Jonathan and Jacob recently sent the office’s long-term Hyundai Tucson tester up north to spend some quality time with your writer on the highway, on a few jaunts down my favourite cottage road, and on the backroads of Sudbury (which, in early spring, resemble a network of asphalt mine fields that Godzilla just got finished chewing on).

Over a few days, and a few thousand kilometres, a few notable attributes came to light. And since all compact crossovers are, on numerous levels, exactly the same, I figured on focusing primarily on what helps Hyundai’s latest to stand out in a sea of new-to-market compact utes.

First? The styling. This might be the first Tucson anyone buys because of how it looks. Hyundai clearly had their design team work overtime on this one, and the resulting look sets up a machine that’s upscale, poised, sophisticated and packed with detail. Sporty sculpts and a distinctive stance help set Tucson apart on the road, and the great looking new fascia could do double-duty capping the front of a luxury model any day of the week. From outside, this is one of the segment’s big lookers.

On board, the cabin goes the other way: sitting middle-of-the-line between bland and daring amongst the competition. Though build quality feels good, and the leather-wrapped accents are a nice touch, overall materials selection and use of colour and texture is average at best. Further, though Tucson has some crisp instruments and modern-looking interfaces, the overall style and atmosphere of the cabin kept calling the cabin of my mother’s 2011 Elantra to mind. Not a terrible thing, but not a great one, either.

Though the mid-line tester’s cabin fails to match its body where stand-out styling is concerned, the most impressive attributes apparent during your writer’s 6 days and 1,700 kilometres in the Tucson related to how it drives.

Steering first. Tucson uses a motor-driven power steering system, so if feeling the road through the steering wheel is a priority for your next sports ute, this one won’t tickle your ticklish bits. Thing is, the steering action itself is liquid smooth, the steering ratio and effort feel perfect in nearly all situations and at all speeds, and it’s all set beautifully against of the tuning of the suspension. Highway cruising? Tucson feels locked onto its line, stable, and largely proves free of the need to readjust the steering to stay centred within its lane. Around town? The steering lightens slightly, making it easy to whisk and weave through traffic, and in and out of parking lots. Parking? The steering is so light and lazy you could guide the Tucson into a parking space with your pinky finger (although you shouldn’t).

In all, the setup of the steering for consistently good feel in all situations is as good as I’ve ever seen in a compact crossover. Plus, even on the roughest selection of crater-fields, er, roads I could find, the steering is isolated beautifully: there’s no tugging, pulling or arguing with the steering as the road beneath attacks the front tires, and absolutely none of the abuse and impact thrown at the front wheels is transmitted back to the driver’s fingertips.

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