• Dec 11th 2009 at 11:57AM
  • 77
2010 Hyundai Tucson – Click above for high-res image gallery

Little more than ten years ago, the meat and potatoes of the automotive universe were C and D segment sedans. Think Corolla and Camry; Focus, Fusion and (old) Taurus; Civic and Accord. But then, for better or for worse, something significant shifted in that old sales paradigm. Specifically, crossovers. Also known as CUVs, the overgrown wagons still ride around on C and D platforms, only a foot higher off the ground. Why? Blame the SUV craze and/or what automakers refer to as the "command seating position," an odd euphemism for sitting up high.

A momentary flirtation with $4 per gallon gasoline has – for the most part – shut down the large SUV game. But for whatever reason, consumers still want and demand command seating, so much so that Hyundai believes the compact CUV segment will experience more growth than any other niche in the market. Hyundai knows this specialized segment well, as the outgoing Tucson – the Korean brand's previous generation small CUV – has sold more than one million copies. However, the Tucson has been around since 2005, and to put it nicely, the old Tucson wasn't exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. And this is a gun fight. Knowing that, Hyundai has just rolled out its newest car, the 2010 Tucson. But is it a killer?

Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

Judging by nothing except the flowing new sheetmetal, we'd argue yes. Hyundai has banned boxy from its styling lexicon and is calling its design language of both the new Tucson and the coming-in-January Sonata "Fluidic Sculpture." The name is so contrived that Hyundai's affable President and CEO John Krafcik apologized for the art school jargon during the Tucson's introduction. But silly name notwithstanding, the results are noteworthy, if not striking. The central idea is that, "the line flows around the vehicle." As opposed to say one box grafted onto a larger box. Like the old Tucson.

Hyundai is actively seeking to establish an emotional connection with its customers. Something that, no matter how you slice it, the previous Tucson could never do. And really, most older Hyundais. No one's every been turned on by inoffensive and generic. Fluidic sculpture on the other hand, is anything but. The new curves have the potential to attract some while turning off others. That's a good thing. The best view of the Tucson is the front three-quarters where, starting with the fancy wrap-around headlamps, you can see the thrust of the design's flow and how winds its way around the car.

The sloping hood and highly raked windshield, combined with the grille, comes off as distinctive yet pleasantly restrained – especially in this era of giant, gaping maws. And while there's a little bit of an insect face to the front end, it's used to good effect. Our least favorite angles are from the side. Not only is there too much Buick Enclave going on, but the black plastic chunks below the doors look like the afterthoughts they are. The rear end is pretty simply okay, though it does resemble a Subaru Tribeca. Just a smidge. Besides, SUVs and CUVs never look great from behind. We should point out that the rear spoiler is standard – not because it looks good (it does), but because it aids fuel economy. Overall though, the new Tucson looks several orders of magnitude better than the old one. And much of its competition.

Like the bodywork, the innards of the Tuscon have received a thorough makeover. The outgoing model had all the inner charm and sophistication of a 2005 Hyundai. The new car (obviously) raises the game, but those looking for a lot of trickle down from the Genesis are advised to keep looking. Though we can reasonably compare the Tucson's innards to a Genesis Coupe, it might be damning with faint praise. Not only is there plenty of ticky tack plastic covering wide expanses (something that probably only bothers us nit picky journalist types), but you're forced to touch some of it. Specifically your elbows and knees. As the driver, your left elbow rests on a surprisingly thin piece of faux-leather covering up some rock hard plastic. After an hour, it's both noticeable and uncomfortable. And while the center stack's design is refreshing, it's bordering into Honda's weird territory of organic shapes and spread out buttons.

The 2010 Tucson comes in two flavors, GLS (standard) and Limited (premium). We tested the Limited, which adds a good deal of content to the Tucson's interior. Namely a 6.5-inch navigation screen, leather seats and Hyundai's first "panoramic" sunroof, which is a fancy way of saying two panes (though only one opens). Hats off to Hyundai for nice, comfy leather seats. You can get leather in practically any vehicle these days, but the quality is often times closer to dorm couch than anything resembling luxury. The Tucson not only uses a high grade of leather, but goes the extra step and furnishes the seats with two types of leather. A rougher, stickier grade for your thighs and shoulders, and a smoother, more butter-like surface for your butt and back. An unnecessary step perhaps, but a good one that pays dividends during the drive. The rear seats might even be better than those in the front, reminding us of the Infiniti FX's rear quarters – a compliment, to be sure. Thanks to a three-inch overall stretch versus the previous Tucson, rear passenger leg room is good, even for six footers.

