By on April 28, 2010

Conventional SUVs are all but dead, yet interest in sedans has not been surging. Instead, car-based SUVs with some promise of respectable fuel economy are currently hot. So a redesigned, four-cylinder-only Hyundai Tucson could not arrive at a better time. But it’s a crowded field. Why buy this one?

Along with the new Sonata, the redesigned 2010 Tucson expresses Hyundai’s intent to offer cars that appeal to the emotions and not just the pocketbook. With tall bodysides, creased fender bulges, and a complex angularity that resembles some recent designs from Ford of Europe, the new Tucson isn’t exactly beautiful, but does possess a upscale dynamism missing from previous Hyundais and is at least not forgettable or boring. The half-size-larger Santa Fe appears bland in comparison. The new Tucson’s grille might be a bit overdone, but it works with the rest of the design and is tasteful compared to some others in the segment (e.g. Honda).

Hyundai’s newfound emphasis on styling continues inside the 2010 Tucson, with complex surfaces, shapes, and color combinations successfully melding on the instrument and door panels. Though you’d never guess it from my photos, materials are perhaps the best in the segment. The plastics are hard, but those you’re most likely to touch are coated with soft-touch paint. The seats in the tested GLS are a combination of leatherette and sportily textured cloth and the armrests are comfortably padded. Hyundai seems to have finally figured out that slick leather has no place on a steering wheel; the leather wrapped around the Tuscon’s wheel actually enhances one’s grip (imagine that). Nothing looks cheap and everything feels unusually solid—almost European.

Alas, the IP’s functionality leaves much to be desired. First off, the center stack’s cap and satin-finished surround are both highly reflective, and proved hard on the eyes (and camera lens) on sunny days. The rear defrost button isn’t grouped with the other HVAC controls. Instead it’s located where a keyless start button would normally be found, and likely is found in Tucson’s so optioned. The console-mounted grab handles look nifty, but are too far away to actually be used. On the other hand, the mirror controls fall readily to hand. In too many cars one must lean to operate them, which makes proper mirror adjustment unnecessarily tricky.

One ergonomic sin could prove deadly. The slope to the center stack combines with the control layout to place the audio system’s tuning knob so far away that it cannot safely be turned while driving. Note to car makers, many of which now commit this sin, if usually to a lesser extent: do not place the tuning knob on the right edge of the head unit unless said head unit is located close to the driver. Adding insult to injury: the satellite radio tuner takes a few seconds to go from one channel to the next. I’ve noticed that some satellite radio tuners do this as quickly as a conventional radio tuners, others not. The Hyundai’s falls in the “not” column.

Typical of the segment, you sit high, but not so high as to feel tippy. The windshield is neither overly upright nor overly laid back—no A-pillar windowlettes needed. The front seats are comfortable and, between their bolsters and cloth center panels provide better-than-average lateral support. The Tucson might be Hyundai’s smallest crossover based on exterior dimensions, but it provides more rear legroom than the next-up Santa Fe. The rear seat could be a little higher for optimum thigh support, but comfort is generally good. Missing from the previous generation: a front passenger seat that folds forward to further extend the cargo floor—I’ve found this feature to be very handy in one of my cars—and a manual recline adjustment for the rear seat.

Why buy the Santa Fe if the Tucson has more distinctive styling and more rear legroom? Two possible reasons, now that a third-row seat is no longer offered in the larger SUV. The first: cargo volume. The Tucson is about ten inches shorter than the Santa Fe, and much of the dimensional difference is aft of the second row. There’s still a fair amount of cargo room in the Tucson, but some people will need more.

The second possible reason: the Tucson is only available with a 176-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder, at least so far. While more powerful than the 2009 Tucson’s optional 2.7-liter V6, for 2010 the Santa offers a 276-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. If you want to race a Hyundai for pink slips in the SUV class, the Santa Fe V6 is clearly the better choice.

