Fresh as a Desert Bloom

2010, Hyundai, Tucson Limited

The Tucson compact crossover utility vehicle (CUV) is the first in a wave of new products from the Korean corporation. They are promising seven new vehicles in 24 months—the 24/7 plan.

The Tucson, named for Arizona’s southernmost city, wears the same Fluidic Sculpture design language that graces the all-new 2011 Sonata. While Hyundais over the last few decades have mimicked the current style, these new cars are moving to the front of the pack. The new Tucson is a collaboration between the company’s U.S., Korean and European arms, with the lead taken by the office in Frankfurt, Germany.

Korean manufacturers have really been getting their act together. That’s why I chose the Tucson for a special job—to carry me, one large upright bass plus a week’s worth of clothes five hours north for the weeklong Humboldt Chamber Music workshop. So my freeway driving was not in a commute but for long, scenic stretches of highway—with little city traffic.

With its roomy cargo area and fold-down rear seat, the Tucson was a joy to use. From the pilot’s chair, it was quiet, smooth, and, with the higher seating of a crossover, gave me a fine view of the dramatic scenery of Northern California. And when I drove through the Avenue of the Giants heading south on my way home, I enjoyed looking up (briefly) through the panoramic sunroof at the redwood treetops far above.

As I traveled, I primed myself for the long days of playing by listening to a selection of chamber music through the standard audio system. Like many cars today, the Tucson provides a USB iPod connection, and it accepted my CDs too. Along with the fine sound system, the air conditioning did a yeoman’s job of cooling temperatures that reached 94 degrees in quaint Garberville before dropping to a chilly 59 degrees at the coast near Arcata. I never felt the difference from inside the car.

All 2010 Tucsons use a 176-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with dual overhead camshafts. It compares favorably with engines in competing vehicles such as the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. The Tucson’s power-to-weight ratio is better. The company keeps the pounds down by using more high strength steel than before.

The new model has the power and acceleration of the previous model but claims 20 percent better fuel economy. However, I was a little surprised at my average petrol consumption. The car is rated at 23 City, 31 Highway with Hyundai’s compact, lightweight six-speed automatic. I averaged just 23.5 mpg in my Garnet Red tester—a bit low for all that highway driving. But, I did have some significant hills to climb.

The EPA Green Vehicle Guide gives the car a SmartWay designation, thanks to its 7 in both Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gas scores. In “green” states such as California, you get a PZEV (partial zero emissions vehicle) model with a 9.5 for the Air Pollution score, making the Tucson about as clean as a hybrid—without the complexity or cost.

Whatever its content, the new Tucson stands out for its aggressive looks. With a pointed nose, hexagonal grille with lower intake, bulging sides but little of the intimidating off-road appearance, the Tucson is meant for urban excursions. However, you can order up all-wheel drive, which activates automatically. A thick wedge shape along the lower body gives the tall shape a sporty presence.

Despite being three inches longer than its predecessor, the new Tucson is 61 pounds lighter. It has a three-foot-smaller turning radius than its Honda competitor—the popular CR-V.

Little things can make a big difference in your perception of a vehicle. The Motor Driven Power Steering in the Tucson offers control but plenty of feel, while running more efficiently. Plenty of insulation keeps the cabin surprisingly quiet.

Prices start at $19,790 for the two-wheel-drive, manual-equipped version and end up at $28,090 for a two-wheel-drive Limited model with the Premium Package (like my tester). The first price seems like a steal and the latter one feels a little high—but the Tucson in that state is a loaded vehicle.

It’s always worth noting the top-of-the-market warranty coverage you get with a Hyundai, including a five-year, 60,000-mile new vehicle warranty, 10-year powertrain warranty, and five years of unlimited roadside service.

For safety, Electronic Stability Control is standard, and does a lot to keep you on the road. You also get Downhill Brake Control and Hillstart Assist Control—both help you when the road isn’t flat. Of course there’s the normal collection of airbags, headrests, crush zones and more.

It’s encouraging to see Hyundai’s success in a very challenging market, and it leaves me eager to see what the next five vehicles will be!

By Steve Schaefer

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Images of the 2010, Hyundai Tucson Limited

2010 Hyundai Tucson
2010 Hyundai Tucson
inside the Tucson
inside the Tucson
the cockpit
the cockpit
the backend
the backend