Thumbs Up: Hyundai quality has come a long, long way.
Thumbs Down: Four cylinder motor could use more low-end torque; steering is overly assisted.
Buy This Car If: You want maximum value in a small crossover with a class-leading warranty.
Prior to driving the 2010 Hyundai Tucson Limited, I hadn’t driven anything from the Korean auto giant since renting a 2007 Sonata. The Sonata was good enough for a rental car, but lacked refinement. The motor and transmission, for example, didn’t communicate well. Floor the accelerator pedal and sometimes the car rocketed ahead with surprising enthusiasm; other times, it tried to decide if it wanted to go at all. It was almost like the ECU spoke Spanish and the transmission spoke Portuguese; sometimes they understood each other, but often they did not.
A lot has changed in three years, and for Hyundai, all of it is good. The brand and the product line have matured, and Hyundai now sells a range of stylish and well built automobiles at prices that reflect maximum value for their segments. Hyundai and Kia have paid attention to the lessons leaned by Japanese automakers in the U.S. market; start by selling on price alone, then up the content and quality to be as good as anything else in the class.
Take the 2010 Hyundai Tucson, for example. The exterior styling is influenced by other small crossovers, but it doesn’t copy any of them. Gone is the box-on-box, plain vanilla design of earlier Tucson models, replaced by an all-new-for-2010 design that looks good from every angle. Credit where it’s due: both Hyundai and Kia are turning out designs that show innovation and draw buyers into showrooms. If that’s not progress, I don’t know what is.
Let’s talk about value, as well. The front wheel drive 2010 Hyundai Tucson Limited PZEV I drove carried a sticker price of $28,090. That may seem steep, but my tester had a leather interior, navigation system, dual front and rear sunroofs (though the rear was just a skylight), backup camera, premium audio system, automatic climate control, Bluetooth integration, solar glass, dual 12v outlets, an integrated iPod adapter, a cargo cover and a Shiftronic transmission. The only possible way to add to the price would have been to opt for AWD instead of FWD. Want a comparably equipped Honda CRV? An EX-L with navigation will set you back $400 more, and the Honda has a five year, 60,000 mile power train warranty compared to the Tucson’s ten year, 100,000 mile power train warranty. How about a Toyota RAV 4? Equipped as well as the Tucson Limited, it’ll cost you $1,350 more, and it includes the same five year, 60,000 mile power train warranty as the Honda CRV. If you want value, content and warranty, it’s tough to beat Hyundai.
So how did the 2010 Hyundai Tucson drive? Very well, especially compared to earlier Hyundai models. The motor lacked a little power from a standing start, but I was driving the partial zero-emissions vehicle (PZEV) version, which gives up six horsepower (170 versus 176) and five pound feet of torque (163 versus 168) to the standard Tucson. Once moving, the Tucson never felt down on power and handled well enough for a small crossover vehicle. The Shiftronic transmission is a welcomed feature, as it allows a driver to have just a bit more control of the six speed transmission than merely leaving it in drive. As you’d expect, the Tucson comes equipped with ABS, traction control and stability control, but also includes Hillstart Assist Control (to prevent rolling backwards on steep hills) and Downhill Brake Control (for descending steep, slippery grades). Despite the PZEV four cylinder motor, I only managed to get 21 miles per gallon in a mix of city and highway driving. Blame it on too much time spent in traffic at needlessly long traffic lights. The EPA rates the Tucson with the PZEV motor at 23 mpg city, 31 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined. What drivability changes would I suggest to Hyundai? First, improve low-end torque from the 2.4 liter, four cylinder motor, then refine the power steering, which felt over-boosted to me.
The restyle didn’t stop on the outside of the 2010 Tucson, and the new interior features a nice mix of contrasting material in the dash and instrument surround. The tachometer and speedometer are analog units, set back in sculpted tunnels (similar to the Genesis Coupe). The LCD display for fuel level and temperature is more visually appealing than the traditional gauges, and the entertainment / nav system is intuitive and well laid out. An information display gives the driver dual trip odometers, average fuel mileage, range to empty and average speed estimates. The leather seats are firm but comfortable, and my only minor gripe is a lack of side bolstering. Granted, a small crossover isn’t meant to be tossed into corners, but I still prefer more lateral support for the occasional evasive maneuver. The tilt and telescopic steering wheel (in Limited models) allows for a very comfortable driving position, and the steering wheel mounted controls for audio, phone and cruise control are a nice touch. Hyundai certainly earns an “A” for interior comfort and design, and a little side bolstering in the front seats would get them an “A+” from me.
The rear bench seat is also comfortable, and offers a surprising amount of both legroom and head room. It’s not equivalent to a stretch limousine, or even a larger crossover, but six foot tall passengers won’t feel like they’ve lost a bet when they climb in the back. The panoramic sunroof allows rear seat passengers to get a view of the sky, but only the front sunroof opens. If you want to go al fresco, you need to fight for the driver or co-pilot’s seat.
By giving rear seat passengers a bit more leg room, Hyundai sacrificed rear cargo space with the seat up. If you need to haul four passengers plus luggage, you’ll need to pack on the light side, and four passengers plus a medium size dog probably won’t work for trips longer than cross-town. If you delete the panoramic sunroof option and stick with the roof rails, you’ll have the ability to add a rooftop cargo carrier as your vacation road trip needs dictate.
Hyundai has come a long way since their 1986 launch of the Excel in the United States market. Their quality is now on par with manufacturers such as Honda and Toyota, and their vehicles show styling innovation previously absent from the entry-level market. They’ve won praise from organizations ranging from J.D. Power and Associates (where they outranked Toyota for quality in 2006) to the IIHS (six vehicles won the Top Safety Award in 2009) to the EPA (who named them the most fuel efficient automaker in the U.S. in 2009). It’s time to throw out any stereotypes you may have had about Hyundai; go drive one of their new models, and you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about.