At 6.5-inches big, the nav screen is only one and half inches larger than modern smartphones. Meaning it's difficult to clearly see streets and, frankly, just too small. However, when displaying the contents of your iPod (or similar), the touch screen works exceptionally well and the iPod integration is worlds better than the last generation Hyundai software we experienced in the big dog Genesis. Speaking of MP3s, those who opt for the navigation package get treated to a sweet sounding 360-watt stereo system that takes iPod, Aux or USB. The nav system also includes a back up camera, a first for the segment. Overall, the Tucson's interior is a big improvement over the last generation, but constrained by the reality of the vehicle's $18,995 starting price. As such, a completely tricked out Tucson Limited with every option including all-wheel drive will set you back $28,695.

The new Tucson is motivated by Hyundai's Theta II 2.4-liter I4. The power numbers are class-competitive, but nothing to phone home about – 176 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 168 pound-feet of torque at 6,000 rpm. For comparisons sake, the 2010 Honda CR-V produces 180 hp and the 2010 Toyota RAV4 generates 179 hp and 172 lb-ft or twist. However, there are a few howevers. The big one being gas mileage. Hyundai is serious about becoming the "global fuel economy leader," and as such has bent over backwards to ensure the new Tucson gets more MPGs than the competition. Despite every emotion in our being shouting "WRONG!" at the top of our lungs, higher mileage is probably more important than beating a CR-V in a drag race. Those wanting to beat up on a CR-V (or even the mighty 269-hp V6 RAV4) will have to wait until 2011 when a turbocharged version of the Theta II finds its way into the Tucson. Curiously, Hyundai elected not to put the Theta II GDI (gasoline direct injection) motor from the upcoming Sonata into the Tucson (reason: cost benefit of having just one motor), though we were told that mill will eventually be offered.

Equipped with the optional six-speed automatic (a six-speed manual is standard) and front-wheel drive, the 2010 Tucson delivers 23 mile per gallon in the city and 31 on the highway. None of its class competitors can even claim 30 mpg on the highway, let alone 31 (the larger 2010 Chevrolet Equinox claims a freakishly high 32 mpg highway, but Hyundai doesn't consider the two vehicles in the same class). In a suddenly mileage conscious America, this is a big selling point.

Also of note is Hyundai's new six-speed autobox, which it developed and built in-house. Hyundai claims to be one of exactly three automakers in the world that builds its own six-speed automatic transmission, no doubt at a huge expense. Why invest that kind of coin in R&D? Because Hyundai's new transmission is 24 percent lighter than the old five-speed auto, has 62 fewer parts and gets 12 percent better mileage, all of which allows the Tucson to achieve its class-leading fuel economy. Remember, Hyundai is in the volume game, and once that initial cost is amortized out across a few million vehicles (you can rest assured that this transmission will appear in many other models), the money will have been well spent.

Hyundai turned us loose on some of our favorite Los Angeles canyon roads (Kanan, Latigo, Decker). Our initial thought was that such winding, treacherous asphalt might be wasted on a compact CUV. We were half right. On the plus side, the Tucson feels (and is) remarkably stiff, especially for a little crossover. Due to higher federal roll over standards, Hyundai was forced to use higher strength steel for the unibody, resulting in a tight, vibration and body-movement free vehicle.

Hyundai also put MacPherson struts in front and a sporty multi-link setup out back, just like you'd find on a whole host of higher-end performance cars (the BMW 3 Series, for instance). There's a also a thicker – but hollow, to save weight – front sway bar. The Tucson is light for a CUV – 3,331 pounds in Limited FWD Auto trim and just 3,179 as a manual GLS. As a result, the Tucson can carry a great deal more speed than you'd think into, through and out of a turn. The body also stays flat – some might say weirdly flat – through corners. Seriously, there's almost no body roll. Interestingly, there doesn't seem to be a penalty for all that stiffness in terms of ride quality, though the Tucson is on the more rigid side of the suspension aisle. Will the majority of Tucson buyers appreciate the trucklette's newfound athletic prowess? We'd wager not.

