The Theta II 2.4L four-cylinder diverted all 176 hp/168 lb-ft to the front wheels with surprising haste during our demanding driving. We recorded a naught-to-60-mph sprint in 8.2 sec, more than a second quicker than the CR-V AWD (9.5 sec). The Hyundai also achieved our figure eight at 28.6 sec at a 0.57 g average (versus the Honda's 17.2 sec@ 79 mph) and hit the skidpad with a 0.77 g average (0.76 g). We're thinking the CUV's relatively light 3203-lb curb weight helped out its performance causes.

New for the model year is an Eco Button indicating when economical driving behavior is achieved. We tried to adhere to the Eco mode as much as possible, but found that it sometimes put us at speeds slower than the posted limit. Nevertheless, we achieved the claimed 31 highway mpg (23 mpg city) on our SoCal freeway runs. If you're wondering, it bests the EPA ratings of the Honda (21/28), Chevrolet (22/32), and Toyota (22/28) models.

Full torque is had at just 4,000 rpm, meaning more than a few torque-steer-filled jumps from stoplights were the norm at first. Once we adjusted to the touchy tall pedal, the engine's smoothness continued to impress. During highway speed lane changes, torque was often difficult to muster while high in the six-speed auto's range. A handy slot of the gearshift into manual Shiftronic mode for a downshift quickly remedied the power searching. During said lane changes, we were consistently forced to double-check our blind spots. Thanks to the new thicker D-pillars, rearward visibility has been diminished; our mirrors were mostly filled with a nice view of the Tucson's prominent back haunches.

Designers continued the "fluidic sculpture" throughout the passenger space. Catching our eye was the distinct instrument cluster set behind the leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel. The unit features blue-lit gauges recessed within twin pod-like structures. Central dash controls were as easy to use (and find) as they come. Standard features like iPod hookup boded well with our passengers looking for a complete plug-and-play music solution. Though our GLS didn't feature the optional navigation system with backup camera, the whole was put together cleanly without any chaotic lines, extra hard plastics, or mysterious shapes. There's also plenty of storage and cupholders -- we counted 19 total -- for thirsty pack rats. Road noise was still higher than we would have expected for a redesigned model.