- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2005

There’s more to the 2005 Hyundai Tucson than its affordable price.

This new, five-passenger sport utility is the lowest-priced vehicle with an exceptional package of standard safety features, including stability control, traction control, antilock brakes, front side air bags and side curtain air bags.

Indeed, the Tucson, which has a starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $18,094, has safety features not available on some other SUVs with higher prices.

This includes Hyundai’s Santa Fe, which starts at $22,094 and was the company’s first SUV when it debuted in the summer of 2000. The Santa Fe is still part of the Hyundai lineup but doesn’t have curtain air bags and stability control.

Despite the fact the Santa Fe and Tucson are just a few inches different in exterior size and the Tucson’s V-6 is also available in the Santa Fe, Hyundai officials said the Tucson is designed to compete primarily with other small, entry-level SUVs.

These include the segment leader, Ford’s Escape, which starts at $19,995, and Honda’s CR-V, whose starting MSRP with destination charge is $20,510.

Hyundai’s Santa Fe, meanwhile, is going to move upscale in the company lineup, especially after its next-generation model comes out early next year.

Both a four-cylinder and a V-6 are offered in the new Tucson. Buyers of the 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter, inline four can choose between a five-speed manual transmission and a four-speed automatic.

This engine, with maximum torque of just 136 foot-pounds at 4,500 rpm, is in the base GL trim level of Tucson only.

Tucson buyers who move up to the 173-horsepower, 2.7-liter, double-overhead-cam V-6 can’t get a manual.

Only the four-speed automatic model with a Shiftronic shift-it-yourself mechanism is offered in the GLS and LX trim levels.

Maximum torque from the V-6 is 178 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm. This engine performed well in the test Tucson GLS.

The vehicle didn’t lag when I passed others on highways, and the engine worked well moving the more-than-3,500-pound Tucson GLS up hilly, two-lane roads.

Transmission shifts in the Tucson were quite smooth, and the ride inside was mostly quiet.

The independent, four-wheel suspension damps many road bumps, but the test vehicle bobbed gently up and down on some road undulations.

There’s noticeable body lean when the Tucson is driven through curves.

The Tucson has the typical tall SUV profile and is approximately 5.5 feet high.

But the Tucson’s structure, based on a modified platform of the Hyundai Elantra car, puts seats in a comfortable position low enough so someone my size, 5 feet 4, doesn’t have to climb up to get inside, and high enough to provide good views out of the vehicle.

The Tucson’s power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering has a mainstream feel, and the interior conveys a well-put-together look with easy-to-read gauges and pleasing fabrics.

Rear-seat riders get decent room in the Tucson, including 37.2 inches of legroom.

The Tucson has 22.7 cubic feet of cargo room behind the back seats and 65.6 cubic feet when these seats are folded down.

Both four-cylinder and V-6 Tucsons are available in two- and four-wheel drive.

Four-wheel-drive Tucsons come with a Borg Warner torque management system that monitors wheel traction, among other things.

Normally, 99 percent of the engine power goes to the front wheels, but if slippage is detected, up to 50 percent of the power can be sent automatically to the back.

This 50-50 arrangement can be locked into place with the push of a button on the dashboard.

Safety items aren’t the only standard features on this vehicle.

Every Tucson comes with power door locks, power windows, power mirrors, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, floor mats, CD player, a washable cargo floor and heated outide mirrors.

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