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Hyundai gets a smaller SUV with the Tucson

December 04, 2004|by MALCOLM GUNN/Wheelbase Communications

With the Tucson sport-utility vehicle joining its Santa Fe sibling, Hyundai apparently intends to show the competition how The West was won.

The company's penchant for naming its small utes after places with a colorful Wild West history also makes them memorable with the public. The Santa Fe has, in a few short years, become one of the top-selling members of a fraternity of vehicles that just keeps on expanding. The addition of the entry-level Tucson to the lineup for 2005 (a similar model from Hyundai-owned Kia wearing the Sportage label is set to arrive later this year) will no doubt help the Korean automaker corner the market at the car-based end of the segment.

Using the Elantra sedan's platform as its starting point, Hyundai has fashioned an attractive wagon-style body for the Tucson, with a massive blacked-out front bumper and fascia that at least appears as though it could challenge California's Rubicon Trail, the ultimate test site for the off-road crowd.

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Available matching body cladding also surrounds the wheel openings and stretches along the bottom of the Tucson's four doors. With minimal front and rear overhang and nearly eight inches of ground clearance, this rig has an all-business, yet welcoming appearance that should appeal to all sorts of customers.

Hyundai customers are also going to have some tough choices to make, especially when measuring the Tucson against the more experienced Santa Fe. Although seven inches shorter in overall length, the newcomer's wheelbase is actually slightly longer and the body is nearly as wide. When it comes to cargo volume, however, the Santa Fe comes out on top by a wide margin.

Under the Tucson's stubby nose is a choice of two powerplants. Base GL-designated models run with a 140-horsepower, four-cylinder engine connected to a five-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed automatic with manual-shift capabilities.

The GLS and top-of-the-line LX get a 2.7-liter V-6 with 173 horses on tap. With this motor, the automatic transmission is your only pick.

All models begin with front-wheel drive, but can be equipped with an electronic four-wheel-drive setup that sends up to 50 percent of the torque to the rear wheels should a lack of traction warrant such action. At the push of a dashboard-mounted button, the driver can also lock the drive system, splitting the power between the wheels on a 50/50 basis.

At this point the Tucson appears to have at least as much going for it as its domestic and import-based competition. But what really and truly separates this tough little number from the rest of the pack is a list of standard features that would do a luxury car proud. For a starting point of around $17,500 you get air conditioning, cruise control, remote keyless entry, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock, stability control, six-speaker audio system with CD player, roof rack side rails, rear wiper and power windows, door locks and heated power outside mirrors.

The equally impressive level of basic safety features includes front, side-impact and side-curtain air bags for a total of six such protective devices. Again, we repeat, all of the above is standard equipment.

The GLS and LX ice up the cake even further with added exterior trim, fog lights, premium sound systems, fancier trim and, in the case of the LX, leather seats.

When you factor in Hyundai's extra-long five-year basic warranty, the Tucson looks to be an even more remarkable buy and a powerful alternative to some of the more established sport-utes, in more ways than one.

Copyright 2004, Wheelbase Communications

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