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First drive: Tucson tackles Japanese

Price pleaser: Tucson is almost certain to start below $30,000 when it reaches Australian soil.

Hyundai hopes Tucson will succeed where Terracan and Santa Fe failed

5 May 2004


HYUNDAI is about to land its third four-wheel drive wagon onto Terra Australis, another built with America in mind more so than other continents and which is sure to create dilemmas for Australians when it arrives from South Korea in August.

Just as the Santa Fe and Terracan have tried, with little success, to divert attention from the all-conquering Japanese with excellent value and ever-increasing standards, the small-sized Tucson will force Antipodeans to reconcile its merits with its maker’s renown as a budget brand.

It will also be another vehicle with a difficult name – pronounced "Toohsohn" rather than "Tucksun" – derived, like Santa Fe, from a southwest American desert locale with little relevance outside the US.

"It doesn’t really matter what (Australians) call it, so long as they recognise it as a new Hyundai model,” said Hyundai Motor Co. Australia spokesman Richard Power.

"I don’t think it’s a huge problem. Australians pronounce things in lots of different ways – even the name Hyundai is a case in point – but it’s not a critical issue. The car speaks for itself." He is also convinced Tucson will be better placed to succeed than the larger Santa Fe.

"I think Tucson has a couple of advantages. It will be ... less polarising in styling and design, that’s probably the first thing, and the other two things is it will be a little less costly to buy and a bit more competitive as an overall package in its market segment," he said.

With Santa Fe and Terracan winning less than three per cent market share in their respective small/medium SUV segments in 2003, Hyundai Australia officials seem to realise the monumental task the five-seater Tucson has ahead of it and are forecasting a modest 200 sales per month – about a fifth the number of rival vehicles such as RAV4 and X-Trail achieve.

But Tucson won’t be irrelevant.

1 center image It has conventional looks, excellent interior room for this class and, at the summit of the range, a 2.7-litre V6 under its bonnet.

Furthermore, Tucson is almost certain to start below $30,000 when it reaches Australian soil, with standard features set to include dual airbags, air-conditioning, electric windows, central locking, a six-speaker CD stereo, 60/40 split-fold rear seat and 16-inch wheels.

Pricing and specification are still being negotiated but two engines – a 2.0-litre four-cylinder is the other – with one trim level each will be offered along with the usual collection of options.

Higher-spec features on the 2.7 V6 are expected to be curbed to cruise control, tinted rear windows, foglights and twin exhaust outlets, keeping pricing in the low-$30,000s to create a strong case in the segment and maintain some distance from Santa Fe, which at the moment starts from $32,990. Terracan is not far off, either.

Based on the XD Elantra platform, Tucson has a monocoque chassis and uses all-independent suspension comprising MacPherson struts and a 21mm stabiliser bar at the front and, at the rear, a multi-link suspension with 14mm stabiliser bar.

It has power-assisted rack and pinion steering that needs 3.1 turns lock-to-lock. The turning circle is 10.8m.

The brakes comprise 280mm ventilated discs (with floating twin-piston callipers) at the front and 284mm solid discs at the rear. Four-channel anti-lock brakes and electronic traction control should also be available, although these and side-impact and curtain airbags are still to be confirmed.

It is known that Australian models will have head restraints and three-point seatbelts in all seating positions and, for front occupants, belt pretensioners and load-limiting devices.

Hyundai Motor Co. senior research engineer Wook Jin also told GoAuto that the Tucson should achieve a five-star crash-test rating – the highest possible – from the US National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), and a four-star rating from the European New Car Assessment Programme (ENCAP).

Not the all-new aluminium ‘Theta’ engine now in production for the forthcoming NF Sonata, Tucson’s 2.0-litre 16-valve CVVT inline-four is a derivative of the ‘Beta’ series used in Elantra and Tiburon.

It will be available with a five-speed manual transmission and optional four-speed automatic with Shiftronic sequential manual shift mode.

It produces 104kW at 6000rpm and 184Nm at 4500rpm.

Seen in the Tiburon, Santa Fe and others, the 2.7-litre 24-valve ‘Delta’ V6 develops 129kW at 6000rpm and 241Nm at 4000rpm, and is restricted to a four-speed auto with pseudo-manual mode. An 83kW/245Nm 2.0-litre common-rail turbo-diesel could also arrive at a later date.

Kerb weight ranges from 1542-1648kg on 2.0-litre variants and 1593-1678kg on the V6.

As for its four-wheel drive credentials, Tucson uses a Borg-Warner electronic torque-on-demand InterActive Torque Management 4WD system that sends 99 per cent of the available torque to the front wheels and can divert up to 50 per cent of the available power rearward as needed via an electro-magnetic clutch.

Unrelated to the constant-4WD Santa Fe, which has a 60:40 front/rear torque split and a limited-slip rear differential, four-wheel drive on Tucson is engaged in driving situations such as hard acceleration, cornering slip and wheel spin.

A dashboard-mounted 4WD lock button also allows the driver to ‘lock’ the driveline into 4WD in low-traction, low-speed (35km/h or below) conditions for a 50/50 torque split. There is no low-range gearing or electronic crawling device.

Interior volume measures 2905 litres, with the cargo area offering 325 litres with the rear seat in place or 805 litres when folded.

Kia Automotive Australia expects to get its different skinned version, the new generation Sportage, in the fourth quarter.


