2011 Hyundai Tucson
CUV: Curvaceous Utility Vehicle

WE LIKE: Well-executed cabin, great value, middle and top ranges.
WE DON'T LIKE: Artificial steering feel, unrefined ride.

Hyundai's Fluidic Sculpture design theme, which debuted on the second-gen 2010 Tucson, has paid big dividends thus far. As this issue went to press, year-to-year sales from September 2009 to September 2010 for the South Korean crossover had jumped a colossal 131 percent. Safe to say, Americans like 'em some Tucson.

We like it, too. Not only did we rank the Hyundai second in a comparison test, but we also voted it to round two of this year's competition, something we can't say for the Acura MDX, BMW X5, and Lexus GX. So what did we appreciate? Its value, for one. A base Tucson GL, with a 2.0-liter, 165-horsepower I-4 mated to a five-speed manual, starts at just $19,540. And the GL is not so "base," what with four-wheel disc brakes, iPod and USB connectivity, and keyless entry.

While we didn't have a GL on hand, we did procure the use of a front-drive, mid-range GLS ($22,640 base) and an all-wheel-drive, top-tier Limited ($26,990), both of which come with a larger 2.4-liter, 176-horse I-4 mated to a six-speed auto. Those two trims also offer a lot of bang for the buck. The Limited AWD, for instance, features leather, 18-inch wheels, heated front seats, and all-wheel drive with a lockable 50/50 torque split, all for under 27 large.

In addition to its value quotient, the Tucson delivered respectable test numbers-0-60 in 8.7 (GLS) and 9.8 (LTD), lateral acceleration of 0.72 g (GLS) and 0.77 g (LTD)-as well as excellent fuel economy. The GLS, rated at 22 city/31 highway, returned the best observed gas mileage (20.0 mpg). Further, cargo capacity, at 25.7 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 55.8 with them down, is admirable for a small crossover measuring just over 173 inches in length.

Alas, the Tucson traits we didn't like-vague steering, abrupt ESC intervention, noisy ride- neutralized the respectable and admirable ones we did appreciate. Regardless, a Sport/Utility of the Year needs to be more than just respectable and admirable. - Ron Kiino

2011 Hyundai Tucson
Base price $19,540-$26,990
Price as tested $22,740; $29,090 (*GLS; LTD AWD)
Vehicle layout Front engine, FWD; AWD,* 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 2.4L/176-hp/168-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb weight (f/r dist) 3182 lb (60/40%); 3369 lb (59/41%)*
Wheelbase 103.9 in
Length x width x height 173.2 x 71.7 x 65.2 in
0-60 mph 8.7; 9.8 sec*
Quarter mile 16.7 sec @ 83.9 mph; 17.4 sec @ 81.7 mph*
Braking, 60-0 mph 127; 124 ft*
Lateral acceleration 0.72; 0.77 g (avg)*
MT Figure Eight 28.8 sec @ 0.56 g (avg); 28.5 sec @ 0.57 g (avg)*
MT observed fuel econ 20.5; 19.5 mpg*
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 22/31; 21/28 mpg*
CO2 emissions 0.77; 0.82 lb/mile*
INTERIOR/Functionality ****
VALUE *****
A few refinements and horses from top of class.