- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2005

Even if you’ve only remotely noticed the happenings in the auto industry over the past few years, you know Hyundai has made incredible strides in product quality.

Once questionable quality clouded their business, but today Hyundai has become one of the top makers of outstanding vehicles.

With a growth of nearly 50 percent, Hyundai adds one new vehicle now with the promise of the addition of at least two more models soon.

The newest vehicle to join the Hyundai ranks is the Tucson sport utility vehicle. The Tucson is an SUV that fits into a category just below the very popular Santa Fe.

Although aimed at buyers who want a more economical SUV, the Tucson isn’t a cut-rate vehicle.

Set on the same wheelbase as Hyundai’s Santa Fe, the Tucson offers a very stable ride and good handling.

Now it isn’t a sports car, but it is quite capable of handling country roads.

The compactness of this vehicle comes from a shorter body. Even though it is just over 6 inches shorter than a Santa Fe, it doesn’t appear to suffer from passenger space. That is because most of that short length comes from reducing the space behind the rear seat.

This allows passengers to have plenty of room, but those passengers may have to conserve on their cargo. Even here there seems to be lots of room for just about anything you might normally carry for a weekend at your favorite recreation area.

Helping to facilitate the use of all the space available, the 60/40 split, fold-down rear seats are quite easy to fold with just one hand. The rear storage area has plenty of features to help keep all that stuff contained. A weather-resistant floor cover, cargo net and plenty of hold-down loops are standard equipment.

Available in either front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, the Tucson will fit into the busy lives of most buyers. The four-wheel-drive system can be locked into a 50/50 split, sending power equally to the front and rear wheels. This gives the Tucson tremendous ability to slog through the mud.

The four-wheel-drive system isn’t one that will see you climbing the rocks of the famous Rubicon Trail, but for most of your adventures, it will get you into the back country. And more importantly, the Tucson is able to get you out and back home.

This brings us to one of the major factors in the Hyundai resurgence. With a 10-year, 100,000-mile limited warranty, Hyundai vehicles have one of the longest limited warranties in the industry.

Following Hyundai’s lead, many other car companies have jumped on the extended coverage band wagon. For Hyundai and their owners, it has meant this company is so confident of its products that it is willing to back up those claims.

The Tucson accommodates five people in a secure and comfortable interior.

The dash, instrument panel and the door panels are well made and make living with this SUV enjoyable. I am not overly excited by the designs on the cloth upholstery, but that is a personal thing.

Interior noise is held to a reasonable level, offering an interior space where conversations can be held in a normal tone. No need for raised voices from rear-seat passengers.

Wind noise is also held to a minimum, even around those pesky outside mirrors that drive engineers absolutely crazy.

With a 2.7-liter V-6 engine that produces 173 horsepower under the hood, the Tucson performs well, even at highway speeds.

I was quite comfortable in making safe passing maneuvers around slower vehicles as there was plenty of power.

For some reason Hyundai wasn’t making much of a big deal out of the fact that the Tucson comes equipped with Electronic Stability Program (ESP) as standard equipment.

Now, I want to make it clear that I think this is a big deal.

ESP is one of those electronic devices with which I have a love/hate relationship.

For just about any average driver out there, I want his vehicle equipped with ESP, so that if he is about to lose control, his vehicle can help keep it on his side of the road.

This is a very good system and I encourage anyone looking at a new vehicle to consider stability control.

On my car it is a whole different situation. There are times when I am driving with spirit when I do not want these systems interfering with my driving. I want to experience the vehicle to its fullest.

Fortunately, Hyundai has taken me into account and made its system able to be disabled. It fully recycles itself into engaged mode anytime the ignition key is turned off.

That way it is on until the driver makes the decision to disable the system.

Hyundai has gone from offering vehicles that I was reluctant to recommend just a few years ago, to becoming a brand I feel confident in recommending, even to family members. So, you can see I feel pretty confident in the Hyundai lineup.


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