2010 Hyundai Tucson GLS FWD

The demand for the Hyundai Tucson has been unexpectedly high—even company executives have been happily surprised at how many people are opting for this crossover utility vehicle (CUV). So far this year, according to Autodata, the demand for the vehicle has been up 162.5% compared with last year, and any company that doesn't have an economic model based on some sort of pyramid scheme doesn't put those kind of numbers in its product planning forecasts, even if, like this Tucson, it is an all-new vehicle.

The demand for the Hyundai Tucson has been unexpectedly high—even company executives have been happily surprised at how many people are opting for this crossover utility vehicle (CUV). So far this year, according to Autodata, the demand for the vehicle has been up 162.5% compared with last year, and any company that doesn't have an economic model based on some sort of pyramid scheme doesn't put those kind of numbers in its product planning forecasts, even if, like this Tucson, it is an all-new vehicle.

Admittedly, the whole small-to-midsize crossover category has, generally, generated demand to an extent that some people might start wondering “irrational exuberance?” Just as there had been those remarkable years of giant demand for pickup trucks (like the teenage girl down the street buying a Ranger when she was no more likely to ever use the cargo area than she would be to give up her cell phone) and full-size, 4WD SUVs (no, it didn't make the guy whose belt was usually located just slightly south of his chest seem any more adventurous), the CUV market has taken a brisk upward climb. In a world with uncertain gas prices (low right now, but. . .) and a somewhat more-realistic view of utility (no, you're not going to need a truck, nor are you going to deliberately leave the pavement), CUVs make sense.

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It's not surprising that the Tucson should be so popular. It you look at it—check out the high quality of the interior, an attention to detail that will surprise the heck out of you if you're familiar with those Toys-R-Us executions that have long been characteristic in this segment; check the sheet metal, not merely the fit and finishes, but the flow of the metal, which is an indication that someone is just as keen on style as someone else is probably counting the number of hits per panel in the dies—you come to the conclusion that this is really a well-done CUV.

Although the Tucson hails from Korea—at least as regards its manufacturing—the design and engineering were performed at Hyundai's operations in Frankfurt, Germany. That's right: this is a Euro-style CUV. And one thing to know about European driving: cars are designed, by and small, for urban environments. Style matters more in the city center than the ostensible ability to drive through the woods.

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The design language is what the company calls “Fluidic Sculpture,” which brings us back to the sheet metal work that was done on the vehicle. Note how it seems to be setup to pounce. This is executed from the front, where there is the slightly shark-like grille opening, lower air intake, hood creases, swept-back headlights, all the way to the back, where the taillights wrap around, flow.

Of course, while it is one thing to look good, it is still another when it comes to long-term driving. And while we didn't have the chance to put months and months and mile after mile on the vehicle, knowing that 68.9% of the steel used for the body is ultra-high tensile strength, that there is extensive use of laser tailor-welded blanks (sheet steel is generally one thickness, or gauge, so sometimes it is necessary to use thicker-gauge steel in order to achieve necessary strength, even though it may be that only a couple of inches really require it; by welding the blanks, the strength gets to where it needs to be and the weight penalty is left where it needs to be: no where), and that the overall body stiffness is high makes us think that there is probably a high probability that the extensive Hyundai warranty isn't likely to be invoked so far as the structure goes. Oh yes: and all that strong material helps make for a safer vehicle, as well.

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The Tucson is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 176 hp. Which you may know puts it below some of its competitors, like the Honda CR-V (180 hp), Toyota RAV4 (179 hp), Ford Escape (171 hp). But horsepower is one thing when it comes to driving performance. Weight is another element. So while it is out-horsepowered by each of these competitors, when it comes to the power-to-weight ratio, it has a decided advantage with its 18.20 compared with 18.82 for the Honda, 18.77 for the Toyota, and 19.83 for the Ford.

There's a six-speed automatic with manual shifting capability (SHIFTRONIC) standard—though we can't imagine why anyone would want to do that this this vehicle. Another nice touch and fuel-saving feature is the rack-and-pinion Motor-Driven Power Steering system, which deploys an electric motor in lieu of the conventional hydraulic pump system.

All in all, it is an eminently drivable, comfortable, and good-looking vehicle. And when you take the considerably competitive MSRP into account (the one Driven has a base sticker of $19,995), the 162.5% sales increase becomes all the more understandable.

Selected specs

Engine: 2.4-liter DOHC four-cylinder

Material: Aluminum block and head

Horsepower: 176 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 168 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm

Wheelbase: 103.9 in.

Overall length: 173.2 in.

Overall width: 71.7 in.

Overall height (without roof rails): 65.2 in.

Curb weight (FWD, automatic): 3,202 lb

EPA mileage: 23/31 mpg