Some vehicles pass through our comparison tests with little more than a "Next!" from the judges. One exceptionally worthy vehicle wins. Often, though, our tests include a few standouts that generate serious buzz-admiring glances, praises in editors' notebooks, approving comments during our evening dinner discussions. Such was the case during last January's "Four of a Kind" comparo, in which Hyundai's revamped Tucson crossover-though it finished second-emerged as one of the leading "buzz-getters" of the quartet.

Now we've got a 2010 Tucson Limited AWD in our long-term fleet. In top Limited trim, the Tucson overflows with standard goodies right off the showroom floor-including 18-inch alloys, leather seats (heated in front), keyless entry, tire-pressure monitoring system, dual-front auto climate control, and a nice audio system with XM Satellite Radio and iPod/USB input jack. To our tester we tacked on the optional Premium Package ($2850), which adds power sunroof, navigation, rearview camera, and premium audio with an external amp and subwoofer (for an extra $100, we also opted for carpeted floormats).

No sooner had our new Tucson showed up than yours truly signed it out and, with wife and daughter on board, headed straight into the wilds of Death Valley for a weekend of springtime wildflower viewing, ghost-town exploring, coyote-spotting, and mild off-roading. First impressions backed up our SUOTY buzz; at under $30K all up, the Tucson Limited sports all the luxuries to take the edge off a long tour (we put on nearly 1000 miles in two days), and it's generally a very agreeable cruiser. The electronically controlled AWD system isn't bred to brave obstacles and terrain a Land Rover easily surmounts (also, max ground clearance is just 6.7 inches), but with stability and traction-control systems, plus downhill brake control and hill-start assist, it feels capable and secure scouring medium-spec off-road grades and mountain passes.

The standard-and only-twin-cam, 2.4-liter four suggests the Tucson is best suited for in-town duties. The 176-horsepower mill had its cylinders full when faced with Death Valley's steepest ascents, several of which continue nearly straight up for more than 5000 feet. Often, in order to maintain climbing pace, I slipped the ShiftTronic six-speed into third while the engine wound away at 6000 rpm or more. If you have lots of hauling to do, or you regularly prowl the mountains, you'll want to look elsewhere.


Our Car
Base price $26,640
Price as tested $29,590
Vehicle layout 5-pass, 4-door SUV Front engine, AWD,
Engine 2.4L/176-hp/168-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb weight (dist f/r) 3396 lb (57/43%)
Wheelbase 103.9 in
Length x width x height 173.2 x 71.7 x 66.3 in
0-60 mph 9.0 sec
Quarter mile 16.9 sec @ 81.4 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 120 ft
Lateral accel 0.79 g (avg)
MT figure eight 28.5 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy econ 21/28 mpg
CO2 emissions 0.82 lb/mile
Total mileage 4670 miles
Average fuel economy 19.3 mpg