By on February 17, 2010

When Hyundai introduced its first Tucson in 2004, the term crossover still hadn’t crossed over from the world of marketing into the public imagination. At the time, the term SUV still carried enough equity to convince even the ute-lets built on compact car platforms to emphasize their rugged inspiration with upright, boxy styling and spartan utility. These car-based “cute-utes” were, according to the logic of the time, for consumers who wanted in on the SUVs alleged lifestyle enhancements without the profit-swelling sticker shock and ruinous fuel bills. Today, the crossover has properly crossed over, leaving behind the pretensions of the SUV-weaning generation to assume its own identity in the automotive market. For better or for worse, the new Hyundai exemplifies this new state of the crossover, and it makes the case for itself without reference to its previous status as a cheap substitute for an SUV.

Where other recent Hyundais have built the company’s reputation by taking laser-guided aim at American market hits like the Toyota Camry and Lexus LS, the Tucson’s roots are traceable to the spiritual home of the compact crossover: Europe. Designed and developed in Germany, where it will be sold as the Hyundai iX, the Tucson moves Hyundai’s crosshairs away from its traditional target on Toyota’s back towards Nissan’s European hit crossover, the Qashqai (a variant of which is sold in the US as the Rogue). The Tucson’s passenger dimensions are on-par with Rogue, Toyota’s RAV4 and Honda’s CR-V (with about 40 inches of headroom front and back, 41 inches of legroom in front and 38 inches in back), but cargo space comes in below all of its competition (but closest to the Rogue) with only 25/55 cubic feet with the rear seats up/down.

But fixating on practical numbers isn’t what the new crop of crossovers is about. If car buying were as simple as number-crunching, Hyundai’s Elantra Touring would cannibalize the new Tucson before it even arrived, offering similar dimensions and nearly identical mileage at a lower price point. Luckily for the auto industry, the emotional appeals that once sold SUVs by the boatload are hard at work in the new crossover class, and luckily for Hyundai, the Tucson hits all the notes needed to convince a buyer to abandon the rational analysis that might send them home with a mere station wagon.

The Tucson’s styling is some of the best in the compact CUV class, offering a taut, sculpted, sophisticated look that owes nothing to the crossover’s SUV-lite genesis. Which is not to say that the Tucson lacks stylistic debt: its “Fluid Sculpture” design language is more than a little reminiscent of Ford’s “Kinetic” aesthetic, making the Tucson something of a larger, less restrained Ford Kuga. In a US-market segment that boasts styling ranging from the timelessly anodyne (CR-V) to the faux-butch (Ford Escape) to the just-plain-uninspired (RAV4, Rogue, Equinox), the Tucson can expect to get good mileage from its distinctively European looks.

Especially considering that the impression of German world-car values continues inside. The center console is clean and clutter-free, with just enough funky flair from its flanking air vents and detached HVAC controls to prevent a sterile, industrial aesthetic. Interior design is more similar to the Chevy Equinox than the grey-plastic wonderlands of its Japanese competition, but unlike the Equinox, a sense of German propriety keeps the design from overshadowing its execution. Faux-alu plastic is blessedly kept to a minimum, while the solid swaths of dash material are well-arranged, tolerable to the touch, and seemingly set in concrete.

Though the interior walks the line between bland competence and Euro-sophistication, the drivetrain falls solidly on the side of bland competence. The good news is that the 2.4 liter engine’s smooth, if characterless performance, helps the Tucson deliver a quiet impression of isolation that actually adds to the sophistication side of the ledger. The less good news is that the engine itself is entirely unremarkable, developing its 176 horsepower without much in the way of drama, noise, or excitement. Hyundai’s in-house, six-speed automatic transmission is similarly lacking in defining characteristics, shifting smoothly if not snappily. Considering the distinct shortage of enthusiast options in this segment, this smoothed-out, inoffensive, and just-plain competent drivetrain isn’t likely to be a sales liability (and a turbo option is rumored).

Given the Tucson’s appliance-like drivetrain, there was no reason for Hyundai not to equip it with a soft, cruising suspension and call it a day. At least not if, like the RAV4 and Equinox, it were developed specifically to appeal to the US market taste. Instead, the suspension is remarkably taut, delivering a firm, pinned-down ride. The downside, of course, is some roughness over poorly-paved roads, but the combination of good damping and an impressively stiff body keep these disturbances feeling remote and manageable. Electric power steering helps the AWD Tucson to its 21/28 mpg EPA numbers just as much as it adds to this sense of remote isolation, but at the obvious expense of any road feedback through the wheel. Though it matches the drivetrain’s appliance-like competence and isn’t the most egregiously inconsistent EPS setup we’ve driven, the shockingly able suspension cries out for a more connected helm.

