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Story and photos by Grant Yoxon
Portland, Oregon – Situated between the tall surf and sandy beaches of the region’s coast and year-round skiing on Mt. Hood, Portland, Oregon is a day-tripper’s dream. An afternoon swim or a day on the slopes is no more than an hour’s drive away.
It is a drive that Hyundai hopes will be made in its new compact sport utility vehicle, the 2005 Tucson.
Portland is unlike most urban environments with 37,000 acres of public parks, world-class public transit and a system of pathways for bikers and joggers. Bicycling magazine ranked Portland the United States’ top cycling city.
It is a city with an active arts and culture scene, a bustling downtown core and a vibrant nightlife. It is home to more gourmet coffee shops, micro breweries and brew pubs than any other city in North America.
Portland is a city that appeals to young, active, urban dwellers – work in the morning, swim or ski in the afternoon, visit the theatre at night. They are the same people that Hyundai is targeting with the Tucson SUV, which goes on sale this month.
Smaller than the company’s current sport utility vehicle, the Santa Fe, the Hyundai Tucson combines classic compact SUV styling with flexible seating for five and room for any kind of recreational cargo.
With four and six cylinder engines and available all-wheel-drive, the Tucson’s target market is young, urban consumers who desire a small but versatile SUV at an affordable price.
It will also appeal to buyers who want active safety features in a small vehicle. Anti-lock brakes, traction control and vehicle stability control are all standard.
The Tucson offers a variety of cargo carrying assists. Rear seats fold flat without removing the head rests. The passenger seat folds flat for more storage space or can double as a desk-top for the driver. It can also be fully reclined for sleeping.
A sturdy rubber mat covers the cargo area. Clean-up will be a breeze. Underneath is a scratch-resistant plastic surface with several tie-down locations. And beneath that a large storage tray is available for tools, safety gear and other must haves.
Seat back pockets, large door pockets with bottle holders and a centre console with height-adjustable arm rest, storage bin and four cup holders provide additional interior space for drinks and other things.
If the kayak won’t fit inside, it can go on the top. The roof rack is standard.
Obviously Hyundai’s designers were thinking about how this vehicle might be used. No need to worry about muddy boots. The floor mats have easy-to-clean rubber inserts where the dirty boots will rest.
The base Tucson, which will retail for $19,995, is well-equipped with 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels, roof rack, power door locks, power windows with driver’s -side auto-down, power heated outside mirrors and windshield wiper de-icer.
With air conditioning, the base Tucson is listed at $21,415. A four-speed automatic is also available with air conditioning standard and a list price of $22,415.
The standard sound system is a six-speaker unit with AM, FM, CD and MP3 player. Functions are easy to use and sound quality is much better than you would expect at this price point.
All Tucsons, except the top level all-wheel-drive GLS, have the same durable cloth seat trim and sturdy metal-look trim around the central heating, ventilation and sound system controls. The $28,725 GLS has leather seating surfaces, leather wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats and power sunroof.
In between is the Tucson GL V-6 with either front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive. Comfort and convenience enhancements over the base model include keyless entry and cruise control. V-6 buyers also get bigger 235/60R16 tires, 4-speed automatic transmission with manual shift feature, two tone body side cladding, dual tail pipes and body colour door handles and mirrors.
The GL V-6 FWD is priced at $24,865 while the AWD GL V-6 has a list price of $27,145.
Base engine in the Tucson is Hyundai’s 2.0-litre four cylinder that also powers the Elantra sedan. This engine is rated at 140 horsepower in the Tucson and 136 pound-feet of torque. Base transmission is a 5-speed manual.
Although not available with all-wheel-drive, the 4-cylinder Tucson does come with traction control, anti-lock brakes and vehicle stability control as standard equipment.
Unfortunately, the base 4-cylinder version was not available to journalists attending the Tucson’s North American media launch in Portland. Hyundai expects that the majority of Tucson sales will be six cylinder models.
The 173 hp 2.7-litre V-6 has been a long serving powerplant in several Hyundai models including the Santa Fe, Sonata and Tiburon. It provides good, smooth power for the compact SUV.
With the V-6, the Tucson offers more power than its 4-cylinder Japanese competitors – the Toyota RAV4, Honda CRV and Nissan X-Trail, but not as much as 6-cylinder powered domestics like the Ford Escape or Chevrolet Equinox.
Over rough trails we found both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive Tucsons to be equally capable. The Tucson is not a serious off-roader – its 195 millimetre (7.6 inch) ground clearance precludes that, but all-wheel-drive will provide added assurance when snow on the road complicates a trip to the slopes.
Hyundai’s all-wheel-drive system is a Borg-Warner designed electronic system that normally delivers 99 percent of available power to the front wheels. As conditions warrant, the system will divert up to 50 percent of available power to the rear wheels. There is a dash-mounted AWD lock button that allows the driver to manually lock the driveline into AWD for a 50/50 torque split.
On the highway, the Tucson has a comfortable ride. The suspension is fully independent with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link with trailing arms in the rear. Front and rear stabilizer bars help to keep the Tucson stay planted in the corners.
Should one overstep the limits, the Tucson’s electronic stability program (ESP) will intervene to brake an individual front or rear wheel, or reduce engine power to bring the SUV back in line.
Active safety features like standard ESP, traction control and anti-lock brakes are a big plus for the Tucson. No other compact SUV offers all these features across the model range. Three point seatbelts are only available in all seating positions. But side impact airbags or side curtain airbags are unfortunately not available even as options.
Hyundai designers have taken the safe route in styling the Tucson. Unlike the Santa Fe, which distinguished itself with bulbous fenders and rippled hood (like it or hate it), the Tucson has a greater emphasis on straight lines and is certain to offend no one.
But will it attract its youthful target? While some may yawn at the Tucson’s conservative styling, most will be drawn to the Tucson by it’s feature-filled data sheet and attractive pricing.