With the introduction of the 2010 Hyundai Tucson, the Korean manufacturer hopes to pull a Ben Kenobi. "The previous-generation Tucson never existed," this new vehicle appears to suggest.
The first-generation Tucson was a popular, though middle-of-the-road, compact SUV, and even at a dozen paces it is apparent that the 2010 model is an altogether more serious attempt. There are a lot of choices among these tall wagons, though, including newcomers like the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox and 2010 GMC Terrain as well as established players like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
The Tucson can try to use the Force to grab a bigger share of the market for compact utilities, but it won't be easy.
Our 2010 Hyundai Tucson was a base-model GLS, equipped with just two options. The Navigation package commands $3,700 as it bundles nav with a slew of other stuff like 17-inch wheels, a steering wheel that telescopes and is sprinkled with controls, a back-up camera, Bluetooth and re-trimmed upholstery.
Carpeted floor mats add another hundred bucks for a final tally of $26,090. This pricing puts the Tucson in the mix with its contemporaries, though adding navigation to the competition adds another chunk of change to the bottom line compared to the Tucson.
Draping an original shape onto the two-box proportions of the modern compact crossover (a.k.a. station wagon) is no simple task, but Hyundai's designers did an admirable job of making the most of the situation. The points and creases at the Tucson's nose add surface tension without looking forced, and the contrasting scallop at the rocker panels discreetly slims the profile's visual bulk. Overall, the look is elegant and assertive without the clunky faux machismo of, say, the GMC Terrain.
Compact Yet Roomy
Just because a compact crossover thing resides at the entry-level end of the spectrum doesn't mean it has to cramp your style, or your physique. The front seats offer decent comfort but are fairly broad, and the view outward is quite good. And although the backseat butt cushion is unrelentingly flat, the head- and legroom in the aft row are excellent even for full-grown adults.
Thankfully, Hyundai didn't fall victim to the temptation of offering an optional third row of seating in the Tucson, which would have compromised the cargo area in those models not thusly equipped. As it is, the 2010 Hyundai Tucson can easily manage the cargo needs of four adults on a road trip. Yes, this is technically a five-passenger SUV, but only in a pinch.
Matte-silver accents brighten up the attractively trimmed cabin, and the textured, low-gloss plastics wouldn't be out of place on a more expensive vehicle. The Tucson's controls are big and simple and placed where you expect them to be. Hyundai also has been nice enough to include an iPod cable and XM Satellite Radio as standard equipment.
On the Road
A tidily sized steering wheel commands a quick, responsive rack, though the steering effort varies noticeably with speed and is not exactly brimming with feel. Still, the steering lends a degree of precision to the driving experience. The leather on the steering wheel, however, isn't especially luxurious, feeling processed to within an inch of vinyl. And while we're picking nits, Hyundai's insistence on lighting its instrumentation in an optically challenging blue hue is something we'll never stop complaining about.
When it comes to the character of the suspension tuning, the 2010 Hyundai Tucson is closer to the Mitsubishi Outlander's tautness than the smothery ride of the Ford Flex. This might have been a deliberate measure taken by Hyundai's engineers to deal with the Tucson's dearth of suspension travel. The stiff chassis shrugs off the impacts of square-edged craters without protest, but consensus on the Tucson's ride quality eluded our editors. At least the Tucson's tendency toward the firm side of the ride/handling balance harmonizes well with the quickish response from its helm. The result is a smooth-road demeanor that inspires confidence, and that's never a bad thing in an everyday runabout like this one.
At the Track
Upon exercising the 2010 Hyundai Tucson to its limits at the track, we found it to be a consistently respectable handler. The Tucson maintains its composure to the tune of 0.74g of grip on the skid pad and 64.5 mph through the slalom. As on the road, it's hard to describe the Tucson as "fun," but neither does it ever get out of sorts.