That said, the new four performs unexpectedly well in the new Tucson. It no doubt helps that, at 3,382 pounds even with all-wheel-drive, the Tucson weighs a quarter-ton less than the Santa Fe and Sorento. Even saddled with all-wheel-drive the four-cylinder engine never feels weak, and it can feel downright frisky on a curvy road when using the six-speed automatic transmission’s manual shift to keep the revs up. A six-speed manual transmission is also offered, but only with front-wheel-drive. The engine feels smooth throughout its range and is quiet up to 5,000 rpm. The noises it does make aren’t bad for a four. Unlike in the Kia Sorento (a close relative of the Santa Fe), I didn’t feel a strong need for a V6–though a turbocharged and/or direct-injected version of the four wouldn’t be unwelcome.

The automatic transmission was designed by Hyundai, offers a good choice of ratios (the four-cylinder engine would be less impressive otherwise), and avoids hunting among them. In other ways, it’s a typical fuel-economy-minded automatic. Shifts when using the manual shift aren’t immediate, and the transmission programming lugs the engine when driving in the 40-50 MPH range.

Fuel economy is better than I observed in the Sorento, again probably because of its relatively low curb weight. In typical around town driving, the trip computer reported 21.5 miles-per-gallon. Pressing the “eco” button added perhaps one MPG, with a minor impact on driveability. Aggressive driving reduces the reported miles-per-gallon to about 18.5. The EPA ratings suggest that a front-wheel-drive Tucson would do a couple MPG better.

An even bigger surprise than the performance of the four-cylinder engine: the new Tucson’s chassis tuning. Korea’s roads must not be the best, since Hyundai’s have traditionally been softly sprung. Not this one. The Tucson’s chassis tuning feels German more than anything else, with a very taut feel. A solid-feeling body structure assists. The downside of this tuning: in casual driving the ride can feel annoyingly nervous, and even modest bumps elicit thumps. The upside: driven aggressively on a curvy road, the Tucson is actually fun. Sure, with a high center of gravity and nose-heavy weight distribution it feels tall and understeers, but the chassis feels tight and precise. If only the somewhat heavy steering provided some feel of the road, the Tucson could well be the enthusiast’s choice in this segment.

Either because higher cost mean they must or simply because they can, Hyundai isn’t offering the Tucson at a bargain price. The 2010 starts at $19,790. Add the automatic, all-wheel-drive, the Popular Equipment Package (cruise, alloys, other things most buyers will want), and nav, as on the test vehicle, and you’re suddenly looking at $25,990. Which sounds high for a car without leather, sunroof, or power driver seat, but just about anything comparable is higher. Just not as much higher as it would have been in past years. Honda only offers nav with the CR-V on the EX-L. Lose the nav and compare the Tucson GLS to the CR-V EX, and the Korean SUV lists for $1,815 less. A good chunk of the difference is in dealer margins, though. Compare invoices, which more closely reflect what you’ll actually pay, and the difference is about $1,100. A Toyota RAV4 runs a few hundred higher than the CR-V. Like the Santa Fe, both the CR-V and the RAV4 offer substantially more cargo room than the Tucson. Otherwise they’re closely matched.

The Hyundai Tucson is surprisingly good in some key areas, especially styling, four-cylinder powertrain performance, interior materials, and handling. It’s already worth consideration by anyone shopping for a vehicle in this segment. But there are nevertheless some shortcomings. One of these, class-trailing cargo volume, cannot be fixed without a complete redesign, and unless the Santa Fe grows there’s little need to fix it. Others Hyundai could and should work to improve. Make the steering as good as the rest of the chassis and redesign the center stack, and the new Tucson would be a clear winner. Add the turbocharged four that’s been announced for the Sonata midsize sedan, and even driving enthusiasts who desire the packaging of an SUV (they’re alleged to exist) would flock to Hyundai showrooms.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of auto reliability and pricing data

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48 Comments on “Review: 2010 Hyundai Tucson Take Two...”

