Review and photos by
Greg Wilson, Autos.ca
This Korean-built, compact SUV was totally redesigned in 2010 with dramatically curvy styling which Hyundai describes as “an antidote to boring design,” perhaps a not-so-subtle jab at the boxy styling of some of its competitors. It also reflects Hyundai’s current approach to vehicle styling which has seen dramatic makeovers of its volume sellers, the Sonata, Elantra and Accent.
The other big change for 2010 was a new 176-hp 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine that replaced both previous four and six-cylinder powerplants; as well as new six-speed manual and automatic transmissions that replaced five-speed manual and four-speed automatics respectively. Hyundai’s decision to replace the optional 2.7-litre V6 engine with the new (but more powerful) 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine was, and is, a gamble. Ultimately, this was done for reasons of fuel economy and reduced emissions but there are buyers who prefer the smoothness and “torquey-ness” of a V6 engine, and those who just don’t want a four-banger – they will just have to look elsewhere. Still, it should be pointed out that the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester have done just fine with their exclusive four-cylinder engines.
For 2011, the Tucson GL ($24,299), GLS ($26,799) and Limited ($32,249), all come with the standard six-speed automatic transmission with ‘Shiftronic’ manual shifting mode – the six-speed manual has been dropped from the GL. All-wheel drive can be added to the GL and GLS for an extra $2,000, and it is standard on the Limited model.For 2011, the Tucson remains basically the same, but there’s a new entry-level model with a smaller 165-hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, standard five-speed manual transmission, and an attractive starting price of $19,999. This model appears to be targeted at buyers with a limited budget rather than those who want better fuel economy. With the manual transmission, its fuel economy is actually worse than a Tucson with the 2.4-litre engine and standard six-speed automatic transmission: 10.1/7.4 vs 9.5/6.3 (L/100 km, city/hwy). However, a Tucson L equipped with the optional six-speed automatic is marginally more fuel efficient with city/hwy ratings of 9.1/6.5 L/100 km. To Hyundai’s credit, this model is also more fuel efficient than the front-wheel drive Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Nissan Rogue.
Today’s review is the mid-level Tucson GLS trim with optional all-wheel drive, likely to be one of the most popular models because of its sub $30,000 price-tag and high feature level. It has an MSRP of $28,799 plus a rather hefty $1,760 Freight and Delivery charge, bringing the as-tested price to $30,559 (plus taxes).
The Tucson’s all-aluminum 2.4-litre DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder engine is rated at 176 horsepower and 168 lb.-ft. of torque, and features continuously variable valve timing on both camshafts and a variable intake induction system for better engine breathing and more torque. Its horsepower and torque ratings are competitive with other four-cylinder vehicles in this class.
With this engine, the Tucson is responsive off the line and surprisingly smooth at highway speeds, although the engine is a little growly while accelerating. When AJAC tested the 2010 Tucson GLS AWD, it recorded a 0 to 100 km/h time of 10.6 seconds. While that doesn’t sound fast, it’s not out of line with its competitors. AJAC’s test of the Honda CR-V AWD showed a time of 10.3 seconds, the Subaru Forester AWD 10.7 seconds, the Kia Sportage AWD 11.2 seconds, Chevrolet Equinox FWD 9.9 seconds, and the surprising Nissan Rogue FWD CVT with 8.9 seconds.
Top gear in the Tucson’s six-speed automatic transmission is like an overdrive gear, enabling low engine revs at highway speeds and very good fuel economy on the highway. I recorded an engine speed of just 1,900 rpm at 100 km/h, and my average fuel economy over a week was 9.5 L/100 km in a 50/50 mix of city and highway driving. That’s pretty good for an AWD SUV. The six-speed auto also includes a manual shift mode for times when the driver wants to take control.
