucson is an exceptionally well calculated vehicle that delivers roomy interior space, crisp performance and very good fuel efficiency. And given Hyundais' excellent quality and market-friendly pricing, this is a buy-candidate to be taken extremely seriously.
The Hyundai people we spoke with while testing the new Tucson were excited about proclaiming this a European design. Undeniably it is, taking advantage of the current European taste for dynamic thrusting forms and aggressive angularities. This crossover is nothing if not modern. It has swoopy lines darting to and fro along its flanks, nose and tail. The side windows have not the slightest hint of being rectangular, with the little triangular windows behind the C-pillar almost squinted shut.
There can be no denying the Tucson has an athletic, muscular look, the four wheels barely contained by their swollen, stuffed-tight wheel arches. A huge, deeply slanted windshield provides excellent forward perspective for the driver, but for rear seat passengers, looking out of the Tucson's narrow side windows is a little like peering out the gun slit of an armored car.
And there will be those who find the Tucson's exterior a little busy looking, while others will find that standing next to the Tucson and looking down its door sides, it looks oddly slab-sided, bigger and heavier than it really is.
As always, there is ample room for debate about the Tucson's styling. The one point that is not debatable is this crossover's high expectations. Its styling is up to the minute, as aggressive as any crossover in the world market. For those youngish families with a taste of sportiness, Hyundai has opened the door wide.
The first thing that strikes you climbing into the 2010 Tucson is its roomy interior's reassuring feeling of harmony and simplicity. This car's chief designers and stylists may have been German, but in the Tucson there is no hint of the German tendency towards self-indulgent complexity, of making you learn all over again how to do something you already know perfectly well how to do. Decidedly to the contrary, the Tucson offers excellent ergonomics, that all but lost discipline of making a car's controls self-explanatory and intuitive. This Hyundai gets an A-plus.
The dashboard's black pebble-grain covering is handsome and anything but econo. The dashboard instruments are straightforward and dignified, with a water temperature and fuel gauge delivered in electronic readouts. To the left of the steering column are controls for hill assist, a stability-control off switch and the differential locker control.
Cruise control and audio switches are provided on the steering wheel, with phone controls partially hidden inside the wheel rim.
The center console, too, is simply laid out, offering audio controls, a navigation system and Bluetooth MP3 capability. Here we encountered one weakness in the Tucson, its forward-slanting navigation screen was all but blinded by glare on sunny days. On the other hand, it is blessedly straightforward to use, with a proper radial knob provided for tuning the audio. Defrost front and rear and individual seat-heater controls are easily selected, while XM is the satellite server of choice, and it should be.
The front seats are excellent both in terms of firm support and high-quality leather. The one-touch up/down driver's power window is one of those conveniences that once you've gotten used to it, you'll never be satisfied with less. Back seat room is lavish for two, adequate for three, and if you're looking for a third row, this is a compact crossover.
The new 2010 Tucson is a reasonably responsive driver, fully competitive with the other small utilities in its class. Its engine is smooth and quiet in normal driving, but accelerating hard onto a freeway to join the flow of traffic, its thrust is only adequate and the yowl it makes reminds you that this is after all only a small four-cylinder. But adequate is better than nothing, and in this class of vehicles, the Tucson is more than competitive.
The Hyundai-designed six-speed automatic transmission is smooth-shifting and excellent, giving the Tucson a big advantage in efficiency over other vehicles in its class. Additionally, its manual shifting capability is particularly good. In all but the most dramatically ill-advised shift requests, it gives you the gear you command.
The motor-driven electric power steering is one of the Tucson's greatest strengths. It is perfectly calibrated, giving you firm steering response, flawless road feel and no excuse to become uninterested in the driving experience. Absolutely first class.
The Tucson's ride and handling are good, but in our drives we discovered an oddity. We drove both the front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive and found a surprising difference between them. The all-wheel-drive chassis's ride was noticeably harsher than the front-driver's. This proved particularly true when driving the top-of-the-line Limited AWD with 18-inch wheels. This is not to say that the AWD chassis is terrible, and if your planned use for your vehicle dictates all-wheel drive for climatic reasons, then the AWD Tucson will serve your purpose. But if you have no particular need of AWD, save some money, $1500 is the AWD premium, and get a gentler front-wheel-drive package.
Otherwise, the Tucson had good brakes with firm pedal feel and exemplary modulation, and the chassis had only mild roll in brisk cornering, as would be expected of a vehicle engineered and tuned in Germany. Additionally, the Tucson is a very clean Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle, satisfying one's environmental good intentions. All in all as utilities go, a satisfying driving package.
With the arrival of the all-new Tucson, Hyundai stands dead center in the mainstream of world vehicles. The Tucson offers a lavishly equipped package, with all the engineering, comfort, and over-the-road advantages demanded of a contemporary crossover utility. Far from being just Korean, this vehicle is nothing less than world class, at a price slightly below world class.
Ted West filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the Tucson upstate of New York City.