  • avatar

    Quite a few friends have Tucsons and Santa Fes here in Colorado and Vermont. Pretty nice vehicles IMO. I’d consider one if AWD versions were available with manual transmissions.


  • avatar

    i would like a small cuv but i doubt it would pull my utility trailer. what can you tell us about the awd system on the tucson? is it 100% fwd unless there is wheel slippage? how about a button to lock in the rear wheels?

  • avatar

    *** Nothing looks cheap and everything feels unusually solid—almost European.***

    thank the european (german IIRC) designers. no one does interiors better than europeans and kudos to hyundai for figuring that out.

    now if only the big 2.5 could import some more europeans as interior designers.

  • avatar

    I will hold off awaiting a vehicle whose styling is based upon the mobius strip.

  • avatar

    One note on the price: other reviewers who tested this same vehicle have been stating that the price is $24,390 rather than $26,090 (I didn’t include the $100 floormats in the above price) because the window sticker Hyundai supplies with the vehicle doesn’t have the $1,700 Popular Equipment Package on it. You do need this package to get nav, and the tested vehicle has it. Oops.

    I would of course like to have reliability stats as soon as possible. So if you know anyone who has bought a new Tucson, please send them here:

  • avatar

    “Along with the new Sonata, the redesigned 2010 Tucson expresses Hyundai’s intent to offer cars with enormous, stretchy headlights.”

    • 0 avatar

      Other makers, especially Toyota and Nissan, are well ahead of them on this one.

    • 0 avatar

      Mazda and Ford (mainly via the horrifying Fiesta) are in the game too.

      It’s kind of funny how stylists follow each other around like puppy dogs… I have a feeling that we’re going to end up looking back on the absurd stretchy headlight thing the same way we see the tailfin thing now.

      At least, I hope so.

    • 0 avatar

      The rear window came off the old Ford Focus.
      And most of the sides of the car were ripped from Seat.

      Google “Citroen C1” and “Peugeot 107”: The headlights almost touch the windscreen. I hope that is a sign that the trend has peaked. Most of the headlight is just chromed plastic, designed to cost you and arm and a leg if it cracks – which a piece of plastic that size eventually will.

    • 0 avatar

      Hyundai has been doing the stretched headlights-thing on their concepts since 2005-6 w/ the HED-2 and HED-3.

      The Fiesta’s headlights are a bit reminscent of the HED-2’s.

      As for the rear window panel, it shares the shape w/ the outgoing Elantra.

  • avatar

    Kudos to Hyundai on the floor-mounted accelerator pedal; I suppose Hyundai is trying to proactively reduce the incidence of floor-mat-induced unintended acceleration.

    Overall, I’m truly impressed at how far Hyundai has come with their interiors. But to echo Michael’s note on the awkwardly-placed rear window defroster button: if this were equipped with keyless ignition, I assume the button would move to the blank to the right of the climate controls. That would appear to be even more of a reach than the tuning knob on the radio as well as likely being angled toward the passenger so as to make the indicator lamp barely visible.

    • 0 avatar

      Kudos to Hyundai on the floor-mounted accelerator pedal; I suppose Hyundai is trying to proactively reduce the incidence of floor-mat-induced unintended acceleration.

      If the floor mat clips give way and the mat slides up and over the pedal, you might see a SUA claim or two.

  • avatar

    Why isn’t the 2.4L/6A combo offered on the Rondo, Soul, Forte, and (especially) the Elantra Touring?

    • 0 avatar

      Slap it in the highly profitable ones first, since each new powertrain has to undergo various recertifications. Also, I’d be shocked if they updated the Rondo, even though it is one of the best rental cars I’ve had in recent memory.

  • avatar

    The curb weight, if correct, is amazing for this segment.

    Honda’s base CR-V FWD weighs 3386 lbs. 3382 lbs for an AWD model is quite good. Interesting to see the EPA numbers.

    • 0 avatar

      Remember when the Koreans were criticized for making flimsy feeling cars. Their response, vehicles like the Kia Sedona which was criticized for being the heaviest vehicle in it’s class. Maybe the Korean companies have figured out how to add solidness without adding curb weight?