Obviously, the Tucson is not a Lotus Elise. And every reason why it's not (besides the blatantly obvious) is tied into Hyundai's quest for higher fuel economy. For instance, like the new Ford Taurus, the Tucson features electronic power steering. You can just go ahead and get used to this in most new vehicles, Hyundai or otherwise. Hyundai claims e-power steering adds three percent to a vehicle's MPG rating, and while the steering isn't bad, it's just different than a traditional hydraulic setup. How? It takes more effort to "crack" the wheel out of its on center position, meaning you initially have to put more muscle into turning the wheel and find yourself turning a degree or two more than you intended, especially at higher speeds. However, we got used to the sensation fairly quickly. We should also state that like with most new technologies in cars, the feel of electronic power steering will improve over time. In fact, Hyundai's toying with the idea of letting drivers select the amount of assist they want, though that's still further down the line.

Then there's the issue of visibility. Keep in mind that almost every aspect of the Tucson was done for fuel economy reasons – including the extreme rake of the windshield. Forward visibility is great, especially as the hood drops off so precipitously. Turning right isn't an issue either. However, when you're making a hard left, the A-pillar almost completely blocks your line of sight. It's not as bad as the new Camaro, but it's still an annoyance. We also found that during really sporty driving there's a dead spot in between second and third gear. Second leaves you too close to redline to be smooth and third leaves you torqueless. Yes, we're aware that 99 percent of Tucson buyers could care less. And we're not sure we care, either. Despite what BMW believes, no one buys a small CUV to carve canyons.

While not our first choice in performance machines, the 2010 Hyundai Tucson might in fact be our first choice if we needed a small crossover. There's little doubt that Hyundai's bringing forth the right vehicle at the right time. Its competition is not only getting long in the tooth, but all the segment stalwarts were designed prior to the recent spike in gas prices, meaning that fuel economy wasn't their overriding design concern. But it was Hyundai's. It even included a little green "Eco Indicator" light that shows up when you're driving in a fuel-friendly manner. Hyundai claims that paying attention to the light can increase mileage by 15 percent. We personally found it distracting and were happy to learn we can shut it off. Those foibles aside, we know there are a lot of folks who will appreciate the Eco light and the fact that Hyundai was just named the most fuel efficient automaker in the U.S. And even more will appreciate the combination of style, value, versatility and fun that comprises the new Tucson.

Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      I was told by a Dealer that you can't convert the Tucson to natural gas due to the head? Is that correct?
      • 5 Years Ago
      They should put their new 2.4l DI in this.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Its just that hyundai has come so far in this industry. But what really sets me off is when people, more AB than commenter, say that the new hyundai looks like this or the new hyundai looks like that. These days almost all companies follow a trend. A curvy and fluid theme in the car industry has been famous and has been approved by the consumers, so sometimes many time cars take the same trait. Just because Hyundai might of copied other cars in the past doesnt mean that they copy cars now. Hyundai/ Kia have hired some very famous designers from all over the world to re design their cars and all of them look great. So, AB, please dont make false assumptions.
        • 5 Years Ago
        They all look great? The Elantra? Don't make false assumptions.
        • 5 Years Ago
        lol buddy what do u expect from a economic car. and it is still the same design from when hyundai first started to change. so stfu little boy and dont waste my time...
      • 5 Years Ago
      Dear GM,

      Please note - it does not take 8 years of showing a non running prototype to get a car to market.


        • 5 Years Ago
        I don't get the point you're trying to make.

        At all.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Note: The fact that people are comparing Chevy (GM) and Hyundai over who is the segment leader in engineering, fuel economy, and interior design is a big deal on its own. Both have churned out (almost) nothing but stellar product in the last 3 years, and it is beginning to show.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @Bomb-omb: I agree with you that Tucson will likely be more enjoyable to drive due to the lighter weight. I was just impressed that despite the heavier curb weight, the Equinox is able to pull off those mpg and power figures.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I mean I understand vehicles like the Camaro and Volt in relation to what you're talking about, but 8 years? What vehicle are you talking about?

        I don't work for GM, I'm reluctant enough as it is to even pay my GM car lease and I've been a constant critic of the bailout and its outcome.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The Equinox specs are certainly very good, but the Tucson should be noticeably quicker as it's smaller and much more aerodynamic. The real-world/EPA numbers are rarely in line, anyway.

        I'm just stunned to hear this thing has virtually no body lean. That was the biggest issue with the old Tucson. It's a shame the interior does look kinda plasticy, though. So I guess this is basically a complete 180 from the current Tucson. Interesting...
        • 5 Years Ago
        The Equinox specs are impressive considering it's a heavier car.

