Hyundai's embarked on a new design theme, while it tries to put more time and distance between its plainer past and its new lineup. The 2011 Tucson wears that "fluidic sculpture" look, as do the new Sonata and Elantra.
The sheetmetal inverts the Tucson's bland, upright style sheet from just a couple of years ago. The design hails from Hyundai's European design studios, teamed with those in Korea and the United States, with perhaps more than a casual nod to the Nissan Rogue and the Euro-market Ford Kuga.
On the Tucson, the styling theme sets the crossover apart from a field that's still pretty heavily influenced by old-school SUVs. The Tucson isn't square, nor is it upright: it's curved, crested, and looks quite upscale from its nose to its tail, almost like a miniature Buick Enclave. It gets a little tall and thick toward the rear--some problems can't be resolved with arcs of chrome trim, after all--but the angular taillamps drop some of the visual weight out of the rear end. Some versions have more chrome trim work around the grille and sides, while all editions have black trim that cuts the visual height of the doors on the side view.
The cabin in the 2011 Tucson hits the same global note. A big LCD screen is flanked by chromed vents, and dashes of metallic-painted plastic breaking up plenty of tightly grained, hard black plastic. The Nissan Rogue has the best-finished interior in the niche, and the Honda CR-V has one of the best-fitting cabins even if it seems a touch plasticky, but the Tucson's interior is at least as well done as the cockpits in the Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4.