The Tucson is Hyundai's smallest SUV, intended to compete with the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V. The 2008 model adds active head restraints and an upgraded stereo.
Trim levels include the GLS, SE and Limited. Either a four-cylinder or V-6 engine can be installed, and a manual transmission is available for four-cylinder models. Both versions can be equipped with front-wheel drive or optional four-wheel drive. Side-impact and side curtain airbags are standard, giving the Tucson a total of six airbags.
Hyundai says the Tucson has a masculine, athletic appearance. SE and Limited models feature bodyside cladding. Wraparound headlights and an LED-type center brake light are installed. A single-bar grille contains the Hyundai logo.
Alloy wheels hold 16-inch tires. Fog lamps are installed on the SE and Limited, and a moonroof is optional. Riding a 103.5-inch wheelbase, the Tucson is 170.3 inches long overall and 66.1 inches tall (not counting the roof rack).
The Tucson's five-passenger interior includes a 60/40-split flat-folding rear seat. The fully reclining front passenger seat can be folded forward. The plastic cargo floor has multiple tie-down locations. Cargo space is 22.7 cubic feet with the rear seat up and 65.5 cubic feet with the seat down.
Standard equipment includes power windows and locks, heated mirrors, keyless entry with an alarm, an intermittent rear wiper and a six-speaker CD stereo. For 2008, the stereo adds an auxiliary MP3 jack and XM Satellite Radio, with free service for three months. Available features on other trims include a leather-wrapped steering wheel, air conditioning and cruise control. Fully loaded Tucsons have heated leather seats, automatic climate control and a six-CD stereo. All models have an easy-to-clean composite cargo floor.
Under the Hood
A standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with continuously variable valve timing delivers 140 horsepower. Either a Shiftronic four-speed automatic transmission or a five-speed manual gearbox can be installed. In uplevel trims, an available 2.7-liter V-6 engine — offered only with the automatic — generates 173 hp.
The available four-wheel-drive system can divert up to 50 percent of available power to the rear wheels in response to changing road conditions or torque demand. A button lets the driver lock the driveline into a 50/50 torque split.
Side curtain airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags, an electronic stability system and all-disc antilock brakes with traction control are standard. For 2008, new active front head restraints move forward in a rear impact to protect against whiplash.
Tucsons lean toward the cushiony end of the ride-and-handling spectrum, rather than the sporty side. The ride is pleasantly smooth on most surfaces, but undulating pavement and even moderate bumps can transmit some roughness to occupants. The Tucson is easy to drive and requires little correction on straightaways, but handling is relatively humdrum compared to the Ford Escape.
Tire noise is noticeable on some surfaces, and some engine buzz is apparent in lower gears in models with the manual transmission. Otherwise, the Tucson is impressively quiet.
The seats are quite supportive and reasonably comfortable. Cargo space falls short of the Santa Fe's, but the area is easy to access. Thick D-pillars block over-the-shoulder views a bit, but visibility is otherwise satisfying because of the long glass in the rear doors.