        2010 Tucson:
        176hp/168lbft; 23cty/30(31)hwy (3203 lbs)

        2010 Equinox:
        182hp/172lbft; 22cty/32hwy (3770 lbs)
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'm in the market for such a vehicle. I was set on getting an Equinox, but I will have to test drive this when it comes out (time frame?). Since I can get supplier pricing on the Equinox so perhaps cost becomes less of an issue. I think space/comfort will ultimately be the deciding factor.
      • 5 Years Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      Why do designers all do the same rear side glass and massive blind spots?
        • 5 Years Ago
        so we can get into more accidents and than be forced to buy another death trap.. lol just what i think, but im pretty sure it is because people care more about design than practicality these days.
      • 5 Years Ago
      "99 percent of Tucson buyers could care less." ?? In whose mind did it really make sense that could care less = couldn't care less? I hear it all the time and it drives me crazy!! plus it completely ruins that phrase for the people that want to use it correctly because the meaning has been turned into its opposite by people commonly using it where they mean something different. Other than that the CUV looks great and it's hard to choose between this and the Equinox.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Great review, and wow, no body roll? I guess Hyundai is getting their suspension tuning right. I like this.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Love the banter. I also was ready to buy an Equinox thinking Chevy had finally come out with the right product at the right time. After a test drive I found three deal breakers.

      1. Front end visibility. My second car is a Vibe. The views are 180 degrees apart. Vibe-Hard to even see the hood. Equinox-Nothing but hood. If I wanted a truck I would buy one. From what I read the Tucson is a better choice for me.
      2. Front passenger seating. When you sit in the passenger seat of an Equinox you feel like you are sitting in a hole. On a car that can be poshed out at over $30,000 I can't believe you can't a passenger seat that can be raised. The locked low seating position coupled with the massive front hood was a total turnoff for my 5ft tall wife. Haven't driven the Tucson, any input on passenger visibility would be appreciated.
      3. Enough about my wife. Here is the real deal breaker for me. My Vibe has a horizontal span of 41 inches in the back when the seats are up. Just right to lay my golf clubs across the back. O.K. I do remove my driver from the bag and lay it across seperately. Imagine my surprise when I measured the Equinox and found out because of their massive wheel wells the span is only 38 inches. Clubs won't fit. Haven't seen this measurement on the Tucson. Any input out there.

      Who cares about 1 or 2 mpg when your clubs won't fit and your wife has to sit on a phone book to see out the front. Equinox, you came very close. Jury is still out on the Tucson. I have my fingers crossed.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I love it. I'm not an SUV or cross-over kind of guy, I like small cars, but I would buy it.
      It has sculpted lines, but it's not too swoopy. I think the interior is neither too plain or too gaudy, tastefully laid-out, and the reddish-brown leather is attractive. Better than any of it's potential competitors in my book, which, generally speaking, look like lumbering cartons on wheels.
      • 5 Years Ago
      People like the taller stance of CUV's because of better visibility and easier entry/egress. Why is that so hard to understand? I traded an SUV for a sedan because of gas mileage a few years back but when I replace it, I'll probably get some sort of CUV for the reasons I mentioned now that they get decent mileage. Also, there's a wider selection of AWD models available which is something I'll be looking for.

      Wagon fans smugly look down their noses at CUV's as being more wasteful even though they're really no less efficient while not batting an eye when someone opts for the larger, more powerful engine in a sedan or wagon.
        • 5 Years Ago
        My thesis? A little rigid there. It was a simple, short comment on a blog. If you want to split hairs, then yes, I should have said "barely any less efficient" instead of "no less effiecient" but I was speaking in broad terms.

        I find it odd that you seem to think I'm somehow threatened by wagon drivers. It's just that they're usually the most vocal and arrogant critics of CUVs and SUVs and I think you might be proving my point. I simply attempted to explain to the author, who seems at a loss at why anyone would drive a CUV or prefer a higher seating position, why they do. As a wagon driver, you obviously took that as a personal attack and got defensive.
        • 5 Years Ago
        You're getting pretty apples and oranges. that VW engine is a joke.

        Here's some (perhaps) more comparable examples:
        Cadillac CTS wagon 3.0L AWD:
        Cadillac SRX CUV 3.0L AWD:

        VW Passat wagon 2.0T (FWD, no AWD variant avail):
        VW Tiguan CUV 2.0T (automatic FWD, to match the Passat):

        Impreza AWD 2.5L NA:
        Forester AWD 2.5L NA: (it's on the same platform)

        BMW 328i Sport wagon 3.0L auto AWD:
        BMW X3 auto AWD:

        BMW 535i Sport wagon 3.0L turbo auto AWD:
        BMW X5 3.0L NA auto AWD:

        I can't find a direct comparison in M-B, they don't make a C wagon here, and the GLK is based upon a C chassis. Maybe an E versus an ML? Not quite the same, but...

