2005 Hyundai Tucson GL 4 cylinder
Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Haney Louka

This has to be a first.

Mark this date, because it’ll be one to remember, and here goes: If you’re considering buying Hyundai’s new mini sport utility, don’t even think about getting the stick.

That’s right: the most die-hard proponent of manual transmissions has just recommended a slushbox. What’s next? The NHLPA agreeing to a 40-hour work week?

It’s not that the Tucson isn’t well suited to a manual; indeed, the most fun-to-drive mini-utes are even more so with a stick, with the Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester and Nissan X-Trail topping that list. The problem is in the execution: the clutch is numb and lifeless, the shifter’s throws are long and sloppy, and perhaps worst of all, the engine hangs on to revs long after the Tucson’s driver initiates a gear change.

But here’s the good news: opt for the automatic-equipped Tucson and what you’ll get is a well-built, stylish SUV that will make you feel like one of the smartest shoppers around.

The Tucson line-up

The Tucson is Hyundai’s new-for-2005 entry-level mini-ute; it has entered the market on a roll, garnering an Automobile Journalists Association of Canada award for the Best New Crossover Vehicle. (For the purposes of AJAC testing, the line is drawn between crossover and SUV based on whether the manufacturer is willing to subject its entry to an off-road test loop.)

2005 Hyundai Tucson GL 4 cylinder

2005 Hyundai Tucson GL 4 cylinder
Click image to enlarge

Pricing starts at $19,995 in base front-drive GL form. Add $1,000 for the automatic and another $1,420 to add air conditioning, and that $22,415 buys you one of the best deals going. Standard equipment includes roof rails, six-speaker CD audio, an overhead console, power windows and locks with keyless entry, and 16-inch alloy wheels. But where the GL really shines is in active safety features. Four-wheel discs with anti-lock brakes, traction control, and electronic stability program (ESP) are all standard-issue (although, oddly, the Kia Sportage is the same vehicle and comes with six air bags to the Tucson’s two).

Although basic warranty is an exceptionally long five-year/100,000 km, note that Hyundai’s short-lived seven-year/120,000 km powertrain warranty, introduced in 2004, has been dropped back to 5/100 for 2005.

V6-equipped models range from $24,865 for the 2WD GL to $28,725 for the all-wheel-drive GLS complete with heated leather seats and a moonroof. Fear not; all six-pot Tucsons come equipped with the automatic.

My tester was the five-speed version with air, with an as-tested price of $21,415 plus freight and taxes.

There is extensive overlap in the price ranges of the new Tucson and its slightly larger sibling, the Santa Fe; the redesigned 2006 Santa Fe will grow to a much larger and more expensive vehicle. For now, though, powertrains and pricing are very similar, with the exception of the high-end 3.5-litre Santa Fe. Which one you choose will likely come down to personal preference and whether you need the marginal increase in cargo space that the Santa Fe provides.

Nuts & bolts

With 140 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 136 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm, the base 2.0-litre four-banger has enough oomph to earn an “adequate” rating in my books. It’s a half-step behind most rivals, which ante up between 150 and 165 hp in their four-cylinder versions.

2005 Hyundai Tucson GL 4 cylinder
Click image to enlarge

The aforementioned five-speed stick transfers power to the Tucson’s front wheels all the time, whereas AWD versions send 99 per cent of the power up front and then divert up to half of it rearward in the event of wheel spin. All-wheel-drive models can also be locked into a 50/50 front-rear torque split via a dash-mounted button at lower speeds.

While the Tucson shares a platform with the compact Elantra sedan, the wheelbase is stretched 20 mm to 2,630 and it enjoys a track that is about 70 mm wider for a total of 1,550 mm. True to its Elantra roots, it’s suspended on MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link independent rear setup with trailing arms.

Four-wheel discs provide stopping power, aided by the aforementioned electronic anti-lock and stability control systems.

With its unibody construction, the Tucson tips the scales at 1,470 kg, exactly in line with other car-based utes in its class.

Inside and out

2005 Hyundai Tucson GL 4 cylinder

2005 Hyundai Tucson GL 4 cylinder
Click image to enlarge

Tucson’s exterior appearance doesn’t break any new ground in the realm of small SUVs, although it does come across as a very clean, cohesive design. The standard-issue alloy wheels are of the simple five-spoke variety and buyers who ante up for the V-6 even get dual exhaust outlets.