    • 0 avatar

      Hyundai and Kia seem to have vastly improved in a number of key areas in just the last 2-3 years:

      –curb weight without compromising structure

      –horsepower per liter

      –fuel economy


    • 0 avatar

      The Sedona was massively overweight for various reasons like a full size spare tire enclosed in a steel cage, and various suspension components that could have been replaced with lighter weight pieces were not. It’s all a matter of cost I suppose, and at least Sedonas haven’t started losing their spare tires. ;)

    • 0 avatar

      Hyundai’s following a logical progression:

      1) Slap your name on others’ products (first-gen Excel)
      2) Build your own, and build ’em light (Accent)
      3) Gradually improve build quality through added weight (Every Hyundai built from 1998-2008)
      4) Learn how to do quality and lightweight at the same time (present day)

      That Hyundai has reached this point in just a bit over 20 years is astounding… but not as astonishing as the fact other automakers with significantly longer histories (cough, Government Motors) seem stuck on step 3.

    • 0 avatar


      Careful now, to some UAW workers, dems is fighting words!

    • 0 avatar

      Much of the weight reduction is due to the use of high-tensile strength steel throughout the chassis and bodywork – Hyundai can do this effectively w/ regard to price since they have a steel mill which specializes in producing high-tensile strength steel.

      Other weight savings were found in the new 6 spd AT, etc.

  • avatar

    My wife and I looked at the Tucson in February. We did not notice the ergonomic issues mentioned in this review, but definitely did notice the quality materials and the overall solid feel. We both really liked it but ended up with a Subaru Forester since the Subie had better rear seat and cargo room and a more compliant ride (not to mention the Hyundai dealer was marking these up where the Subaru dealer was selling below invoice).

    One thing that surprised us is that we could fit a child seat behind the driver/passenger seats (with them adjusted for my 6’2″ frame) in the Tucson but not in the Santa Fe. The latter definitely has more cargo room than the Tucson but also vastly inferior handing.

  • avatar

    The manual transmission is only available in the stripper model – not even any option packages available with the m/t – which makes me wonder why they even bothered.

  • avatar

    Front wheel drive? Why does anyone making an SUV/crossover bother making a front wheel drive version? I always thought the rationale for these kind of vehicles was to be a ‘all wheel drive station wagon’.

    Other than the obvious – EPA figures, of course.

    • 0 avatar

      These things are just contemporary station wagons. There’s nothing wrong with that of course but that means that it’s nice to keep the AWD optional so that people who don’t want or need it don’t have to pay for it. Regardless what Subaru would have you believe, most people just don’t need AWD for the vast majority of their driving.

    • 0 avatar

      The extra MPG from not having AWD is a big plus. Also, not paying for something you don’t need, like when driving in Texas and other southern states, makes a big difference as well. I even took my FWD CUV on a ski trip and had no problems going up and down the mountain. I would think that most CUVs do not need AWD. A 2 mpg penalty on the highway can be significant especially in the larger CUVs.

  • avatar

    This vehicle along with many others makes me really miss the option to get an upgraded suspension. How many folks drive these things at the limit and really need European handling? About say 3-5%. The rest of us have to live with hard punishing suspensions on roads that are in less than good condition. And having a hard suspension is something you can’t turn off or opt out of on many of todays rides. I would like to see either a return to adjustable suspensions or have the option of a smooth ride or performance suspension option in todays vehicles. The trucks seem to have this nailed well. Why not the new smaller cutes utes such as this? The same can be said about many of todays seats. They seem to be getting harder and harder, firmer and firmer to the point where my backside is screaming in agony after a 3 hour ride in many of todays rentals. My boss’s new Rav 4 is a perfect example. She likens the seats to sitting on a stone. Her husband bought it for her for a gift and she never got a chance to test it out beforehand so now she is stuck with something she can’t stand to drive for more than an hour!