Not that anyone in the Tucson’s target market will care. With prices for FWD, manual models starting below $19k, and fully loaded Limiteds (pictured) topping out under $30k, it’s more fun to drive, more stylish and and more affordable than most of its Japanese and American competition. Our AWD GLS tester with the $1,700 “popular equipment package” offers the Bluetooth, steering wheel controls, leatherette accents, and a host of other items for a whisker under $24k. Which is about where no-option, AWD versions of its (slightly larger) competitors live. It won’t tempt anyone who still drives an SUV down into the burgeoning crossover class, but it certainly makes a strong rational case for itself to buyers with a Rogue or RAV in their sights. Heck, as an emotional, stylish design, it might even tempt a few otherwise reasonable folks out of an Elantra Touring. How the crossover has changed.

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36 Comments on “Review: 2010 Hyundai Tucson...”

  • avatar

    Decent enough. I just don’t get the t*rd brown leather seats, grey interior trim and a silver exterior.

    Pretty jarring and looks like they were transplanted from another car. I thought the manufacturers were color keying these days

  • avatar

    the Tucson moves Hyundai’s crosshairs away from its traditional target on Toyota’s back towards Nissan’s European hit crossover, the Qashqai (known in the US as the Rogue).

    The Rogue and Qashqai are similar, but they’re not the same vehicle. The dimensions and seating are different on both, and the Qashqai is available as a seven-seater.

  • avatar

    Why can’t we just start calling the small CUVs like this hatchbacks?

    The first time I saw a Tiguan on the lot I used my armspan to check its A-to-C pillar size against a Golf. The cute ute had about one hand of extra length.

    When I noticed the R32 across the aisle had the same sticker price, I could no longer imagine a world where the Tiguan was relevant in any way

    • 0 avatar

      . . . and then you bought the GTI three stalls over and pocketed the extra 7 or 8 thousand and called it free gas for about 3 years.

    • 0 avatar

      Agree with you and shortthrow. The author mentions profit-inflating MSRPs on traditional SUVs, but CUVs use the same methodology:
      1) Start with a compact car wheelbase.
      2) Add on vertical sheetmetal and parts, raise ride height slightly.
      2b) (Optional) Add AWD for the “fun factor” and profit margins.
      3) Raise sticker price $7K+, film commercials showing your newly lifted CUV riding on a sandy trail.
      4) Convince buyer they’re getting an SUV for a reasonable price for your teenager/college kid, not an inflated Civic/Corolla/Cobalt. They will use it for camping exactly one time during the life of the vehicle.
      5) PROFIT

      Just buy a reasonable compact car and save eight grand, or buy a real car and play it safe with an Accord or some other sedan. Save some gas at least.

  • avatar

    I have driven one at my local dealer – very decent ride. Working at a Toyota dealership I understand the lack of excitement for the bland line up of vehicles we offer. It is nice to see a Pacific Rim import looking decent! My wife is getting a new car in the next 12 months and we will be looking very closely at the offerings from Hyundai and Kia.

  • avatar

    Adequate, but not inspiring.


  • avatar

    There is also the Acura RDX, somewhat pricier than the Tucson, that offers a turbo, low stance and stiff suspension. A previous TTAC review of RDX found it satisfied driver cravings far better than the panned Forester XT did.

    Only more tests will tell if Tucson’s AWD works well (company representative told me it’s a non-Haldex reactive system that’s FWD biased and can only send 50% max power to rear).

  • avatar

    I don’t think the current Subaru Forester XT is any more geared towards enthusiasts than the RAV4 V6, Mazda CX-7, or the VW Tiguan. And the case could be made that the Mitsubishi Outlander GT is more tuned for enthusiasts than any of them.

    I haven’t driven the new Tucson yet, but can see that a turbo four option would be nice.

    The first-gen Tucson has proven reliable. I hope to get enough owners of the 2010 Tucson involved in TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey to provide some reliability stats well ahead of everyone else.

    Not yet signed up? Details here:

  • avatar

    In profile, it’s a pint-sized Buick Enclave.

