After the aquatic activities, visual assets manager Brian Vance was next to try the Tucson, subjecting it to three snowstorms on the way to Lake Tahoe and Reno. Thanks in part to electronically controlled all-wheel drive and mud-and-snow-ready all-season tires, Vance never bogged down and scarcely spun a tire as he relished the warmth of the heated front leather seats. After his 1200-milejourney, he was even more mindful of the cabin's plastics, finding them "easily marred by shoes, luggage, and overall daily use."

Still more staff members had a go with the Tucson in the city. Praise was universal for the steering wheel design, which includes well-arranged sound system and cruise-control controls, but when editors were forced to tune the radio by hand they complained about the knob's distant positioning. Several staffers disliked the motor-driven power steering's gummy feel and a few found the ride harsh in comparison with other soft-roading CUVs, although most thought it was passable for its task.

With our team shuttling through the wilder parts of the Golden State, the Tucson required only a little R&R in its 21,345-mile tour of duty, accumulating a $120.92 tab for two oil changes, two tire rotations, and two inspections. For as much potential trouble as we put it through, the Tucson never seemed to mind.

Inevitably, some of the initial buzz did wear off. Minor, unidentified creaks became background noise, and we accepted other foibles like navigation screen glare because the Tucson offered so much for so little. Even if we weren't chasing the world's next epic adventure, we were glad the 'ute was always ready to go. And that's buzzworthy in itself.