Hyundai Tucson — Nimble and efficient

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Lost in the vast array of new compact crossover products is the stylish, affordable and competent 2014 Hyundai Tucson. Although the Tucson was last redesigned several years ago, it stacks up well against such nameplates as the Escape, RAV4
, CX-5, CR-V and Cherokee.

After spending more than a week and hundreds of miles behind the wheel of a mildly refreshed Tucson Limited and a mid-trim SE with all-wheel drive we came to like the Hyundai's competitive nimbleness because of its smallish size (although that may be a detriment to those needing maximum cargo space), upgraded safety equipment and the ease of which it handled tight parking lot situations.

Although like most of the segment performance is moderate, but it handled the pesky chores of merging and passing without drama. The interior has been endowed with enhanced styling and provides a nice and relatively quiet place, and the up-do-date exterior styling pleased our eye each time we approached the vehicle.

Perhaps the biggest changes are in the performance category. Both the base 2.0-liter four and the 2.4-liter engine have been reworked and have been endowed with direct fuel injection. This means an additional six horsepower (182) and an additional nine foot-pounds of torque (177) in the 2.4-liter, which is our engine of choice. Although we did not drive the smaller engine, rated at 164 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque, it should be adequate for families who don't normally carry big loads. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

Gas mileage is on par with other vehicles in the segment. The 2.0-liter engine with front-wheel drive is rated at 23 mpg city, 29 highway and 25 combined. The 2.4-liter's numbers are 21/28/24. Mileage suffers a bit with all-wheel drive, 21/25/23 for the 2.0-liter and 20/25/22 for the 2.4-liter. Towing capacity with either engine is rated at a useable 2,000 pounds.

Published numbers bear out our feeling that the Tucson 2.4 offers adequate performance. With front-wheel drive it can finish off a 0-to-60 run in around 8 seconds, matching up well with segment competitors.

For 2014, GLS is now the base model, which means the lowest-priced Tucson has more standard equipment, starting at $22,325. The new mid-level SE trim starts at $24,375. The well-equipped Limited tops the range with a starting price of $27,370. All-wheel drive can be added to any trim level — and both engines — for $1,500.

One of the Tucson's biggest criticisms it seems is directed at its rather smallish size for a compact crossover; for instance, it's about seven inches shorter than the Toyota RAV4 and five inches shorter than the Honda CR-V. But the Tucson's outstanding maneuverability with its tight 34.7-foot turning circle and its fun-to-drive personality more than make up for the interior shortfall. Important to us, we found the Tucson very comfortable for four adults, and we think 25.7 cubic feet of luggage space behind the seats and seats-folded cargo room of 55.8 cubic feet is sufficient.

One thing that did concern us, however, is that the rear seats do not move fore or aft as in most crossovers. This might be a concern for taller passengers. To its credit, Hyundai has added a reclining feature to the 60/40 split rear seats.

The sophisticated exterior design, which came from Hyundai’s Frankfort studio, gives the Tucson an air of luxury. We found the styling, which incorporates an incredible number of creases and curves, very appealing. And the interior is equally attractive offering shapely lines using high-quality appearing materials. And it’s not just all about form over function. Hyundai has kept switchgear intuitive, simple and easy to use

The mid-trim SE would appear to be the best buy with a good assortment of standard equipment for less than 25 grand. Included are the 2.4-liter engine, six-way power driver seat, heated front seat, rear air vents (something missing in earlier years), Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with auxiliary controls, a six-speaker sound system with satellite radio, roof rails, and a hill-holder feature and hill descent control. And don't forget, all Tucson models come with Hyundai's 10-year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty. And while the Tucson has gotten lost in the influx of vehicles, we think it deserves serious consideration.

Our Limited test vehicle in two-wheel drive format came with a panoramic sunroof, an upgraded seven-speaker sound system, a seven-inch touchscreen with rearview camera and navigation. Bottom line was $29,835. Interestingly, that's an almost identical price to the comparably equipped Limited all-wheel drive we drove in 2010, which stickered for $29,490.

Base price: $22,325; as driven: $29,835
Engine: 2.4-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 182 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 177 foot-pounds @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 103.9 inches
Length: 173.2 inches
Curb weight: 3,294 pounds
Turning circle: 34.7 feet
Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds
Luggage capacity: 25.7 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 55.8 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15.3 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 28 highway, 21 city
0-60: 7.8 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Kia Sportage, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V

The Good
• Cutting-edge styling
• Excellent maneuverability
• Long list of standard features

The Bad
• Just-adequate power with base engine

The Ugly
• Modest cargo space