    • 0 avatar

      Or a mini-Murano, or mini CX-7…

      This thing will sell.

      If I was GM or even Ford, this would worry me.

    • 0 avatar

      Why should Ford worry? The Escape, which is in some ways outdated, is the best selling small crossover in the country (at least when you throw Mercury Mariners in as well, which you should, because they are the same car from the same assembly line). The Mazda CX-7, which is a great car, doesn’t even make the top 3 in sales figures, nor do the Rogue or Murano. Plus, Ford has the Kuga coming to replace the Escape in a year or two, which should further cement the lead for the class.

  • avatar

    Many years ago I got a promo disc for pickups from either Ford or Chevrolet. It put the vehicles through many engineering tests. In one, going over bolders large enough to get one of the four tires completely off the ground, the “4-wheel drive” truck came to a hault as the one tire spun in mid-air. For me, that’s a “One-wheel drive” truck.

    In today’s parlance, we have “Four-Wheel-Drive”, “Full-Time-Four-Wheel-Drive”, “All-Wheel-Drive”, and more. Are any of these honest-to-God true four-wheel drive?

    • 0 avatar

      Who cares? Most people buying these cars aren’t going to drive anywhere that needs anything more advanced than a decent set of snow tires.

    • 0 avatar

      x2 psarhjinian with a caveat:
      If type of 4WD matters to you, know enough to buy what you want. Most people bitch about modern 4wd just that it doesn’t have a locking differential, but that’s BS unless you’re off-roading.

      The synchronous systems (subaru) on-road are excellent for stability (driving in rain or where water is pooling) but cost you MPG.

      Some people like RWD-bias like Jags have (had? is it still the same), but most people are OK with a FWD vehicle with an open rear diff (btw, that’s 2WD, not 1WD because the fluid goes somewhere).

      — as for snow tires, most people buying these aren’t aware enough to put winter tires on or know why they’d need them.

    • 0 avatar

      Let’s presume people electing to pay the premium for “4-wheel” or “All-wheel” drive believe they are getting it and believe it will benefit them above and beyond the added cost.

      Let’s also presume some car makers are charging a hefty premium for this but are in reality delivering “One-wheel” drive.

      TTAC the place for this to be exposed?

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Nguyen Van Falk

      These little AWD’s used to be respectable little mountain goats with some off-roading prowess. I’m not sure if the new version has new differentials and now is castrated. I wouldn’t be surpised if that was the case. I suggest you check out these little guys on youtube and see them do what a MB GL and ML cannot.

      Does the Kia Sportage still have some off-roading cred?

      I know most SUV buyer will never need, want, or use a truck in a manner that approach, departure and break over angles matter, but it’s nice to know that these factors have been considered in its design. I hope this little guy has the goods to make some overly ambitious non-wrangler Jeep owners sweat.

      I wish there’s be an SUV with Tucson’s size, legit 4wd, and a small but grunty diesel. It would have better MPG than this, have nice road manners and can tackle some trails. I don’t need to crawl up a granit cliff, but being able to go through some mud, grass, stones, and branches.

  • avatar

    Beauty must be in the eye of the beholder!

  • avatar

    While it may seem painfully obvious to some that folks buy CUV for “emotional appeal,” most buyers are women who prefer the higher seating position. Thats what seals the deal.

    • 0 avatar

      I never understood that. Personally, I think “high seating position” means “top heavy and about to tip over”.

    • 0 avatar

      I think the preference for high seating position probably has something to do with the fact that the average height of women in this country is 5′ 6″. To me, that seems short, and I’ll bet it does to five-and-a-half-foot tall women too. They like a chance to see over things.

    • 0 avatar

      This is true . . . my wife (explorer owner), refuses to switch to a hatchback or wagon because she likes the “feel” of being higher than most other cars. In reality, I notice driving around in my mazda that I’m actually lower than almost everything else on the road, which I don’t mind. But, it does “feel” unsafe at times. I think, “does that F250 see me down here?” “Is that Yukon going to run over me if it fails to see the stoplight?” It’s a little unsettling, but just a “feeling.”

      Given that, I think it’s more staying away from feeling lower than others than feeling higher.

      Then there’s the Van argument. To me, a van offers more features, user friendly space, and better ride quality than any SUV. But she won’t touch it b/c she’s too young and hot to be driving a van around. Well, that’s true. . .