Denizens of snow country will appreciate the Tucson's part-time all-wheel-drive system with push-button override. As we've come to expect from today's road-friendly sport-utes, this is not an off-road-biased system with a low-range transfer case. After all, it turns out you don't need a Dakar-worthy four-wheel-drive system to leave the driveway. At the same time, the Tucson's AWD system does weigh something extra, and that isn't helping the Tucson's ability to hustle.
Though the Tucson's 176-horsepower 2.4-liter inline-4 is reasonably smooth and unobtrusive, it struggles to move this 3,365-pound SUV with any kind of authority. In other words, the Tucson is slow. The 60-mph mark arrives in 9.6 seconds (9.4 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip), and the Tucson covers the quarter-mile in a lazy 17.1 seconds at 81.1 mph. And that's before you load it up with four passengers and all their stuff.
Pining for More Pep
In day-to-day use, the 2010 Hyundai Tucson's motivation underfoot is deceptively adequate; it's not until you really bury the throttle pedal that you realize how little power is in reserve. Fortunately the six-speed autobox is smooth and cooperative, serving up downshifts promptly. Perhaps at some point in the future Hyundai will wise up and swap in the torquier direct-injected 2.4-liter four from the Sonata. In the meantime we're sure Hyundai would be quick to point out that its other crossover, the Santa Fe, offers a V6.
The usual upside to this four-cylinder-only approach, of course, is fuel economy. However, our tester achieved an average of 19.1 mpg in mixed driving during its short stay with us, against its EPA combined fuel economy of 24 mpg (21 mpg city/28 mpg city). Perhaps the heavy throttle foot necessary to keep pace with traffic is partly responsible for our result.
The Tucson's ultimate braking capability is good, bringing it to a halt from 60 mph in 123 feet, though our test-driver reported that the pedal effort was much higher than he'd have expected for a vehicle in this class. Drivers of performance cars expect and even demand that kind of hard pedal, but average crossover customers would be better served by a brake pedal that delivers its effectiveness with less effort.
In the Hunt
Jedi master Obi-Wan's vehicle of choice may be an open-cockpit levitating sand speeder, but earthbound families are better served by something like this Tucson GLS. Besides, the only child ol' Ben had to deal with was old enough to pilot the thing, and did you ever try cleaning the grit out of a droid's servos after a blast across the desert?
The 2010 Hyundai Tucson has evolved in leaps and bounds from its previous generation into a perfectly acceptable class-competitive SUV that offers a lot of value. That is not to damn the Tucson with faint praise; rather it acknowledges that there are many excellent choices among tall wagons. And the Tucson is certainly one of them. Welcome to the club.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Senior Editor Erin Riches says:
Whereas a 2011 Hyundai Sonata GLS is quite the deal for $20,000, this 2010 Hyundai Tucson GLS is not quite so tempting for $26,000.
Mind you, there's nothing grievously wrong with the compact Tucson. It looks wonderful on the outside. It's a fashionable, almost delicate-looking crossover in a class where it often feels like automakers are deliberately aiming for unmemorable design.
Inside, the Hyundai Tucson is as useful as any other crossover SUV. The front seats are comfortable, the driving position is good and the back-up camera display has gridlines to get you through the toughest of parallel-parking assignments. The backseat is hardly plush, but average-size adults fit with no problem. The cargo bay has room for a large hound, and with said hound shooed away, there's good access to the under-floor spare tire.
The trouble is that the driving experience really isn't much of an experience. Throttle tip-in is aggressive to give the impression of peppiness around town, but when you accelerate up to speed on a highway entrance ramp, the 2.4-liter feels strained by 4,000 rpm.
Handling isn't bad at all, though, and the electric-assisted steering weights up adequately off-center. The Tucson rides harshly over broken pavement, though. All the while, road noise comes booming into the lightly insulated cabin.
None of these shortcomings is out of the ordinary among four-cylinder compact crossover SUVs. In fact, the Tucson's unusual style and lengthy equipment list make a compelling case for it over some of the more established players in this class. But I can't shake the feeling that I'd be driving off with so much more car if I bought a cheaper Sonata.
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