Price$28,990 (est.)$31,290
Engine104kW/184Nm 1975cc inline-4120kW/224Nm 2362cc inline-4
Kerb weight1542-1648kg1310-1410kg
Track front/rear1540mm/1540mm1505mm/1495mm
Ground clearance195mm190mm
Approach/departure angle28 degrees/32 degrees31 degrees/31 degrees
Breakover angle19 degrees25 degrees


DRIVING left-hook cars with suspension settings and trim levels for markets other than Australia make initial driving assessments inconclusive, however our first date with the Tucson – on South Korea’s Jeju Island – revealed a fair bit about where it will stand when it arrives Down Under.

While the thick, protuberant front bumper treatment does not seem all that well resolved, the Tucson cuts less of a cartoon figure than the Santa Fe and has a strong enough presence to send the marketing maestros back to (tired old) terms like athletic and masculine.

What it does have is an attractive look from the rear three-quarter view and a lot of useful room and amenities inside.

Hard, unwelcoming plastics across the dashboard and doors fail to dispel the impression that this is built to a tighter budget than other vehicles in Asia and elsewhere, but to their credit the designers have shown considerable restraint in their use of fake wood trim and chrome detailing. An effective metallic-look finish surrounds the centre dash stack on some models.

Height adjustment for the requisite high-perched front seating position is restricted to the cushion rather than including the backrest on various trim levels, and there is no fore-aft movement of the steering wheel, although most Tucson drivers should have little trouble finding a suitable position.

The front seats are comfortable though lacking support under the ribcage and thighs, the central instruments are clear-cut, stalks for the stereo and cruise control can be installed on the steering wheel, the dash-mounted transmission is close to hand, climate and stereo controls on the centre dash stack are blessed with large, tactile buttons, and hunker-down rear headrests aid rearward vision.

There’s no fore-aft slide or seat removal function as seen on the RAV4 but accommodation and amenities for two adults is nonetheless admirable

Storage facilities for bottles and odds and sods are bountiful, almost to the point of excess, with a two-tiered and lined centre console box (which can be raised for an armrest), seatback pockets, a ledge below the steering column, a dish underneath the centre fascia and a large and somewhat useless crater on the dashboard.

There are also large front door bins with bottle holders, more holders between the front seat cushions, a shopping bag hook in the passenger’s footwell, an under-seat drawer, a little platform below the door armrest, an overhead sunglasses console and a deep (and lockable) glovebox.

In the rear, there’s no fore-aft slide or seat removal function as seen on the RAV4 but accommodation and amenities for two adults is nonetheless admirable with decent legroom and headroom, a reclinable seat, useful centre armrest, bin and bottle holder in each door and a 12V outlet behind the centre console.

Foot space underneath the front seats is marginal and a third occupant across the bench – harnessed in an undesirable two-buckle belt that extends from the right-rear pillar – would make the available room much less enticing. While child restraint anchorage points are in an acceptable position on the floor behind the seat, an automatic belt locking mechanism on the rear seatbelts and height adjustment for the seatbelt sash are also needed.

Folding the 60/40 backrests is a simple one-button exercise that can be done with the front seats at their rearmost station and without removing the three head restraints, although the headrests do need to be sent into their lowest position. There’s no barrier between the cargo compartment and the cockpit when the backrest is folded but otherwise the resultant area – which more than doubles the luggage volume – is useful with features such as an almost flat and durable-surfaced floor.

Other than from the rear doors, access to the luggage compartment can also be made through the back window or via the one-piece hatch – the latter needing to rise another 30mm or so when open to cater for taller users – and the area contains tie-down rings, cargo net attachment points, shopping bag hooks, another power outlet, removable parcel shelf, small bin in the right-rear trim and a shallow foam storage ledge underneath the floor. The latter could be deleted for Australia to make room for a full-size spare wheel.

Distance from the tailgate to the upright seatback is around 70mm.

On Jeju Island roads, the Tucson had a solid feel to it and exhibited excellent refinement – a good deal more than Santa Fe – and it took gale-force winds at speeds above 100km/h before some whistle from the wing mirrors was noticed.

The vehicle maintained commendable control in these conditions, although a considerable amount of lean-to was evident during quick directional changes and a lack of ride sophistication was obvious when encountering potholes and other severe road blemishes.

Suspension revisions might improve things when the vehicle gets to Australia, however the emphasis on ride comfort over driver involvement is a familiar trait. Grip from the 16-inch Hankooks is sufficient, however the Tucson’s front-drive bias is all too obvious as it nose pushes wide and the lightweight steering chatters (across bumps) when cornering. The all-disc brakes are excellent.

The circa 1.65-tonne kerb weight could be a factor to contend with in the 2.0-litre petrol variants – unavailable for us to drive – as it proved to be in the (otherwise refined and economical) 2.0-litre turbo-diesel, but this iteration of the 2.7-litre V6 has no trouble overcoming the burden when the vehicle is unladen.

Set to become one of the strongest available in the compact 4WD sector, the engine is smooth and willing and, on the whole, makes a useful team with the four-speed automatic. Shifts tend to come with cleanness and timeliness, and the sequential manual mode is a breeze to use.

But our test car did have a problem with its tachometer calibration. According to the gauge, shifts from first to second did not come until 8000rpm – well past the 6500rpm redline – and shifts from second to third under full acceleration did not come at all, sitting instead on 8000rpm on the gauge as engine revs continued to rise.

The lack of interest in Santa Fe at the showroom level tells us much about how Australians still consider the brand value of South Korea’s biggest vehicle manufacturer, even though the soft-roader is well built, able in most areas and decent value.

Back in late 2000, this writer was confident that Santa Fe would sell in big numbers. It hasn’t. And that doesn’t bode well for Tucson.

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