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The Hyundai Tucson is a prime example of why crossovers have stolen the hearts of suburban families away from the traditional SUV. It's smartly-conceived, sharply styled with some of the Sonata's design cues, and it's relatively fuel-efficient–though its EPA ratings have been adjusted downward for accuracy.
The Tucson was well timed and well placed in 2010, when it emerged with a fresh look and fresh running gear. The Tucson still looks dramatic and interesting, going on five years later. We're still not sure exactly what's "Tucson" about its urbane new shape, but there's so much surfacing and detailing on its body...wait, what were we saying? It's attractive still, and grabs more attention than a similarly sized Nissan Rogue or Acura RDX. The brash looks launched Hyundai's brand-wide redesign, and for every Sonata or Elantra that came after it, the Tucson seeded the ground. Inside, there's a large LCD screen and vertical blades of metallic trim that slice the dash into sections of low-gloss, tightly grained black plastic, just slightly less audaciously than the sheetmetal.
There's no turbo or any six-cylinder offered with the Tucson--two four-cylinder engines are it, as far as engines go. The base 2.0-liter four and its 165 hp are a price leader in most every sense, so stick with the 2.4-liter four, though you won't have the option of a five-speed manual--it's six-speed automatic only. Fuel economy is almost as good as with the smaller-displacement engine, and the bigger four moves the Tucson at a decent clip, without much noise or vibration. Neither version is quick, per se, while the similar Kia Sportage gets a robust, turbocharged four, but the Tucson's a respectable straight-line performer.Handling is predictable, and the Tucson rides better than it steers. The slightly firm, settled ride on higher-end versions comes to base versions this year, in the form of more sophisticated shocks and retuned bushings. While the road manners are much better than the last Tucson, the engine-speed-sensitive electric power steering is a weak spot. It brings with it a small turning circle, great for parking-lot squeezes, but the steering feel isn't as linear as the better electric systems from VW and Ford, and there's little direct feedback from road surfaces.
It's more spacious than before as well, and the new Tucson bests some luxury crossovers for interior space. It's smaller by a good margin than the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester, but four adults, especially those in front, will find ample room in all directions. The rear seat has just enough headroom for taller adults, and good leg room. Given the choice, we'd steer clear of the optional leather seats: the front leather buckets have short bottom cushions that tilt down at their leading edge, leaving them less comfortable than they could be.
The Tucson earned the IIHS' Top Safety Pick award for 2012, and the NHTSA gives it four stars overall. Curtain airbags and stability control are standard, while Bluetooth and a rearview camera are available. Visibility is an issue in the Tucson: its heavily styled rear end has thick pillars and less glass than, say, a CR-V.
All versions have standard power windows, locks, and mirrors; cloth seats; remote keyless entry; air conditioning; and an AM/FM/XM/CD player with USB port. The options list has as many upscale features as some entry-luxury sedans. There's Bluetooth; telescoping steering; leather seating; heated front seats; steering wheel audio controls; a power driver seat; 17-inch wheels; automatic headlights; and dual-zone automatic climate control. More expensive options on the Tucson include a panoramic sunroof; premium audio; and a touchscreen navigation system fitted in tandem with Bluetooth streaming stereo audio and a rearview camera. Go whole-hog on the options, and the Tucson can reach $30,000.