Review: 2010 Hyundai Tucson GLS AWD

By Chris Haak

The Kia Sportage was among my least-favorite new cars to review during my four years of writing for this site.  I didn’t like the way the thing smelled, hated the way it looked, was underwhelmed by its tepid V6 acceleration, and thought the interior was exceedingly cheap, with hard plastic everywhere.  In short, while basically all new vehicles are pretty good cars, some are only borderline good, and perhaps more mediocre.  The Sportage was one of those mediocre ones.  In fact, while we’ve seen the 2011 Sportage at the 2010 New York Auto Show, the current 2010 model is basically carryover from the one I reviewed two years ago.

Why am I telling you about the Sportage when I am reviewing the all-new 2010 Hyundai Tucson?  Because the oldTucson, which wrapped up its production run with the 2009 model year, shared more than a few parts with the Sportage.  It’s really quite easy to see the resemblance between the two vehicles.  Although I didn’t ever drive a first-generation Hyundai Tucson, memories of my week with the Sportage remind me just how large the leaps and bounds are that this company takes for its products from one generation to the next.

The 2010 Tucson is not the most attractive vehicle on the market; I’d call its shape perhaps a primitive early variant of Hyundai’s new “fluidic sculpture” design language that grabs your eye on the 2011 Sonata sedan.  The Tucson certainly has an organic shape, reminiscent of many Asian cars, and in profile, it actually looks pretty good.  But head-on, the hexagon-shaped grille doesn’t work the same way Kia’s more-restrained trapezoidal design does.  Hyundai is using a similar grille design in its forthcoming Sonata Hybrid to differentiate that model from the non-hybrid version.  Though many gripe about the shape of the standard Sonata grille, I like it, and I love it when compared to this shape.

My gripe about the Tucson’s profile is that the body looks a bit large for the size of the tires that it’s wearing. Though the wheels measure 17 inches in the GLS and 18 inches in the Limited and are therefore decently-sized on paper, they do not appear to fill the openings adequately.  I believe if they were pushed further outward toward the edge of the fenders, the Tucson would look a little better.  Regardless of these minor gripes, its appearance should no longer be an obstacle to purchase (if it ever was before).  It’s attractive, and tops the likes of the RAV 4 and CR-V in the looks department.

The GLS is the entry-level trim on the new Tucson, with the Limited model topping the range.  Gone is the former 2.7 liter 90-pound weakling170-horsepower V6 and even weaker 140-horsepower 2.0 liter four cylinder.  In their place is a single engine, a 2.4 liter unit that produces 176 horsepower (more than the former V6) while topping both old engines in city and highway fuel economy.  The four-speed automatic has also been sent to the dumpster, and a new six-speed automatic now takes its place.  In my opinion, six-speeds (or more) are far more beneficial to relatively-weak (i.e., four cylinder) engines for keeping the engine at full boil in its powerband than they are for more powerful engines that have enough output to hide the sins of the transmission.  At full boil, the four cylinder has a bit of buzziness, but that’s common to nearly all fours.  Power was adequate in most situations; who doesn’t want a little more sometime, though?  The just-launching 2011 Kia Sportage will eventually have a 270+ horsepower turbo four under its hood, which should completely address all power questions.  No word on whether Hyundai will also put this engine in the Tucson (it’s to be optional in both the Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata).

The new Tucson’s handling felt more surefooted than did the old Tucson’s/Sportage’s; while some of this is surely attributed to suspension tuning improvements, much credit can also go to the Tucson’s wider track.  The 1.4 inch-wider track front and rear compared to the old Tucson helps it stay planted to the road surface.  Given the small-ish tires and tall body, I encountered an unexpectedly minimal amount of body roll in the Tucson.

Steering feel from the electric power steering felt slightly unnatural; tuning EPS systems to match the feel of a traditional hydraulic steering setup has proven to be a task very difficult for automakers to pull off.  Some, like BMW and to a lesser degree, Ford, are getting better at it.  The Tucson needs a little more work, with effort a bit heavier than would normally be expected in this type of vehicle.  It still turned in accurately, and the steering wheel – in spite of having a bit too much silver-painted plastic on it – was reasonably pleasant to hold onto.

