On the road, our impressions didn't improve much. While we don't expect sports-car-like driving dynamics from vehicles in this segment, the Tucson's suspension feels particularly soft with plenty of body roll and light steering with a hint of on-center numbness. And while the 2.7-liter V-6 up front churns out 178 pound-feet of torque, it feels barely adequate -- we've driven plenty of modern four-cylinders with equal or greater grunt. The Tucson sounds thrashy and rough above 4500 rpm, though fortunately there's little point in taking the revs much higher, as the power cuts off well before its 6000-rpm redline. The only transmission available with the V-6 is Hyundai's four-speed automatic. It did its job well in city commuting, delivering smooth and acceptably quick shifts, but an extra gear would probably help both power delivery and fuel economy.
Still, there are redeeming characteristics to be found from behind the Tucson's wheel. The brakes have surprisingly good feel and are easy to modulate, lacking the touchy, overboosted pedal of so many of its competitors. Visibility is also a strong suit, making lane changes and parking a breeze. The stereo and ventilation controls are well-marked and easy to use -- faint praise, but you'd be surprised how many so-called luxury vehicles can't get this right. Road noise is minimal, and while the soft suspension does the Tucson's handling no favors, it does make for a comfortable journey on the pockmarked streets of Los Angeles.
With our tester's window sticker rapidly approaching $27,000 including a $660 destination charge, there are plenty of newer options on the market -- the Subaru Forester 2.5XT for example -- that serve the same purpose at the same price, and do it that much better. With the abundance of modern direct-injection and turbocharged four-cylinder motors powering many of today's major CUV players, we find Hyundai's antiquated V-6 struggling to keep pace with less power and worse fuel economy.
It is worth noting, however, that this review is partially a victim of timing. With the current-generation Tuscon's life cycle being nearly up, we're eagerly awaiting an all-new Tucson slated for a 2011-model-year release and a debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. Our sources tell us the new vehicle is expected to get two new engines -- a 174-hp 2.4L four-cylinder unit and a 277-hp 3.5L V-6. A six-speed automatic will replace the current four-speed unit, and the Tucson's styling will be completely revamped atop a new monocoque structure. Worth waiting for? We'd bet on it.
|2009 Hyundai Tucson Limited 4WD|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door crossover|
|Engine||2.7L/273-hp/278-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|Curb weight||3548 lb|
|Length x width x height||170.3 x 72.1 x 66.1 in|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||18/23 mpg|
|On sale in U.S.||Currently|