A unique feature in this class is the Tucson’s Downhill Brake Control. By pressing a button on the dash, the driver can drive down a very steep hill without using the brakes! The Downhill Brake Control automatically modulates the brakes for a slow descent. I tried it and it works well! It’s the equivalent of having a Low Range gear, at least when going downhill. As well, standard Hillstart Assist prevents the Tucson from rolling back on a hill after you take your foot off the brake and before you move your foot to the accelerator pedal.The Tucson’s optional all-wheel drive system runs in front-wheel drive most of the time to save fuel, but it can respond instantly and automatically to a loss of traction by sending power to the rear wheels. As well, the driver can manually lock up the centre diff by pressing a button on the dash for a 50/50 front/rear power distribution at speeds up to 30 km/h. This is most useful when trying to ascend a steep, slippery hill, or when trying to get out of a snowbank. Tucsons also have electronic traction control to reduce wheelspin and stability control to help prevent loss of directional control when making a turn on slippery surfaces.
In AJAC’s braking tests from 100 km/h to zero, the Tucson was about average with a recorded a distance of 41.8 metres, compared to the CR-V with 42.5 metres, the Forester’s 41.5 metres, the Sportage at 41.7 metres, Equinox (FWD) in 42.0 metres, and the Rogue FWD with 40.6 metres. The Tucson comes standard with four-wheel disc brakes, anti-lock brakes, electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, and 17-inch tires.
A tight 10.5 metre turning circle makes the Tucson easy to park and manoeuvre in the city, although visibility over the shoulder is somewhat restricted by the C-pillar. The Tucson’s large rear window includes a wiper with an intermittent wipe setting, as well as a washer and defroster to keep it clear of grime.
With its car-like unit body construction and fully independent suspension (front MacPherson strut and rear multi-link rear) the Tucson’s handling is nimble and it feels stable in corners, although the ride can be a bit firm over bad pavement – not unlike a lot of other vehicles these days.
The Tucson’s combination “leatherette” and fabric seat upholstery is a great idea: the leatherette is easy to keep clean and the cloth seat inserts are warmer when you sit on them. Even so, both front seats have seat heaters with high and low temperature settings.
The cabin has adequate room for four or five adults. The front seats are comfortable and the driver’s seat has a manual height adjuster, but no lumbar adjuster. I liked the wide footwells and large footrest for the driver’s left foot, the upright positioning of the power window buttons, and the padded centre armrest. The Tucson’s tilt/telescopic steering wheel and console shifter are positioned well and the instruments are easy to see, although the small blue digital display between the gauges can be hard to read – it includes fuel and coolant displays, gear selection, average fuel economy, average speed, trip timer, driving range, ‘Eco’ driving reminder, and trip odometer. The larger black-on-blue display in the centre dash is much easier to read from a distance although it is subject to glare. iPods and phones can be placed in the lower centre console where there are auxiliary and USB ports and two 12-volt outlets.
At the rear, adult passengers have generous footroom under the front seats, and adequate headroom and kneeroom. There’s a fold-down centre armrest with two cupholders, map pockets on the back of front seats, and door pockets. The rear side windows go all the way down.
Standard equipment on the Tucson GLS includes the ‘leatherette’ seats with fabric inserts (exclusive to the GLS), front seat heaters, leather-wrapped tilt and telescopic steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, air conditioning, power windows and locks, AM/FM/MP3/CD audio system with XM satellite radio and six speakers, USB and iPod integration, auxiliary port, Bluetooth hands-free phone, cruise control, keyless entry, alarm, tinted rear windows, and split folding seatbacks.
Standard safety features in the Tucson include front, side and curtain airbags, five head restraints and active front seat head restraints, three-point safety belts at all five seating positions, front seatbelt pretensioners and load limiters, and two outboard rear Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) child-seat anchors.
Access to the cargo area is via a hatchback which opens and closes easily, however the loading height is fairly high and the cargo area behind the rear seats is smaller than most of its competitors. A removeable, sliding cover keeps the cargo area’s contents private. The cargo floor and rear seatbacks are carpeted but the side walls are not. A small bin on the right side behind the wheelwell is handy for milk jugs; underneath the floor is a temporary spare tire and hidden storage space for small items.
The Tucson offers an interesting combination of expressive styling, roomy cabin, decent fuel economy, and good value, but cargo space is below average and the ride is a bit stiff.
Pricing: 2011 Hyundai Tucson GLS AWD
Base price: $28,799
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $30,659
Crash test results