After some rough early years, Hyundai has turned into a true Cinderella story. While this Korean importer has always offered high content and high value, they’ve now added high quality and highly respected warranty protection. Americans just can’t get enough Hyundai products. So, as soon as they announced the new Tucson compact SUV, the lines began to form. But we don’t think you can tell much about a vehicle standing still.
So, let’s get rolling and find out if Hyundai’s rising reputation carries over to the 2005 Tucson compact sport-utility vehicle. The Tucson is a unibody SUV, based on the Elantra’s front-wheel drive chassis, while sharing a few parts with the Kia Sportage. And the urban styled Tucson takes most of its design cues straight from its Santa Fe utility stable mate. Though the littler-tike did abandon its big brother’s bubble-lip grille, its more conservative draw still fits the bill.
At only 170.3 inches long, the freshman Tucson is just seven-inches shorter than the Santa Fe, setting up the veteran to grow to mid-size when it’s redesigned later this year. Tucson wears swept back headlights, clean character lines, roof rack rails, tinted glass and 16-inch alloys. Tucson’s 103.5-inch wheelbase is actually a bit longer than the Santa Fe’s, and 5 inches longer than the Toyota RAV-4. So, though slight in size, it is far from the runt of the SUV litter.
The Tucson packs power in two choices. Standard is the Elantra’s 2.0 liter, twin-cam four pushing 140 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque. Our tester gets the Santa Fe’s 2.7-liter V-6 generating 173 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. The 2.0-liter is fitted to a five-speed manual with the optional four-speed automatic. The manual-mode automatic is the only transmission for the V-6. Both engines can be configured for front or all-wheel drive.
On the track, our all-wheel drive Tucson V-6 accelerated from 0-60 in a fine 9 seconds flat, with a quarter mile of 16.1 seconds at 85 miles-per-hour. Peppy is a good description. Off the line with minor wheel spin, power builds smoothly with no dead spots. Shifts were easy even in manual mode, but the tranny seemed to shift itself regardless of driver input.
For the opposite motion, braking is by way of 4-wheel vented discs with standard ABS. The Tucson secured short stops of 126 feet. Pedal feel is a bit soft, but there’s very little ABS pulsing.
As for maneuverability, the all-independent suspension provides good response with quick turn ins. The reaction is mild understeer and a fair bit of body roll. The rack and pinion steering is light and quick, but feels disconnected. The Tucson’s automatic all-wheel drive system reminds us of what the original Ford Escape employed. There is a multi-plate clutch pack attached to the rear differential. Power goes to the front wheels unless slip is detected. For really tough going, the driver can hit a dash switch that will lock the system in a 50/50 torque split. We found the all-wheel drive unit put a significant burden on the 4-pot, but the V-6 handled the added weight and duty effortlessly.
Moving inside, the Tucson’s cabin is undeniably Hyundai. The dash is straightforward, yet good looking with decent quality plastics, tactile controls, and adequate gauge layout. Step in is comfortable and places you in well-shaped supportive front seats with manual adjusts. The standard CD stereo is well-sited high in the center dash, but the joystick tuner was a bust with our staff. The heat and ventilation controls, however, are excellent and fool-proof.
The three-person 60-40 split rear seat is really only adequate for two adults. And when filled, cargo space is 22.7 cubic feet. Once folded, cargo room increases to 65.5, which is at the small end of its class. But occupant safety features easily outclass most rivals. All Tucsons come with front seat mounted side airbags and side curtain airbags for both rows. It’s the cheapest SUV with such protection standard.
But before we reveal the asking price for the Tucson, let’s see how thirsty it is. EPA estimates for the V-6 all-wheel drive come in at 20 city and 26 highway. In mixed driving, our 2.7-liter gave up a disappointing 18 miles per gallon.
But the Tucson is still a bargain. The 2.0-liter Tucson GL manual begins at $18,094. Add all-wheel drive and a V6, and GLS trims goes for $22,094. The top of the line is the LX all-wheel-drive V6, and it begins at 23,344.
As we’ve come to expect from Hyundai, those are very competitive prices, even before you factor in Hyundai’s extensive warranty package with its 5-year/60,000 mile whole car warranty, and 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain protection.
So, Hyundai has figured out how to make way for one more addition to the crowded compact SUV segment. The new Tucson is a perfect match for consumers seeking affordable utility, impressive content, and quality, in an easy-to-park package. It should be a hit.
Engine: 2.7-Liter V-6
Torque: 178 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 9.0 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 16.1 Seconds @ 85 MPH
60-0 MPH: 126 Feet
EPA Mileage: 20 MPG City 26 MPG Highway
Motorweek's Mileage Loop: 18 MPG Mixed City/highway