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February 21, 2007

Review: 2007 Hyundai Tucson CRDi

Today’s trendy lifestyle demands something more out of a car.  What was once a means of getting from point A to point B has become a sort of mirror to your own personally—something that ultimately tells the people around you who you are.  The ever increasing compact SUV segment is a testament to this as buyers are beginning to look beyond the three-box compact sedan in favor of something much more stylish and personal.  Of course, it helps having an SUV body style since it offers much more flexibility and utility—something that can’t be said with any sedan.

Almost every car maker has entered the fray, their own entry presenting itself as some much more unique than a model launched an hour ago.  The Japanese brands seem to have the advantage here, as they’ve been at it since the early 1990’s.  So what’s a newbie like Hyundai to do?    Simple: offer something that all others don’t offer, and capitalize on this segment.  Their Hyundai Tucson does just that.  Priced at a shockingly low P 1,078,000 the Tucson offers a lean burning diesel.  Imbued with common-rail direct injection technology, it’s good for 112 horsepower.  Mated to a 4-speed automatic, the Tucson CRDi scuttles well to a comfortable speed with little hassle and surprising refinement.  The engine’s not as isolated or quiet as its Accent stablemate, but the 2.0-liter unit won’t call attention to itself.  With a heavy right foot and stop-and-go traffic, the Tucson still manages an excellent 12.86 km/L.  No doubt, those who are more akin to fuel economy challenges will fair much better.

Besides the drivetrain though, the Tucson offers little difference versus its rivals.  From the outside, it looks clean and modern.  Unlike some other oddball designs out of Korea, the Tucson’s rounded pentagonal headlamps, raised fog lamps and gaping front brake ducts do a pretty good impression of a Porsche Cayenne.  The rear portion is equally distinctive too with a hexagonally cut glass (actually a two-piece tailgate), let-set tail lamps and prominent oval exhaust pipe finishers.  The absence of body cladding distinguishes this from the range-topping 4WD.  There are no off-roading pretensions with the Tucson with its relatively low ground clearance and highway-only tires (215/65 R 16).

The low sticker price may be hard to fathom especially considering the lengths Hyundai went through to design the Tucson’s exterior and giving it that torque-y diesel.  However, the savings have to come from somewhere, and in this case, it’s in the cabin.  Overall, it’s not really offensive, but the effort could be better.  The Tucson is finished in brown with silver trimmings.  From the photos, this scheme looks inviting (and it is), but the execution lacks quality.  It’s plain and feels as if it was lifted off a home appliance.  Unfortunately, this treatment extends to the steering wheel, where the odd 9-3 angle makes it hard to hold.

It’s not all bad news from the inside though, as the Tucson is filled with commendable things.  For instance, the seats are comfortable.  Finished in high-grade fabric, it’s bum-friendly.  There’s good adjustment too, making way for a good driving potion for just about any body type.  Despite the cookie cutter materials, the Tucson feels as solid and sturdy as any Japanese compact SUV (sometimes even better).  Feature-wise, it’s a heavy-weight too with a wonderful JVC audio system with auxiliary audio jack (iPod owners rejoice) as well as 60/40 split-fold seating.  Too bad though, there’s absolutely no safety equipment on board be it airbags or anti-lock brakes.  Aside from the disc/drum brake set, there’s little else that will halt the Tucson confidently (the brake pedal feel is consistent and fade-free though).

On the road, the Tucson feels like any typical car-based SUV: comfort-oriented rather than corner-biased.  There’s some impressive levels of grip, but because of the high torque figure, expect some wheel spin hijinks when the throttle is unloaded.  There’s some generous understeer, but overall the Tucson feels poised and controlled.

The Hyundai Tucson’s take on the compact SUV is unique neither because of its shape nor its driving characteristics, but because of what’s under the hood.  Clearly, the Tucson is made to traverse the urban jungle, but it can still do the out-of-town trekking once in a while, granted you don’t need the security of 4WD.  There are some shortcomings with the Tucson, but with the price, it’s a steal.  If there’s a reason to consider buying a Hyundai aside from the Starex, it’s this one.

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