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December 11, 2012

Review: 2012 Hyundai Tucson GLS 2WD

Photos by Ulysses Ang
About a decade ago, the bulk of automotive sales was comprised of compact sedans. Think Toyota Corolla; Honda Civic; Mitsubishi Lancer and Nissan Sentra. But soon, a great sales paradigm shift happened, and pretty soon, every car manufacturer had a crossover in their line-up. Though they stood on the very same platform that underpinned compact sedans, crossovers are regarded as a status symbol and combined with its higher ground clearance, ‘command seating position’ and flexible interior meant everyone had or wanted a crossover.

Though relatively late to the crossover party, a brief flirtation with P 58 per liter of unleaded gasoline was an opening for the first-generation Hyundai Tucson primarily for two reasons: one, it was relatively affordable; and second, it was available with a thrifty diesel engine. However, for car enthusiasts, the original Tucson was never the sharpest knife in the drawer. It’s practical and that’s about it. Knowing that, Hyundai carried out the biggest jump in vehicle advancement with the all-new Tucson. And this one’s a killer.

Judging alone by its new ‘fluidic sculpture’ body, you can argue yes. Hyundai has successfully erased the forgettable lines of the previous Tucson by banning boxy from its design language. The result is a body design that easily establishes an emotional connection; something the old model was never able to do. The best view of the Tucson is the front three-quarters where, starting with the headlamps, you can see the design flow through the car as if the wind itself cut its shape.

The sloping hood and highly raked windshield combined with the two-tier maw comes off as a pleasant and distinctive shape. But while a lot of emphasis was done to create a high-tech front-end, over at the side, the lower black cladding seems a bit too contrived. Luckily, the Tucson delivers a satisfying rear end. The rear spoiler is standard too in all model with the exception of the entry-level GL model. It must be noted though that the new Tucson loses its two-piece tailgate (where you can pop open the glass portion separately), but this isn’t a deal breaker.

Like its exterior, the new Tucson has received a through makeover in both design and build quality. While the old model had little charm and sophistication, the new Tucson raises the game, but those expecting Japanese levels of material quality are advised to head elsewhere. There are still a lot of surfaces covered in hard plastics and these usually cover large expanses. Plus, you’re forced to touch some of them such as those on the air conditioning controls and stalks. That nitpick aside, you have to applaud Hyundai for providing one of the best center consoles in a crossover: the X-shaped console is refreshing and quite easy to use despite its spread out buttons. Additionally, build quality is right there with the best of them with no noticeable rattles or unacceptable body panel gaps.

Despite only growing in small increments over its predecessor, the new Tucson is roomy and comfortable, perhaps more so for the people sitting at the back. See, the front occupants may find their knees banging against the rock-hard dash from time to time; but at the back, the room is good for a three adult spread. Though the seats do provide ample support for the back and thighs, the seat bottoms are a bit lacking in length and this can make the Tucson slightly uncomfortable on long trips. The GLS doesn’t come equipped with a telescopic steering wheel, but finding the perfect driving position is still easy.

Consider the Filipino car buyer lucky as Hyundai has brought in the complete line-up of Tucson engines into the market: the 2.0-liter and 2.4-liter Theta-II gasoline engines; and the 2.0 R-series diesel. Being the only engine offered in 2WD guise, Hyundai sees that it will ship most Tucsons with its 2.0-liter Theta-II. The figures are class-leading but nothing to write home about: 165 horsepower and 197 Nm of torque. However, Hyundai isn’t sending home the message of which crossover can out-drag each other in a quarter mile run, after all you don’t buy a crossover to race them; rather it’s focusing its effort on having excellent fuel mileage.

Equipped with a six-speed automatic, the Tucson GLS delivered a commendable 8.21 km/L during the routine work commute which also happened to cover a logjam called a midnight sale. In a suddenly fuel conscious society, this is surely a big selling point. Hyundai claims it is one of three automakers in the world to build its own six-speed automatic. Its investment resulted in a transmission that’s 24 percent lighter than a five-speed ‘box and has 62 fewer parts—all in all, allowing the Tucson to achieve its good fuel economy.

Majority of Tucson buyers won’t give a care about driver involvement and outright performance; nonetheless the Hyundai is still better than a good majority of its crossover rivals. It’s not blistering quick, and it doesn’t have to be; but it’s enough to propel itself to a comfortable cruising speed without being sluggish. The six-sped automatic is generally smooth, but it does suffer from bouts of indecisiveness as well as a power dead spot between second and third gear. Thankfully, you can sort it out yourself with the manual override function. The Theta-II engine is slightly buzzy, but it’s only noticeable past the 4,000 mark. So unless you’re eking out every bit of performance from the drivetrain, the racket shouldn’t be too obtrusive.

The big quirk with the Tucson comes from the electric power steering system, a feature that’s cropping up on more and more new vehicles, most for the sake of improving the overall fuel economy. In the Hyundai, this system definitely takes some getting used to. Aside from its dead feel, the steering is somewhat heavy on center, and while it does lighten up as you turn, you’ll notice that it takes more effort to make slight turns than you’d think.

Another irritation with the Tucson is its limited visibility. Keep in mind that every aspect of this crossover was made to improve fuel economy including the sharply raked windshield, so though forward visibility is alright, the hood drops off so suddenly. The three-quarters view, especially on the driver’s side is an issue as well, as the A-pillar almost completely blocks off your line of sight.

Aside from the steering shortcoming, the Tucson’s overall driving experience is way better than you’d expect. There’s little body roll even during moderately spirited driving, and the suspension isn’t wafty, though some road irregularities do make it into the cabin. The brake pedal feels a bit grabby, with a lot of force applied at the initial contact. This takes some getting used to, but when you learn to modulate the pedal accordingly, the Tucson’s brakes are confidence inspiring.

While it’s not the best choice when it comes to being a performance machine, the Hyundai Tucson is certainly one of the best, if not the best choice in the compact crossover segment. As a daily driver, the Tucson has the goods to please the majority of compact crossover buyers. Undoubtedly, the Hyundai Tucson arrives at the right time where the world lives on higher gasoline prices and its competitors are all long in the tooth. Certainly, the Tucson has what it takes to cement Hyundai’s claim to be one of the world’s best automakers.

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