The hatch design incorporates both a traditional liftgate and a hinged glass panel, either of which can be opened via an outside latch.

Surprising for a base model, my tester sported body-coloured bumpers and dark tinted windows.

The clean and simple design carries through inside, although the upscale intentions don’t translate as well as they do with the Tucson’s outward appearance. Adorning the centre stack is convincing metallic-looking trim that surrounds the vents, audio system, and heating/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC) controls.

2005 Hyundai Tucson GL 4 cylinder
Click image to enlarge

Interior storage is well thought out, with cupholders in the centre console, bottle holders in the door map pockets, and two cubbies in the centre stack.

The tasteful faux-metal trim notwithstanding, the entry-level cloth upholstery and abundant use of monochromatic plastics throughout make for an undeniably budget-minded interior.

Cargo space measures 644 litres with the rear seats up and 1,856 with them in the folded position, which is even less than the RAV4’s puny cargo hold but more than the comparably priced Mazda3 Sport, which would be my choice in this price range.

Small as the cargo area is, potential buyers can still brag that they can carry more stuff than the $60,000-plus BMW X5 and about the same as Infiniti’s FX crossovers.

The driving experience

I won’t harp any more about my dissatisfaction with the Hyundai’s manual gearbox, and instead focus on the most impressive aspect of the Tucson’s driving experience: ride quality. Small SUVs, even car-based ones, are typically not associated with a supple ride due to a relatively short wheelbase and high centre of gravity. Not this one.

2005 Hyundai Tucson GL 4 cylinder

2005 Hyundai Tucson GL 4 cylinder
Click image to enlarge

The ride quality was impressive to the extent that I didn’t make notes on the subject until my week with the Tucson was almost over. Nor did I make comment about excessive dive, squat, or body roll while driving around town.

To achieve that level of ride comfort while avoiding excessive body motions as the Tucson does is a laudable accomplishment in this segment.

During my week in March with the Tucson I was treated to a pleasant combination of freezing rain, fresh snow, and near-zero temperatures. While I can appreciate the high seating position that even a small SUV such as this affords, I can’t figure out why anybody would buy one of these without all-wheel-drive. The lack of power at the rear wheels rendered the Tucson no better than any front-driver in terms of acceleration and cornering ability in the slick stuff.

That considered, I can’t help but think that the same dollars would be better spent on a Mazda3 Sport, which has more power, consumes less fuel, handles better, and has a nicer interior. All it’s missing is the ride height, if you like that sort of thing.

To Sum It Up

2005 Hyundai Tucson GL 4 cylinder
Click image to enlarge

The Tucson represents outstanding value in its segment, with a stylish, well-built entry and a price that undercuts everybody else out there. Just stay away from the stick.

Shopping Around

The Tucson, along with its Kia kissing cousin Sportage, marks the starting price in a segment crowded with American and Japanese entries:

Chevrolet Equinox $26,615
Ford Escape $22,995
Honda Element $23,900
Honda CR-V $28,200
Jeep Liberty $27,460
Kia Sportage $19,995
Mazda Tribute $24,495
Mitsubishi Outlander $23,340
Nissan X-Trail $25,900
Saturn Vue $23,090
Subaru Forester $27,995
Suzuki Grand Vitara $25,495
Toyota RAV4 $24,585

Technical Data: 2005 Hyundai Tucson GL 4 cylinder

Base price $19,995
Options $1,420 (air conditioning)
Freight $730
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $22,245
Type 4-door, 5-passenger compact SUV
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.0-litre inline 4, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 140 @ 6000 rpm
Torque 136 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual
Tires 215/65 R-16
Wheelbase 2630 mm (103.5 in.)
Length 4325 mm (170.3 in.)
Width 1795 mm (70.7 in.)
Height 1730 mm (68.1 in.)
Cargo capacity 644 litres (22.8 cu. ft.) seats up
  1856 litres (65.5 cu. ft.) seats folded
Fuel consumption City: 10.6 L/100 km (26 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.9 L/100 km (35 mpg)
Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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