Under the hood there's initially a single engine, a 2.4-liter inline-four backed by either a six-speed manual (GLS only) or six-speed automatic (optional on GLS, standard on Limited). The 16-valve engine is all aluminum and has continuously variable valve timing on both camshafts. A second engine, a 2.0-liter four, will become available starting next summer and will be the fuel-economy and price leader.

The four-speed automatic is (thankfully) gone, and so is the 2.7-liter V-6, but that engine put out three less horsepower than the new Theta II four's 176 (170 in PZEV models). The switch to the four means a 10 pound-foot loss of torque (15 when compared to the PZEV). And, thanks to a 61-pound weight loss, the new Tucson has a weight/power ratio that's best in its class -- as long as you only look at four-cylinder models. It also has improved fuel economy, 23 city/31 highway, which is only topped by the Escape hybrid (34/31) in that category. Fuel economy improvements came with the switch to the new engine and transmissions, electric power steering, silica tires, and weight reduction.

The old V-6 was just that: old. Add to that the fact that it was sold with a four-speed automatic made the Tucson a vehicle that wasn't all that memorable on the road. With the new engine/trans combo, the vehicle feels quicker and spryer, and has no trouble getting to or staying at freeway speeds. The transmission also has a manual mode (no paddles) with tap up/down shifting. The transmission sometimes had to work a little on grades, but putting it in manual mode on twisty mountain roads eliminated any hunting. However, the new electric power steering does feel a bit artificial and the suspension doesn't absorb enough of the impact of hitting a pothole.