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      5’6″ + high sedan beltlines = CUV buyer

  • avatar

    Hyundais keep getting better, but really this is just another small suv that will sell mostly on price.

  • avatar

    One more look alike CUV appliance to add to our crowded roardways.

    • 0 avatar

      Beats more H2s and Yukons driven by short women which will never go offroad. Accept the fact that CUVs/SAVs/ATVs/OPPs are here to stay and the Tuscon becomes more acceptable

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “This is true . . . my wife (explorer owner), refuses to switch to a hatchback or wagon because she likes the “feel” of being higher than most other cars.”

    It was my wife that wanted the Audi TT a few years back but by the time the lease was over it was me, not her that liked to drive it. She didn’t care for how low you sat in it. I never ever felt unsafe in that vehicle and my daily driver at the time(still is) was a 4WD GMC 2500HD crew cab PU.

  • avatar

    AWD, 4WD, Haldex this and that – for most people it makes no difference in everyday driving – they’re buying an image and what they think is better for snow and ice. As had been pointed out many places many times though, 4 driving wheels will accelerate you faster, but won’t let you stop any quicker.

    I checked this out at the Pittsburgh auto show, and thought it looked pretty good; the interior was as good a quality as the cloth upholstered Tiguan perched next door. Then I saw the interior of the new Sonata, and the Tucson suddenly looked aesthetically frugal.

    Somewhat sadly, this is what the market wants – isolated an unengaging machinery that meets an image. Case in point – the new SRX and CTS Wagon were right next to each other, and only the SRX had a crowd. As I was checking out the rear of the CTS Wagon a couple walked by and said “a Cadillac wagon, that’s weird.”

  • avatar

    I stopped by the showroom to check one of these out for the heck of it. What I saw prompts me to make some time to take one for a test drive.

  • avatar

    I think most people would buy the 2010 Tucson in front wheel drive, so it would be good to add EPA fuel economy figures for the FWD version to this article. They’re 23/31.

    I can’t help but think the 6-speed automatic transmission in the Tucson would shift smoother than the 4-speed auto in the Hyundai Elantra Touring also mentioned here. The Elantra’s mpg is rated at 23/30 with a much smaller engine.

  • avatar

    If the Elantra touring had the new 4 and AWD I’d be there tomorrow. But it doesn’t and this does. I guess giving the touring those two items would be too close for comfort.

  • avatar

    We test drove several CUVs this past weekend, for my wife. She is moving from a Golf MkIV.

    The Tucson was a good mix. Decent storage. Seat-down capacity was within a few cubic feet of Rogue and CX7. Nice option package. What really sealed it was the dynamite stereo and all its capability. It was just short of SYNC. And it did look really good in person. It was the only new CUV that we could afford with our desired options. Otherwise it has to be a used car. With that price/option conundrum, what really tips the scales is the warranty. You get Honda repair peace-of-mind at Chevy prices.

    The Mazda CX7 was nice, but without leather it’s a big thick sedan that doesn’t feel especially premium. The large center console is waste of space.

    The CRV was too firm. Even the loaded EX-L could not shake the minimalism. Everything felt a bit thin, especially compared to the VW. I really, really, wanted to like the CRV.

    RAV-4 was way too numb. Great rental car after a hard flight, but really bland.

    Escape was very dated in driving dynamics. Tippy. However, it was my favorite because it could tow. But this is not my car.

  • avatar

    I was driving my new loaded Diamond Silver 2010 Tucson Limited and I passed a brand new Mercedes GLK –Class SUV on the freeway and he sped up to check out my ride, he just kept looking and looking. I turn around and smiled, thinking what a fool, my car looks better, I’m getting better MPG’s and I paid about half the price. If you know anything about cars you have to like the looks and you can’t beat the warranty. Watch out Hyundai’s coming up big time…

    • 0 avatar

      until the Hyundai drops dead after 5 years and the Merc’s still cruising, assuming that both cars have been logbook serviced. In the meantime the merc has gone through one facelift/revision, whilst the Hyundai will be on it’s fourth new look/name/rehash.
      He’s probaly looking at you and slowly smiling to himself. Of course this only applies to other parts of the world where Mercedes build quality and service are still worth the money and Hyundai is still a cheap Korean car. Not in the States where Mercedes quality and build seems to be trying to compete with Detroit to see who can get to the bottom first.

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