I found the brake pedal to be somewhat grabby upon its initial application, which is similar to what I experienced in the Kia Forte and Kia Forte Koup.  As with the two Kias, it only takes a few stops before you’ll learn the nuances of brake pedal application.  Stops were strong and straight – enough to send my lunch bag flying from the front passenger seat straight into the dashboard when testing full braking power.

The Tucson’s interior is very attractively styled.  It combines interesting shapes, complex curves, and tasteful colors not typically found in new cars (no charcoal or tan to be found in this test car).  I’m not fond of silver-painted plastic, and the Tucson has its share of it on the steering wheel, around the navigation screen, and around some other controls.  I still haven’t decided which is more offensive from a sensory standpoint – fake wood or fake metal – but regardless of the answer to that, there’s no mistaking it for the real thing.  The navigation system was fairly easy to use, had attractive graphics, and responded quickly to inputs or route changes; though the spec sheet doesn’t say so, I believe it is hard drive-based.

Seats in the Tucson GLS are finished in a combination cloth and leatherette, with cloth found on the center in the primary seating surfaces.  They are comfortably padded, and kept my rear end happy during hour- stints behind the wheel.  In the second row, forward-facing Graco Marathon convertible child seats fit comfortably behind the front row seats with enough legroom to keep my little seat-kickers happy.  In spite of a roofline that visually appears to slope downward toward the rear of the vehicle, second-row headroom is reasonably good.

During a week with the Tucson, I observed fuel economy of about 21 miles per gallon after about 250 miles of mostly city, but some highway driving.  The EPA says that the Tucson should notch fuel economy of  21 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway in the 2010 Tucson AWD.  All wheel drive is only available with the automatic, but for a lower upfront cost and better fuel economy, the FWD Tucson is rated at 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway with the FWD six-speed manual and 23 city/31 highway with the FWD six-speed automatic.  These figures all compare favorably to the 2009 Tucson’s 18/23 in the AWD V6 and 19/24 AWD four cylinder.  More power and better fuel economy sounds like a win-win to me.

Pricing is fairly reasonable.  Front-wheel drive Tucson GLSs start at $19,790 (including destination) with the six-speed manual.  Add $1,000 for the automatic and $2,500 for the automatic with all wheel drive.  A front-wheel drive Limited starts at $25,140 and adding all-wheel drive tacks another $1,500 onto the price.  My tester was equipped with the $1,700 Popular Equipment Package, which added 17″ alloy wheels, leatherette seat bolsters, Bluetooth, soft-touch interior paint, privacy glass, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio controls.  It also had the $2,000 navigation system with rearview camera and premium audio.  Adding the $100 carpeted floor mats brought the final MSRP with destination to $26,090.

Comparing pricing between the 2009 Tucson and the 2010 Tucson, the 2010 costs a few thousand more, but also includes more equipment.  After using TrueDelta to normalize equipment levels, the 2010 is just $100 more expensive – and TrueDelta isn’t accounting for the dramatic improvement in looks and driving experience versus the 2009.  Comparing to a similarly-equipped Toyota RAV4, the Tucson is just $355 cheaper than the Toyota in terms of MSRP, but $400 more expensive than the Toyota in terms of invoice price.  The Tucson does undercut the Nissan Rogue by about $1,000 and the Honda CR-V by about $1,300.  Interestingly, it undercuts the aging Ford Escape by $2,440.

Clearly, Hyundai’s value message remains intact, but as with several of the company’s other very good recent offerings, as Hyundai steps up its game and produces cars good enough to sell on their own merits rather than just on price, the additional content has forced the company to allow its prices to creep upward.  I enjoyed driving the Tucson and congratulate Hyundai not only on a very good new product, but also on taking a quantum leap from the previous generation.  I can’t wait to see what the next Tucson can do if this pattern continues.

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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