- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Hyundai has moved from New Mexico to Arizona, or from Santa Fe to Tucson to be more specific. The new Hyundai Tucson is the Korean automaker’s second SUV to be offered in the U.S. marketplace and also the second to be named after an American Southwest city. It is also the company’s first entry into the small SUV segment.

There will be some observers who claim that the Tucson appears to be a small-size Santa Fe, and while the family resemblance is in evidence, it is really its own vehicle. The styling, with familial Hyundai cues, generates an athletic presence while delivering a substantial level of functionality and utility. The blacked out “B” and “C” pillars, and surround from the “A” pillar aft including the rear quarter window provide a sporty image when combined with the composite front and rear fascias that continue around the wheel wells, connected by the lower rocker cladding.

The spacious interior is well thought out and provides ample room for the occupants and all their gear. The 60/40 rear seat backs fold flat, allowing for a large and versatile cargo area.

Adding to the versatility, the front passenger seat folds forward, extending the cargo space, or it may be utilized as a workspace for the driver (it is to be hoped only when the vehicle is parked). The seat may also be fully reclined for passenger comfort. The rear cargo area mat is removable and covers an easy-to-clean plastic floor with several tie-down locations.

Three trim levels are offered in the Tucson: GL, GLS, and LX. The Tucson GL comes standard with a 2.0-liter DOHC inline four-cylinder, 140-horsepower engine, while a 2.7-liter DOHC V-6 that produces 173 horsepower and 178 foot-pounds of torque is the standard power source for both the GLS and LX models.

Transmission choices include a standard five-speed manual in the GL, or a four-speed Shiftronic automatic in the two upper trim-level models. A four-wheel-drive configuration is available with either engine and consists of Borg-Warner’s Interactive Torque Management System, with an electromagnetic primary clutch with ball ramp design, multiple wet clutch pack and electronic control unit attached to the rear differential.

The ITM system delivers on-demand 4WD when the ECU senses the necessity for more torque at the rear axles. Key standard Tucson features include: four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel ABS, EBD and ESP; 16-inch alloy wheels; air conditioning; power windows, door locks and mirrors; seat-mounted side curtain air bags for front and outboard rear-seat passengers; and remote keyless entry system with alarm. Heated outside rearview mirrors, heated windshield-wiper rests, tinted glass, roof rack side rails, rear intermittent wiper, and AM/FM/CD stereo system with six speakers are all also part of the standard equipment inventory.

Should you feel the need for even more goodies, available features include: leather seating surfaces, a power sunroof with tilt, fog lights, heated front seats, AM/FM/cassette/CD/MP3 with six speakers (standard on LX models), roof rack cross rails and rear privacy glass.

The test Hyundai Tucson was a 4WD vehicle done up in GLS trim with a Nautical Blue metallic exterior finish over Charcoal-toned fascias and cladding surround. The base sticker was $19,999 but after adding the tilt and slide sunroof and destination and handling charge, the final count and amount came to $22,844.

The new Hyundai Tucson is an outstanding small SUV — an ideal alternative to the larger Santa Fe. The 2.7-liter V-6 provides plenty of power for peppy acceleration, and handling is nimble and readily responsive.

The Tucson in GLS trim is laden with standard features and equipment, and even with the extras that appeared as part of the test vehicle, the under-$23,000 price tag represented an exceptional value.

There are thoughtful little touches such as the lift glass/lift gate, cargo cover tray, molded cup and bottle holders in each of the four doors, oversized locking glove box, fold-down rear center armrest with cup holder, grab-assist handles for each door, and sun visors with extensions that elevate the comfort and convenience level of the highly desirable Tucson. Add the Hyundai Advantage program that includes a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, and the overall package is even more attractive.

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