        M-B E350 3.5L AWD wagon:
        M-B ML350 3.5L AWD SUV:

        maybe a C sedan versus GLK non-AWD?
        M-B C350 3.5L RWD sedan:
        M-B GLK350 3.5L RWD SUV:

        Audi A6 wagon 3.0L supercharged AWD:
        Audi Q5 SUV 3.2L normally aspirated AWD:

        The numbers seem to say to me SUVs/CUVs are less efficient than wagons.
        • 5 Years Ago

        There aren't many wagons to pick from and it wouldn't be an apples-to-apples comparison anyway. A Jetta wagon gets 23/30 and an Equinox gets 22/32 but I don't know if anyone would be cross-shopping them. I don't know the cu. ft. of the passenger or cargo areas of either and I've never met a person who bought a car based on those numbers. It's about how big they feel. Perception matters. Same goes for visibility.

        P.S. - If you have to step up to get into today's CUVs, you must be of below average height.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Again, you're imagining things. I'm not criticizing CUVs. If you've interpreted putting up figures that show that CUVs use more fuel than wagons is criticizing CUVs, then you need to look at yourself, not me. You simply said CUVs don't use more fuel than wagons and I wanted to help you see the error of your ways. It always helps to be better informed. Even if it doesn't change your choices (as you said it won't), at least you can pass on correct info to others in discussions instead of incorrect info and maybe it'll help them.

        More importantly, I'm not trying to tell others they can't buy CUVs.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @why not the LS2LS7? - he has a fair point, especially if you bring the craptastic tiguan into the mix (worse real world fuel economy than any car you've referenced and a 2.0T to boot).
        • 5 Years Ago
        I don't find stepping up to get in easier and the better visibility is not a real answer. It only works as long as others don't buy tall cars too.

        CUVs are less efficient than wagons. Show me an example otherwise, please.

        I'm not telling others they can't buy CUVs though. Do you really feel oppressed by the tiny segment of the market that buys wagons?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Again, you're imagining things. I'm not criticizing CUVs. If you've interpreted putting up figures that show that CUVs use more fuel than wagons is criticizing CUVs, then you need to look at yourself, not me. You simply said CUVs don't use more fuel than wagons and I wanted to help you see the error of your ways. It always helps to be better informed. Even if it doesn't change your choices (as you said it won't), at least you can pass on correct info to others in discussions instead of incorrect info and maybe it'll help them.

        More importantly, I'm not trying to tell others they can't buy CUVs.

        Tell you what, I'll concede that you're right on the efficiency point if you'll admit that researching and posting an entire list of less than damning EPA mileage ratings to counter my admittedly poorly worded general statement comes off as a little anal. My point was, those (maybe not you but others) that criticise CUVs almost always bring up wagons as the answer but the modest efficiency gains won't change the mind of someone who likes the sportier looks, easier access, less back-aching load height and better visibility (even if only perceived) and overall wider selection.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I would love to get a sedan or wagon with AWD at the Hyundai price, with the Hyundai warranty, and with the new Sonata's sheet metal. Instead, my AWD options for something like this are (dun dun dun dun) Subaru; no thanks.

        I know it's no apples to apples, but my options for the brands I am actually interested in are limited to CUV's. Also, after piloting a 98 Civic HX coupe for 10 years, I am comfortable saying that small cars are not meant for people who are over 6' tall to be comfortable in, day in day out. Gimme the ease of entry / exit that comes with a vehicle that sits higher.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Perceived visibility improvements, LS2/LS7. It's the whole commanding view of the road argument again. You don't get visibility improvements from standing higher from the lowly car drivers, because (okay, as cars grow taller and taller this is changing a bit) you don't see them as well. Not only that, but you're much less aware of your general surroundings, especially in the rear (no wonder you need CAMERAS on the dang things).

        A typical wagon (CTS is the exception to the rule, you know why) gets much better overall visibility than any SUV could.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Seat height is a VERY big deal to Arthritic people and it is much easier than a normal (low) car.

        My mom has RA and very bad knees/hips. Even though she is only 5 ft tall, she has a much easier time getting in/out of her minivan and doesn't want to go anywhere in my car, because she has to get "up" to get out.

        It isn't even close.
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