Introduced as an all-new model in 2005, for 2006 the Hyundai Tucson receives side airbags as standard equipment, curtain airbags on its top-of-the-line model, and the four-cylinder model can now be ordered with all-wheel-drive.

The Tucson is also found over at Kia; the Sportage is the same vehicle with different styling, although they’re built in separate factories. Both are based on the Hyundai Elantra/Kia Spectra platform. The Tucson resembles the Santa Fe but it’s slightly smaller; it’s intended to fill the Santa Fe’s spot in the Hyundai line-up when that vehicle is redesigned for its next-generation model.

Two engines are available, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder and a 2.7-litre V6. A five-speed manual transmission is used only on the four-cylinder; all V6 models use a four-speed automatic. The four lacks oomph, especially when hooked to the optional four-speed automatic transmission. The V6 is a better choice, providing plenty of passing power while returning relatively good fuel economy.

The 2.0-litre starts in GL trim with front-wheel-drive, and uses a five-speed manual transmission that can be optioned up to a four-speed automatic. Standard features include four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, traction control, electronic stability program, 16-inch alloy wheels, roof rack, windshield wiper de-icer, rear washer/wiper, power windows and locks, heated power mirrors, side airbags, height-adjustable centre armrest, and CD/MP3 player with six speakers. A package of air conditioning, keyless entry and privacy glass can be added.

The 2.0-litre GL can also be ordered in all-wheel drive, but with a manual transmission only. The package also adds the air conditioning, keyless entry and privacy glass that’s optional on the GL FWD.

The 2.7-litre GL V6 also starts in front-wheel drive. It includes all the features of the 2.0-litre GL with air, and adds a four-speed automatic, two-tone body side cladding, cruise control, dual exhaust, and body-colour door handles and mirrors. In AWD configuration it includes fog lights.

The 2.7-litre GLS adds power sunroof, heated leather seats, leather-wrapped wheel and shifter knob, and curtain airbags.

The Tucson is slightly smaller than the Santa Fe, but you wouldn’t know it from the inside; interior space is similar, with the same upright seating and excellent visibility. The folding rear seats are a brilliant design: simply pull a handle and they drop to form a flat floor, without flipping seat cushions or removing head-restraints.

It’s nimble, fun to drive and very well-equipped for its price, with a base model that offers more than the comparable Santa Fe for less money.

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