  • avatar

    I guess the reason for front-wheel drive versions is b/c many buyers of these small CUV’s just want a regular car (non truck) where they can sit up high and have more cargo room than in a sedan. I don’t think the AWD aspect of these cars is the major selling point. To me the FWD versions are just raised hatchbacks with worse MPG. My guess is that the AWD system in these front-wheel drive car-based CUV’s isn’t really that great anyway.

    • 0 avatar

      Sure, except that the FWD Tuscon in this case, gets better mileage (both city, and highway) than:

      1. VW Golf
      2. Suzuki SX4
      3. Scion XB
      4. All but the base model Toyota Matrix
      5. Subaru Impreza (though it only comes in AWD form)
      6. Mazda3 5-door
      7. Mistubishi Lancer Sportback

      I’d say that other manufacturers should take a good look at what Hyundai’s done to keep the weight on the new Tuscon and Sonata so low relative to other vehicles in their class. I think this factor alone helps the mileage. My understanding is that their new 6-speed automatic is actually pretty good as well.

    • 0 avatar

      My soon to be MIL bought one (a Torrent) cause she wanted to sit up higher than her G6. She bought a FWD version because she didn’t want the mileage penalty. She then was disapointed when she had trouble getting down snowy roads this winter but at least she agreed with us when we said, “Snow Tires.”

    • 0 avatar

      I bet the snow tires would fix her problems and she still wouldn’t need AWD. For many places in the winter, no AWD systems are needed.

    • 0 avatar

      i live in a snowy and relatively hilly area and bridgestone blizzaks turn my fwd car into a solid and predictable performer in the winter. i do have a 4wd truck but i’d say i need to use the 4wd maybe two or three days a year.

  • avatar

    In Australia (and possibly the rest of the world) the Tuscon, now known as the ix35, is available with 2.0l cdi with AWD. The Elite spec cdi is aus$3,000 more expensive. The elite petrol (gas) 2.4 AWD is $31,990 and the cdi is 34,990.00

  • avatar

    Just bought one, front-wheel-drive in white with no nav, for $22090.

    The tuning knob is my biggest complaint. Steering wheel controls solve most of that issue. The satellite stations change immediately, with no lag in my non-nav radio. I get zero glare from the painted plastic silver pieces. Some reflection in the window, yes.

    Handling feel is shockingly good. I also have a Miata, and I am impressed with the staid manner in which the suspension handles undulating surfaces. My Miata has a memory shudder, but the Tucson is as stoic as my old MKIV Golf. Spring rates are a bit stiff. Steering effort at highway speeds is way too high, however. Driving on a crowned road for any distance ia quite fatiguing.

    Towing capacity is listed as 1200 pounds with about 200 pounds tongue weight. Enough to bring home an appliance, a load of dry mulch, or some drywall. In sum, it accomlishes my mission of not paying to have most things delivered. Curt makes a $120 hitch and the Tucson is pre-drilled and tapped to accept it.

    Storage cubbies are not as numerous as the CRV. I prefer the Honda approach of standard-DIN stereos tucked into tidy consoles. This leaves lots of cubbies. The Tucson, on the other hand, is just average.

    Seats are very, very nice. No complaints, although I like a bit extreme of a bucket feeling. One awesome touch is the inclusion of adjustable, active headrests. They deploy forward when you are pushed into the seat during an accident. In many other cars, including the CX-7, the headrests are not active and must be severly angled forward all the time.

    Most of what you touch feels very premium. Other materials, like the headliner and inside surfaces of the cubbies, are bottom-of-the-barrel econobox. The steering wheel is nice and chunky. In taupe interiors, the leather is a rich blood-brown. The Bluetooth microphone is very good.

    The engine compartment is hideous. No money was spent here, and I suppose that’s OK. There will be a more engines in the next few years. I want nothing more than the perfect 4-cyl already in there. Power is adequate and merging is no problem.

  • avatar

    Nice review, Michael — one question – how was the leg room, and did the console “grab handle” intrude on leg space? (I’m 6’4″, and the Tucson is interesting me). Thanks!

