2009 Tucson New Car Test Drive
The Hyundai Tucson is the Korean automaker's smallest, entry-level SUV. Its most obvious competitor is the Honda CR-V. Like the CR-V, the Hyundai Tucson is strictly a five-seater, with no third-row-seating option. Both come standard with a four-cylinder engine, although the Tucson offers a V6, and the Honda does not.
We found the Tucson to be comfortable around town and on the highway, with light steering, adequate power from the V6, and a smooth four-speed automatic transmission.
The interior is nice: It doesn't look cheap, and the controls are easy to operate with big knobs. It's easy to get in and out of the front and back seats, and the rear seatbacks flip down easily. There's a decent amount of cargo space available.
We like its looks. It's nicely proportioned, with clean lines and short overhangs front and rear. Like Hyundai's slightly larger Santa Fe, the Tucson is a crossover rather than a truck-based SUV, built with unit-body construction, all-independent suspension, and a transversely mounted engine.
That said, we actually preferred the ride and handling of the four-wheel-drive Tucson models, even on dry pavement. On wet pavement, 4WD Tucsons don't spin their front tires the way the front-drive models do when accelerating from a stop. In snow, they benefit from an all-wheel-drive system that directs power to the rear wheels as road conditions change. A switch allows the driver to lock in a 50/50 torque split when creeping through drifting snow. Though not intended to be a highly capable off-road vehicle, the Tucson can certainly manage rocky dirt two-tracks and other light off-highway duties.
For the 2008 model year, Hyundai has made a six-disc CD changer standard with Limited trim, and replaced the gray leather interior with black. Late-production 2008 Tucson models come standard with XM Satellite Radio (including three months of free service), an auxiliary audio input jack, active front head restraints, and a tire-pressure monitor. A four-cylinder version of the top-trim Limited is also available.
Hyundais are becoming known for outstanding quality and safety. The J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study named Tucson the industry's highest quality all-new model when it was launched in 2005; and rated it highest in initial quality in the compact multi-activity vehicle segment in 2006.
A comprehensive list of active and passive safety features are standard equipment, including six airbags and electronic stability control. Tucson is aggressively priced and it comes with Hyundai's five-year/60,000-mile warranty. Tucson earned a five-star safety rating from the U.S. government (NHTSA) in front and side impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which conducts crash tests differently than the government, has rated the Tucson 'Acceptable' in its frontal offset and side-impact crash tests. Their system rates vehicles good, acceptable, marginal or poor.
The 2008 Hyundai Tucson is offered in three trim levels. GLS and Limited come standard with a 140-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Optional on Limited and standard on SE is a 173-horsepower 2.7-liter V6. Four-wheel drive is available only with the V6.
GLS ($17,235) comes with a five-speed manual transmission; power windows, door locks, and mirrors; an 80-watt AM/FM/CD audio system with an auxiliary input jack; XM Satellite Radio; remove keyless entry; roof-rack side rail; and P215/65 tires 16-inch alloy wheels. Air conditioning is optional ($900) on the manual-shift version, but standard on the GLS automatic ($19,335). Cruise control is optional.
SE V6 front-wheel drive ($21,035) and four-wheel drive ($22,735) both come with the four-speed automatic transmission and air conditioning, plus upgraded cloth trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, a 140-watt AM/FM/CD/XM audio system with cassette and MP3, trip computer, illuminated vanity mirrors, cruise control, fog lights, and wider P235/60R16 tires. Mirrors and door handles are body color instead of black, and fender moldings and lower bodyside cladding is gray. A Preferred Equipment Package ($1,200) adds a power tilt-and-slide sunroof and heated front seats.
Limited V6 FWD ($22,885) and 4WD ($24,585) feature leather seats, 200-watt AM/FM/CD/XM audio with six-disc in-dash changer plus six speakers and subwoofer, automatic temperature control with outside temperature display, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror with compass, and a rear cargo mat. Exterior trim is monochromatic. The only factory option is the sunroof ($950).
The four-cylinder Limited comes standard with an automatic transmission. The sunroof and 4WD are not be available, but otherwise equipment will be identical to the Limited V6.
Port-installed accessories range from a Bluetooth phone system to roof-rack cross-rails to mud guards and wheel locks.
Safety features on the Tucson include electronic stability control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes (ABS), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist, and traction control. Side-impact airbags for torso protection and side curtain airbags designed to provide head protection for passengers in both rows come standard. New for 2008 are active front head restraints and a tire-pressure monitor.