Hyundai couldn't help but improve upon the outgoing version of its Tucson CUV. Even if you ignore the bold and distinctive styling of the all-new 2010 Hyundai Tucson -- which is making its debut in U.S.-spec trim at the 2009 Los Angeles auto show -- this is a vehicle that finally looks to be ready to make some serious inroads in the ever-growing compact crossover segment.

Regardless of whether the Tucson is the class leader in driving dynamics (stay tuned for our first drive), what's important here is that the Hyundai now has the power, fuel economy, and interior amenities to do battle with competitors from Honda, Chevrolet, Toyota, and others. We couldn't say the same about the outclassed 2009 Tucson, which sells about as well in one year as the Honda CR-V does in one month. Clearly, the Tucson has nowhere to go but up.

And down, actually. A 2010 Tucson GLS fitted with the new six-speed automatic transmission is 63 pounds lighter than the 2009 model -- due in large part to the use of high-strength steel and that new transmission. Developed in-house, the six-speed is 26.4 pounds lighter than the five-speed auto it replaces and has 62 fewer parts. A six-speed manual is also available.

Power for the 2010 Tucson will come from Hyundai's new, all-aluminum Theta II 2.4-liter DOHC inline four-cylinder engine good for 176 hp and 168 lb-ft of torque -- a power number that essentially ties it with almost every naturally aspirated entry in its class. Arguably more significant for Hyundai's marketing department, of course, is fuel economy. A front- drive Tucson with the six-speed automatic transmission will be rated 23/31 mpg city/highway. Those numbers place the Hyundai right at the top of the efficiency heap for the segment, neck-and-neck with the four-cylinder Chevrolet Equinox, which gets 22/32 mpg city/highway. Both SUVs are rated at 26 mpg combined.

For the 2011 model year, a more fuel efficient Tucson Blue will join the lineup powered by a Theta II 2.0-liter four-cylinder. This engine is upgraded from its performance in the last-generation Tucson, where it made 140 hp. Like the Elantra and Accent Blue, the Tucson Blue will function as a fuel-efficient and inexpensive option, complete with low-rolling-resistance tires, reduced final drive ratios, and improved aerodynamics.