2008 Hyundai Tucson Limited FWD
2008 Hyundai Tucson Limited FWD . Click image to enlarge
Competitors
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Chevrolet Equinox
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Ford Escape
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Honda CR-V
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Jeep Compass
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Jeep Patriot
See below for complete list.

Manufacturer’s web site
Hyundai Canada

Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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2008 Hyundai Tucson

Oshawa, Ontario – Introduced for 2005, the Tucson was initially a puzzling addition to the Hyundai line-up. It was close enough in size and capacity to the Santa Fe, the company’s original compact SUV, that it seemed superfluous. But it all made sense in 2007, when the Santa Fe was completely redesigned, becoming larger and with the option of three rows of seats, and the Tucson settled comfortably into its role as the South Korean automaker’s entry-level utility vehicle.

For 2008, changes to the Tucson are in the trim lines, with powertrains untouched. Choices are a 2.0-litre four-cylinder, which comes with a five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic, and the 2.7-litre V6 found in my Limited tester, which comes strictly with the autobox. My vehicle was front-wheel drive, but the V6 can be optioned with an all-wheel drive system. It’s a “slip and grip” type that runs primarily in front-wheel until it senses slippage, whereupon it sends power to the rear wheels as well. It can also be locked into all-wheel mode at speeds under 40 km/h when you need extra help to get out of a snowy driveway.

2008 Hyundai Tucson Limited FWD
2008 Hyundai Tucson Limited FWD . Click image to enlarge

The Limited name is new for 2008; previously, it was known as the GLS V6. The base model, strictly a four-cylinder, is now called the L. The rest of the line-up consists of the GL, in four- or six-cylinder configuration; the four-cylinder GLS; and the V6-powered Limited.

Hyundai and Kia being intertwined, you’ll also find a version of the Tucson in Kia showrooms, where it’s called the Sportage; they’re the same under the skin, but the two have different styling, and they’re built in separate factories.

If you don’t mind spending a little more for fuel, the V6 is a better choice; the four-cylinder can be anemic and really needs the stick-shift, which works fine but has a rubbery feel to it. With 173 horses and 178 lb-ft of torque on tap, the V6 pulls this trucklet along with a fair bit of authority. The four-speed transmission is well-mated to it, and those who really wanted a stick can play with the manual shift mode.

Handling is tuned typically for the segment: it’s light and easy to spin around in the grocery store parking lots where these compact SUVs are mostly likely to be found. Hit the throttle from a standstill, though, and you’ll notice a considerable amount of torque-steer.

2008 Hyundai Tucson Limited FWD
2008 Hyundai Tucson Limited FWD
2008 Hyundai Tucson Limited FWD
2008 Hyundai Tucson Limited FWD
2008 Hyundai Tucson Limited FWD . Click image to enlarge

Very spacious for its size, the Tucson offers more second-row legroom than the larger Santa Fe, with lots of space under the front seats to tuck one’s toes. The Limited comes with heated leather seats that are quite comfortable, even for longer drives.

The straightforward, uncluttered dash includes a centre stack accented with metal-grain inserts on the GLS and Limited models. The controls are large and easy to use, save for a small digital clock tucked up at the very top that’s hard to read in daylight. Cupholders are stashed in the centre console, back and out of the way, and there’s a covered console box in behind. A nice touch is a little cubby at the bottom of the centre stack, just in front of the shift lever, which can be used to hold a music player such as an iPod when it’s plugged in; for 2008, all Tucson models come with an auxiliary jack that’s found on the stereo face, next to the CD slot.

The Tucson has always impressed me with the ease in which it transforms from people-mover to cargo-hauler. Press a single lever, and the rear seats fall flat, without removing the head restraints; they also lock down, so you can tie items to the cargo rings if necessary and not have the seatbacks flop up and down. Both the cargo area and the rear seatbacks are plastic; it scuffs fairly easily, but it’s also much better for cleanup than carpet. With the rear seats up, the cargo area is 75 cm long; with them down, it stretches to 165 cm in length. The front passenger seat folds as well, for a total of 250 cm of available cargo length. But wait, there’s more: lift the rear plastic floor, and there’s a large hidden storage compartment, with a removable divided tray.

The interior boasts very good-quality materials and excellent fit-and-finish, but the outside could use more attention. The front and rear fascias are either grey or body-colour, depending on the trim line; mine were fitted very poorly, with huge gaps and visible fasteners where they joined the body.

I found, overall, that my perception of value with the Tucson was far more favourable at the lower end of the scale. The base 2.0-litre L starts at $21,195; the least-expensive V6, the GL, starts at $26,495. That includes all of the amenities found on the Limited, with the exception of cloth seats versus the Limited’s leather, the metallic-grain centre stack accent, a sunroof, and seat side and curtain airbags.

2008 Hyundai Tucson Limited FWD
2008 Hyundai Tucson Limited FWD
2008 Hyundai Tucson Limited FWD . Click image to enlarge

But at almost $29,000, my Limited seemed too pricey. I didn’t expect this top-line trim to have a manual seat adjuster, or no lights in the vanity mirrors, or plastic plugs in the holes where only the all-wheel version of the Limited has fog lights.

The side and curtain airbags were the biggest question. They’re only on the Limited models, and can’t even be optioned to the lower trim lines. So why does the sister Kia Sportage add them as standard equipment on every model, and at a fairly comparable price to the Hyundai version?

For all its good points – and it has many of them – my impression of the Tucson was of a vehicle that’s just about ready to be reintroduced as an all-new, next-generation model, and so it’s being built out until that happens. If Hyundai’s going to move up, as it’s doing with the Veracruz and the upcoming Genesis sedan, it needs to pay attention everywhere in the line-up. Put the Tucson on your test-drive list, by all means, but don’t forget to look at it with an objective eye.

Pricing: 2008 Hyundai Tucson Limited FWD

Base price: $28,795
Options: None
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,610

Price as tested: $30,505
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

Specifications
  • Specifications: 2008 Hyundai Tucson

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