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Hyundai Tucson (Click the image for a slideshow)Hyundai Tucson soldiers on as a solid small SUV choice

By Jim Bray
February 6, 2014

It may be getting a little long in the tooth compared with its newer competitors, but Hyundai's Tucson "cute ute" SUV/crossover is still worth inclusion on your shopping list if you're looking in this market niche. (Click the image to open a slideshow in a new window)

Hyundai made its recent name - as opposed to its much-derided early name - by offering good vehicles that come with more stuff stuffed into them than the competition. This tactic continues to this day, though the competition has certainly not been sitting on its haunches and watching this assault happen without fighting back. And that's undoubtedly why this older generation - it hasn't seen a complete upgrade in a few years now and so is probably due - isn't quite as upscale compared to the competition as it was when freshly minted. But it still does a great job at a reasonable price. And how bad can that be?

I spent a very wintry week with the all wheel drive, bigger-engined version of the Tucson and found that it was an excellent vehicle for that kind of weather: ice, snow and cold. Heck, it even had rear seat heaters!

Base Tucsons come with front wheel drive and a 164 horsepower two liter four cylinder engine mated to a six speed manual transmission. This is probably more than enough for many people; heck, even at its $21,499 base price (before taxes and other pounds of flesh) the vehicle still comes with four wheel disc brakes and ABS, electric power steering, heated front seats, projection headlights with LED accents, variable intermittent windshield wipers front and rear, Bluetooth and lots more. And that "lots more" includes Hyundai's Hillstart Assist Control (minimizes roll back on uphill grades) and Downhill Brake Control (ditto, but for when you're driving downhill), Vehicle Stability Management, Electronic Stability Control and Traction Control. That's a lot of standard stuff!

I haven't driven that base model, but I would imagine that, if nothing else, its manual transmission adds quite a bit of entertaining driver involvement.

Hyundai Canada's sample Tucson Limited AWD with Navigation had the 2.4 liter four banger and it's even more interesting than the smaller engine (more thirsty, too, obviously, but not outrageously so). It isn't available with a manual transmission, but Hyundai's automatic is pretty good. It's a six speed unit with a manual mode (sans paddles, unfortunately) and it shifts well. The 2.4 liter engine cranks out 182 horses, which is competitive in this niche. Honda's CR-V, for example, is rated at 185 horses, the Toyota RAV4 sports 176, the Mazda CX-5's larger SKYACTIV four has 184 - and the VW Tiguan has 200 (but costs more).

The electronic on-demand AWD system (with driver-selectable lock) delivers a 50/50 torque split to the front and rear wheels, which comes in really handy on wintry roads. Sure, front wheel drive is pretty great on its own, but for ultimate stability (not including ice, which changes everything), you can't beat AWD. It just makes doing donuts more difficult (though hardly impossible)!

Even though the Tucson isn't all new, Hyundai hasn't been standing still while the other manufacturers took aim at it. This year's Tucsons feature direct ignition (good for performance and gas mileage), projection headlights (with LED running lights) and LED taillights. Hyundai's sample also came with 18 inch aluminum alloy wheels wearing a good set of winter tires, automatic headlights, LED taillights and a lovely panoramic sunroof that would probably be wonderful when it isn't cold enough to freeze a monkey's bum. 

2014 also brings Hyundai's strange "Driver Selectable Steering Mode" to the Tucson, as well as heated and reclining second row seats.

Power from the four cylinder power plant comes on strongly, though the engine's a tad buzzy (but only a tad) and the steering feel is pretty good. You can use that selectable steering mode to tighten it up if you like your drive more sporty, but rather than tightening up the whole driving experience it only affects the steering. Fortunately, the suspension (MacPherson struts up front, a multi-link rear and stabilizer bars fore and aft) feels pretty good anyway - a nice balance between utility, comfort and "whee!" - so it isn't  as if the Tucson continues to wallow even as the steering tightens. In fact, it drives very well.

The Tuscson was the first Hyundai to sport the company's now nearly ubiquitous "fluidic sculpture" exterior, the swoopy looks that works so well on the Elantra and Accent. It still works here; better than it does on the Sonata sedan.

Inside, the Tucson's cabin is attractive and functional, with gauges and controls that are placed logically and which work well. Hyundai's sample, with its nearly all black plastic interior, looks a little stark and even a tad low rent compared to some of the new competitors, but it isn't a big deal. The front seats are comfortable and the back seat is fine for two (tight for three, like most other vehicles of this size, especially when one of them's extremely pregnant and they're all wearing heavy winter clothes). The rear seats split and fold flat for extra hauling space. 

The Limited AWD version also includes quite a few luxurious touches, including leather seats, dual-zone automatic climate control (with a "Clean Air Ionizer"), a pretty good 360 watt AM/FM/satellite/CD/MP3 audio system with iPod/USB/auxiliary input capabilities. The driver's seat featured eight way power adjustment, there was a rear view camera for ease of backing up, tilt/telescope steering wheel with audio/cruise controls, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with garage door opener and a seven inch high-resolution navigation System. 

All that for a price, not including the various kilos of flesh extracted by governments and the like, of just shy of $34,000. Not bad.

There's obviously a lot to like about the Hyundai Tucson, including its competitive price. But it's still an older design, and that makes me curious about what the next generation will offer. After all, Hyundai has come on like gangbusters since this Tucson was introduced, so the next gen may be another leap forward.

It should be interested to see. In the meantime, the current Tucson is no slouch.

Copyright 2014 Jim Bray

Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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