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not the best person to answer this question. I’m only 5’9″, with relatively short legs. Even though I put my seat about as far back as the typical 6-foot driver, 99.99% of cars have plenty of legroom for me.

      Those grab handles certainly won’t intrude, though. They’re purely aesthetic.

  • avatar

    I honestly do not understand Hyundais choice with the suspension here. I know as a car fanatic I am supposed to be all “YAY, stiff suspension and fun in the corners!” but realistically stiff suspension turns annoying quickly. As a Mazda 3 owner, it would be the thing that would keep me from coming back to the car/brand. Yes, its good for the 2% of the time I spend in my cornering. But its punishing almost all the rest of the time I am in it.

    But while stiffer suspension on a little, low, well-rubbered hatchback makes some sense, it doesn’t make ANY sense to me on an SUV. People buy these cars because they can do a lot of things fairly well: haul things, people, clear snow (and curbs) and get reasonably good fuel economy. I don’t know anyone who owns an mini-ute for its fun driving characteristics. If anything, people want the refined manners a sedan or larger SUV would give them. Anyway, for that alone, the new Tuscon gets tossed off my list. The Santa Fe stays on.

  • avatar

    I visited a Hyundai dealer yesterday, and sat in a 2010 Tucson – guess what? — despite the extra leg room over my Elantra (I’d agree with Consumer Reports, who lists the driver’s legroom as 40″ for the Elantra, 42.5″ for the Tucson), the “Grab Handle” rubs against my right leg, though below the knee, it was noticeable. I also tried the new Sonata, and (even with the power seat all of the way back, and the seat cushion tilted up in front and down in back) the center console rubbed against my right knee, right at that knobby bone that sticks out. Very confining, and annoying.
    The Tucson could be fixed, but (for me) it would involve sawing out the “grab handle” on the driver’s side to allow my leg to splay out a bit and become supported by the seat cushion. The Sonata? Maybe not – that “surgery” would be ugly.

    It’s an irritating trend that cars are offering decent legroom (on paper), and then confining legs in a “tunnel” that allows no movement, thus rendering the extra legroom useless. The Sonata would need 45″ of legroom for me to be able to have some seat cushion under my leg to avoid resting it on the console – oy vey.

    I’m 6’4″, with a 35″ inseam, so I’m probably in the 95th percentile, but I’ll bet I’m among the increasing number of people annoyed by confining center consoles. I hope I don’t have to settle for an Impala with a bench seat :-(

    • 0 avatar

      I’m 6’2″ with a 34″ inseam. I notice the same thing too. Although I think the solution, at least for me, would be seats that have a longer bottom cushion, and more leg bolstering, so you don’t have to splay your legs, the seat will hold them up. Even the best OEM seats with good upper bolstering don’t have much for the legs.

      It was a real treat when I had my SRT-4 with the “Viper Seats” which had a very long bottom cushion and big leg bolsters so I could relax my legs. The uppoer portion of the seat was a bit confining for long trips though.

      In most cars I have always relied on power seats that can be tilted back to take up my leg length.

  • avatar


    I was just wondering, after almost 5 years since writing this article, how do you feel about the Tucson, or even the similar Kia Sportage? Just wondering if in the years following the reviews you ever had a chance to drive newer model years (’14/15) to see if any improvements had been made to criticisms or if any new issues have been uncovered? I’m in the market for a smaller, affordable, economical crossover that isn’t going to break after a couple years of use. My significant other has a ’13 Ford Escape 2.0l turbo Awd, that has had a few minor(ish) issues (most recently a section of the wiring harness was replaced, which I find just crazy). A family member also has a ’13 Escape, smaller turbo (1.6l maybe?) also awd, and has had about half a dozen recalls and a transmission replaced, both are relatively low mileage vehicles (10-12k/yr). Any suggestions on a next vehicle for me would be greatly appreciated and open-mindedly considered.

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