The wretched economy of the past year has been a boon to Hyundai, which enjoyed its biggest-ever market share in 2009. Hyundai's Tucson, though, has been a laggard: fewer than one-tenth as many have been sold as the segment-leading Honda CR-V. The redesigned, 2010 Tucson should fare better. First of all, it has shed the stubby look of its predecessor. The new car is lower, wider, and longer but is about fifty pounds lighter.
The interior has lots of hard plastic, but it's nicely finished and the switchgear is well laid-out. The base GLS has some typically cheap upholstery, but there's a very nice leatherette and cloth upgrade. The Limited's standard leather is better than what's usually found at this price point. The front seats are comfortable and so, too, are the rear, where adults will find decent headroom and plenty of legroom.
There's a big change under the hood. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder and optional small V-6 have been broomed in favor of a new, 2.4-liter four, which beats the six's power output while besting the fuel economy of the smaller four. Now aided by a six-speed automatic, the Tucson's mileage figures are near the front of the class: 21/28 city/highway mpg with all-wheel drive and 23/31 mpg with front-wheel drive - or 22/30 mpg with the base car's six-speed manual. Buyers looking at an entry-level Tucson might want to act soon, as the 2011 version will use a new, 2.0-liter engine in place of the current 2.4, and we wouldn't want to give up any of the 2.4-liter's 176 ponies. The large four is noisy under hard acceleration, but when cruising, the Tucson is surprisingly quiet.
Hyundai has been on a quest to shed the soggy chassis tuning that has long characterized Korean cars, and the Tucson is a case in point. Runs up and down Malibu's canyon roads revealed nearly flat cornering attitudes. Our GLS rode well on its seventeen-inch wheels (the Limited has eighteens), although Los Angeles doesn't serve up much in the way of bad pavement. L.A.'s challenge, of course, is traffic, and with the Tucson's tiny rear-quarter windows, you'll want to carefully adjust the mirrors before merging across five-lane freeways. (To aid in backing up, the optional navigation package has a rearview camera.)
In this new generation, though, the Tucson itself is ready to merge into the small-crossover mainstream, where it likely will help Hyundai grab even more market share in 2010 - even if the economy isn't quite so miserable.
ON SALE: Now
price: $19,790/$25,140 (GLS/Limited)
Engine: 2.4 I-4, 176 hp, 168 lb-ft
Drive: Front- or 4-wheel