2005 Hyundai Tucson

2005 Hyundai Tucson

Smaller Hyundai sport-utility puts safety features first
on

Sales of big SUVs might be sinking as fuel prices rise, but smaller models appear to be doing fine at dealerships. Hyundai launched its first sport-utility vehicle, the compact Santa Fe, back in the 2001 model year. Now, for 2005, the South Korean automaker has added the smaller Tucson SUV to its lineup.

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Size isn't the only difference between the Tucson and Santa Fe. Both a four-cylinder engine and a V-6 are available for the Tucson, while the Santa Fe offers a choice of two V-6 engines.

Built on a heavily modified Elantra platform, the Tucson is similar to Hyundai's Santa Fe in many ways, but with less cargo space. Ground clearance is 7.8 inches, although the Tucson does not target off-road users. At 103.5 inches, the Tucson's wheelbase is the longest in its segment. Overall length is 170.3 inches, and the Tucson is 68.1 inches tall.

Hyundai says the Tucson is the lowest-priced vehicle in the U.S. with six airbags and a stability-enhancement system as standard equipment. Applying braking force as needed, the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) helps correct understeer and oversteer. Antilock braking and traction control are standard, too.

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"Weight is really the ultimate report card," said John Krafcik, vice-president of product planning and strategic planning. Competing against the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, the Tucson displays a more conventional look than Hyundai's Santa Fe.

A Tucson may have front-wheel drive or optional Borg-Warner electronic Interactive Torque Management four-wheel drive. Ordinarily, 99 percent of engine torque goes to the front wheels of a 4WD model. As conditions change, torque is sent to wheels with the most traction. A dashboard lock button provides a fixed 50/50 split, front/rear.

In addition to a fold-flat rear seat, the Tucson contains a folding front passenger seat. One-button folding stows the cushion, backrest and headrests in a single motion. At the rear is an easy-clean composite cargo floor, with six tie-down locations, three grocery hooks, and under-floor storage.

Fuel economy is a bonus. A Tucson with front-wheel drive and the 2.0-liter, 140-horsepower four-cylinder engine gets a fuel-economy estimate from the EPA of 22 mpg in city driving and 27 mpg on the highway. Four-wheel drive extracts only a 1-mpg penalty. With the 173-horsepower, 2.7-liter V-6, mileage estimates dip to 20/26 mpg with front-drive or 19/24 with four-wheel drive. A four-speed Shiftronic transmission is standard with V-6 power, and optional for the four-cylinder Tucson.

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Generally soft in overall feeling, the Tucson's suspension leans more toward cushiony than sporty. Although the ride is pleasantly smooth on most surfaces, undulating pavement and more vigorous bumps can toss occupants quite a bit. In fact, even moderate road imperfections may induce some motion within the passenger compartment.

Easy to drive, the Tucson demands little correction on straightaways, but handling is relatively humdrum. There's not as much sporty sensation as an Escape offers, though the difference isn't dramatic.

On the distinctive dashboard, beneath a hooded cluster, the large white-on-black central speedometer is easy to read, but the tachometer to its left is less likely to be noticed. The gearshift lever sits on the lower dashboard, ahead of the center console that holds the handbrake.

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Seats are quite supportive and reasonably comfortable. Seat bottoms aren't as short as some, so thigh support is good. You get plenty of front head and elbow space, plus adequate legroom. Thick D-pillars block the view a bit, but visibility is otherwise satisfying, helped by long glass in the rear doors.

Impressively quiet overall the Tucson does display noticeable tire noise on some surfaces. When in manual-shift mode with the automatic transmission, the V-6 engine gets a bit buzzy at higher rpm in lower gears.

Three Tucson versions are available. Priced at $17,499 (plus $595 destination charge), the four-cylinder GL includes 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, power locks and windows, heated power mirrors, and a six-speaker CD stereo. Stepping up a notch, the $19,999 GLS adds a V-6 engine and four-speed automatic transmission, six-spoke wheels, bodyside cladding, fog lamps, and a luggage net. Topping the line, the $21,249 LX features leather seating surfaces, a six-CD changer, and heated front seats. A sunroof is the sole factory option. Four-wheel drive costs $1,500 extra. (www.hyundaiusa.com)

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