Full 2009 Hyundai Tucson Review
What's New for 2009
Engineering refinements to the transmission, torque converter, engine and steering-pump belt translate into an improvement in fuel economy of 4-6 percent for the 2009 Hyundai Tucson. The Tucson also gains a navigation system later in the model year; it's part of the new upgraded Kenwood audio system. Other upgrades this year include new wheels, a revised chrome grille and a B&M Racing Sport Shifter for models equipped with manual transmissions. Finally, the standard features list on SE Tucsons equipped with four-wheel drive now includes heated front seats and a windshield wiper de-icer, and Limited V6 models come standard with a sunroof.
If, like many people, you're now considering Keystone Light instead of Sapporo Reserve and Target instead of Bloomingdale's, you know that value-oriented alternatives start looking better and better in bleak economic times. By this reasoning, one could argue that the capable yet inexpensive 2009 Hyundai Tucson has never been more appealing.
Like all Hyundais, the Tucson has much to offer for buyers craving maximum bang for their recession-pinched bucks (this is also true of its corporate twin, the Kia Sportage). The Tucson is one of the most affordable choices in the compact-SUV segment, and for the money you get a long list of standard features. Satellite radio is included, along with safety features like side curtain airbags. Also, the Tucson's warranty -- which includes 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain coverage -- is among the most generous available.
Still, while it's a decent all-arounder, the Tucson falls short of being a major-league talent. It lacks the quickness of the Toyota RAV4 V6, the refinement of the Honda CR-V and the fun-to-drive nature of the Nissan Rogue and Saturn Vue. Also, its cargo capacity isn't anything to write home about. In the end, though, this competent, bargain-priced Hyundai has value on its side. It may not have the most compelling bundle of attributes, but it's got a very compelling price -- much like a 12-pack of Keystone Light.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
A compact crossover SUV, the 2009 Hyundai Tucson comes in three trim levels: base GLS, midlevel SE and top-of-the-line Limited. GLS buyers enjoy standard features like 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, full power accessories, heated outside mirrors and a CD/MP3 stereo with satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack.
Step up to the Tucson SE and you get cruise control, premium cloth upholstery, a trip computer, foglights and a leather-wrapped steering wheel; SEs equipped with 4WD also feature heated front seats and a windshield de-icer as standard. The deluxe Limited trim adds a monochromatic exterior, leather upholstery, automatic climate control and an upgraded Kenwood audio and navigation system with a subwoofer and an SD memory card slot. Tucson Limiteds equipped with V6 engines also get a standard sunroof. Bluetooth connectivity is optional.
Powertrains and Performance
Hyundai's Tucson is offered with two engines: a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine good for 140 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque, and a 2.7-liter V6 that generates 173 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque. The GLS is available only with the inline-4, but SE and Limited Tucsons may be purchased with either the inline-4 or the V6. Buyers of the Tucson four-cylinder have their choice of a standard five-speed manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic with manual shift control; the V6 comes standard with the automatic. An all-wheel-drive system is also available as an option on V6 models.
A Tucson V6 we tested went from zero to 60 mph in 10.2 seconds, which is pretty lethargic for a V6-powered small crossover -- the peppy RAV4 V6 will do the job a full 3 seconds quicker. Four-cylinder models are slower still. The EPA estimates that the four-cylinder Tucsons with an automatic transmission will get mileage of 20 mpg city/25 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined -- about average for its class. The 4WD V6 Tucson is rated at 18 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined.
An impressive complement of standard safety features is offered in the 2009 Hyundai Tucson. Included are antilock disc brakes with brake assist, stability and traction control, front-seat side impact airbags, head side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. The Tucson excelled in government crash tests, scoring a perfect five stars for both frontal and side impact protection. Hyundai's compact SUV earned an "Acceptable" rating (the second highest) in frontal offset and side impact crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Interior Design and Special Features
In its favor, the Tucson's cabin boasts modern design and good build quality. Front passengers have ample legroom, but larger passengers may feel cramped in the second row. This year's new navigation system has a display screen smaller than that of most other factory systems -- it's more the size of a portable navigation system -- but it's still an inexpensive way to get a built-in system.
This Hyundai's rear seats fold flat to offer up to 66 cubic feet of total capacity -- about average for a small crossover SUV. If you're carrying longer items, the Tucson's front passenger seat will fold down to accommodate the load.
Get behind the wheel and you'll find that the 2009 Hyundai Tucson feels carlike on the road; while not exactly sporty, its driving dynamics are pleasant enough. Ride quality is smooth without being too isolating. Recent power hikes in other small crossovers have left the Tucson at a bit of a power deficit, however. The standard four-cylinder is anemic, so we recommend you opt for the V6, even though it can barely keep up with four-cylinder rivals. While the four-speed automatic isn't quite as fluid as the five-speed units offered by other compact SUVs, it's alert enough to keep the V6 in its power band, such as it is.