James Riswick , Automotive Editor
If you want a compact crossover that's economical, efficient and doesn't make you feel like you're taking the kids to T-ball, there are options, and one of the best is the new 2010 Hyundai Tucson. Let's start with styling, which should be different enough to stick out from the rows of CR-Vs parked at Target. While the old Tucson had all the design flair of a Coleman cooler, this new Tucson showcases Hyundai's increasing attention to design. Whether you believe the Tucson is attractive is one thing, but there's no denying its curves and creases are more interesting to behold than the boxes it competes with.
Inside, the story is much the same, with organic shapes and nicely textured materials. Competitors like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 have a utilitarian look and feel to them -- not the Tucson. Unfortunately, those competitors are literally more utilitarian than the Tucson. The little Hyundai offers significantly less cargo capacity than its bigger rivals, while its backseat offers less space and doesn't recline or slide for more room or comfort. Essentially, the Tucson doesn't look like a mom mobile, and it wouldn't be a very good choice for her either.
As such, the 2010 Hyundai Tucson is best suited for singles or DINKs (dual income, no kids) who primarily want the elevated driving view that an SUV provides, and can live with an acceptable (rather than copious) amount of rear seat and cargo space. If you fancy yourself a cool mom, though, perhaps that trade-off could be worth it.
The 2010 Hyundai Tucson comes with a new four-cylinder engine that's more powerful than the outgoing Tucson's V6 and yet more fuel-efficient than the old four-cylinder. This new 2.4-liter inline-4 produces 176 horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque, though in California-emissions states, those are lowered to 170 and 163, respectively. A six-speed manual and front-wheel drive are standard, but our Tucson GLS tester came with the six-speed automatic and four-wheel drive.
There's more low-end grunt on tap than in a Honda CR-V, but in general, the Tucson is merely average at best when it comes to power. It also has a raspy, wheezy engine note that doesn't do it any favors. While swift performance is hardly what we've come to expect from compact crossovers, fuel economy does figure quite prominently, and the Tucson 4WD delivers best-in-class thriftiness with EPA estimates of 21 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined.
Athletic handling is also not something we expect from this class, but the 2010 Hyundai Tucson manages to feel buttoned-down and confident through turns. The steering is a bit numb, but it weights up firmly at speed to provide greater confidence than some of its competitors do. Would we say the Tucson is fun to drive? Probably not, but in comparison to a Chevy Equinox or RAV4, it'll at least provide a few more smiles.
The downside to the Tucson's athletic handling is a firm ride that can get tiresome should you live in a city with a miniscule road repair budget. There's an excessive amount of impact harshness transmitted into the cabin, and that's with the 17-inch alloys fitted to our GLS trim level tester. The 18-inchers found on the Tucson Limited would likely make things worse. Road noise is also on the loud side in the 2010 Hyundai Tucson, though wind noise is reasonably well-contained. If you want a more serene highway tourer, a Chevy Equinox would be a better choice.
Rear passengers will find themselves sitting on a hard, shapeless cushion with a comparatively smallish amount of legroom. The seatback doesn't slide or recline -- features that are becoming more common and expected in this class. However, front-seat occupants are unlikely to complain. Even though our tester's driver seat was manually operated, it still provided enough adjustability for a variety of driver sizes. The seat itself is quite comfortable, in a firm, European sort of way, and provides just enough bolstering to make you feel secure, but not confined.
Inside the 2010 Tucson's stylish cabin, Hyundai's penchant for utilizing straightforward controls continues. The manual climate controls couldn't be simpler, and all secondary buttons and switches (windows, mirrors, etc) are logically placed. Even the optional touchscreen navigation and audio controls are easy to figure out, while enhancing the usability of both the standard satellite radio and iPod interface with its large, clear display. That iPod interface is also notably speedy in its processing time and operation.
The Tucson's smaller dimensions penalize it when it comes to storage. Not only is there less space, but the cargo area doesn't offer the versatility of some of its competitors (removable shelves, sliding seats). There are also fewer storage areas in the cabin. Still, a set of golf clubs will fit the width of the trunk and a large suitcase fits easily behind it.
For parents, the Tucson surprisingly provides more space for a rear-facing child seat than the CR-V and RAV4. The top tether anchors were also quite easy to access for front-facing seats. However, without a sliding seat bottom, parents can't bring their kids closer to them as they can in the Tucson's bigger competitors.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 2010 Hyundai Tucson's interior is filled with hard plastic, but that's the norm for this class. Instead, textures, surfaces, design and appearance are more telling attributes and in this way, the Tucson seems like a high-quality product. The various buttons and knobs operate in a fluid manner, and they are nicely finished. The main climate control knobs in particular are finished with a material reminiscent of the knurled metal in a Bentley. The overall look is visually interesting, without compromising ergonomics or resorting to overwrought fake chrome.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2010 Hyundai Tucson should appeal to those who want a small crossover that's more interesting to look at and drive than the run-of-the-mill Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. They should be willing to sacrifice some comfort and space for this, however. A sporty and spacious alternative would be the Subaru Forester, while a comfortable and spacious alternative would be the Chevy Equinox.
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