2006 Hyundai Tucson GLS AWD & Limited – Road Test

Hyundai’s smallest SUV, the Tucson was released just last year. Although smaller than the Santa Fe, its pricing is very closely matched to its big brother. That will probably change when the all-new, bigger 2007 Santa Fe comes out later this year.

First Impressions
Hyundai has come a long way since they came to North America back in the mid-80’s. Mimicking the Japanese manufacturers, Hyundai have always offered quality at a low cost, and just like the Japanese, as the quality of the vehicles and materials improved over the years – so the cost of purchasing the vehicle has moved in-step. Having said that, the cost of a Hyundai SUV is still less than comparable vehicles from Honda, Nissan and Toyota. So they’re cheaper to purchase – but are they any good?

After a week with the Tucson, I’d have to say “yes” – they are very good! The Tucson is very car-like and the fit and finish is extremely good – as are the materials used.

The Tucson models are: GL FWD/4WD; GL V6 FWD/4WD and the GLS V6 4WD. In the U.S. they are GL, GLS and Limited.

Basically, you have the choice of a 4 cylinder in Front Wheel Drive (FWD) or Four Wheel Drive (4WD) (Automatic or a 5-speed Manual transmission). Or you can choose a V6 in FWD or 4WD, plus there’s the GLS that is only available in a V6 4WD and comes fully loaded. The 4WD models have a dash-mounted button the manually locks the Four-Wheel Drive system into a 50/50 split – that’s a nice variation on the 4WD/AWD systems that other manufacturers use.

Standard features in the GL FWD model include a 5-speed manual (a 4-speed automatic is an option), ABS, TCS (Traction Control System), ESP (Electronic Stability Program). Power windows and locks, heated power mirrors, rear intermittent wiper and an 8-way adjustable driver’s seat (4-way passenger seat). Remote keyless entry with alarm is standard on all but the base model. The GLS 4WD model adds side airbags and a side curtain airbag to the standard dual airbags of the other Tucson models.

The GLS model comes with leather seating as standard (heated front seats), and also has a power sunroof, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear-shift knob. I found the seats quite firm and comfortable – just the way I like them, it also has a 3-stage lumbar adjustment.

Entry and exit is very good with the doors swinging wide for easy access. There’s no climb up to get in, almost a sit-down like a car when you enter. There’s plenty of hip, shoulder and headroom. The rear seat can be split 60/40, and can fold perfectly flat without have to remove the headrests. For extra-long packages the front passenger seat folds forward too. More and more SUV’s are offering rear-seat passengers something a sedan can’t offer – reclining seatbacks. I was amazed at how far back you can get the rear seats to recline. I was half-expecting an ottoman to pop up when I fully reclined the seat!

I love the rear door on the Hyundai SUV’s. The window can open separately and independently of the tailgate. If you’ve got something really long you can open the glass part of the door, fold down all the seating and have it hanging out the back – we’re talking about 15-foot ladders – no problem! There is no perfect solution to having to lug around the spare tire, and as much as I loved the Suzuki Grand Vitara’s arrangement, the Hyundai arrangement is probably a little better, especially for the flexibility if you ever have long items. The downside being that the load floor is higher than the Suzuki’s, and in turn the cargo area is a little smaller. Neither one is better than the other – the perfect tailgate would be the combination of both – but that’s physically impossible.

With a 2.7 litre V6 and 173 hp, mated to a 4-speed Automatic with Shiftronic (sport-shifting), the Tucson is surprisingly zippy. A number of times I was shocked at the speed I was doing. It’s got an amazing ability to giddy-up and go! The throttle response is instantaneous and I was caught off guard one day when I pulled out of a driveway in a speed-trap zone. I know the area well, but I was doing 50 mph in a 30 mph zone within seconds. Fortunately the regions finest were occupied elsewhere that night. My wife had to continually put the cruise control on because she found it way too easy to go well over the speed limit without realizing it.

On the highway it was perfectly fine while cruising at 80mph [130km/hr]. It was very quiet and absorbed nasty road imperfections with no shuddering vibrations sent through to the passengers. I did find a lot of wind noise when travelling at or above 60 mph. Less than 60 mph and it was very quiet, but once you got over it, the wind noise became quite noticeable – I suspect it might have been something to do with the sunroof. My solution was just to crank up the stereo.

The Tucson came with All-Season tires on 5-spoke 16” rims. The steering was quite light, giving you a sense of the vehicle being very light. As with the vast majority of vehicles in this segment, the steering tilted, but wasn’t telescopic. The cruise control is a little lever in the 5 o’clock position on the steering wheel. I really liked how easy it was to operate – the controls are so manageable you work with them instinctively.

The ride, fit and finish of the Tucson are superb and very car-like. The permanent all-wheel drive is a nice safety feature. It’s fun to drive, with a horsepower rating of 173, combines with a torque rating of 178, it really does have great sense of urgency when you push the ‘go pedal’. The suspension is good. A bonus if you want a car-like ride, but I prefer firmer suspensions – more like sports cars, so it’s probably just a preference thing. The steering was a bit light or wallowy in corners – a rally car it ain’t.

I can’t fault this vehicle, it does everything you ask of it – even more in some instances, but I just can’t put my finger on why it doesn’t make me want to own it. Maybe it’s because I prefer the Santa Fe. Would I recommend it? Absolutely – it’s a great little SUV. It’s got great power and it’s fun to drive. It’s a perfect size if you don’t want to go to a bigger SUV. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.

Many auto writers can’t understand why people are buying SUV’s instead of cars – the Hyundai Tucson is one of the reasons why people are not buying sedans. I prefer cars to SUV’s, but SUV’s are so much more adaptable than a sedan. The adjustable back seats alone make the case for the Tucson over a traditional sedan. Entry and exit are a breeze – no compromise there. Fuel economy is on par with a car. Where’s the downside? I don’t see one. If you’re in the market for any vehicle in this price range put the Hyundai Tucson on your test drive list – you’ll regret it if you don’t.

2006 Hyundai Tucson GLS (AWD) / Limited
Price as tested: $23,195 [$30,310 CDN] (Base price for the GL FWD is $17,495 [$20,595 CDN]

Fuel Consumption: [Regular Fuel]
The four-speed automatic is listed at 19 mpg – city [12.3L/100 km] and 25.3 mpg – highway [8.8L/100 km]
I averaged 17 mpg [13.9 L/100km] in combined driving, I expected closer to 23 mpg [10L/100 km]

Outstanding quality fit and finish
Four Wheel Drive (4WD)
Adjustable rear seatbacks
Plenty of Zip
Great Warranty

Can’t think of any

Would I Spend My Money On It?:
Yes, and No – see the article

Back Seat Driver Test: 9 out of 10
Comfortable with terrific adjustments on the seatback, although if you adjusted it for reclining it was a little difficult to get the seat upright again when you were sitting in the seat. It’s easier if you get out of the car to properly adjust it because of the reach to get back to the lever.
Entry and exit were very good – very car-like.

Immediate Competition:
Pontiac Torrent/Chevy Equinox twins; Saturn Vue, Honda CRV, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute, Jeep Liberty, Kia Sportage, Nissan X-Trail, Mitsubishi Outlander, Suzuki Grand Vitara

By The Numbers…
10 – Quality
9 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
9 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
0 – Special Features (Climate Control etc) No special features

10 – Ease of Entry/Exit
10 – Front Roominess
9 – Rear Roominess
9 – Driving Position/Controls

6 – Drool Factor
9 – Fit & Finish

10 – Engine
10 – Transmission
7 – Ride & Handling

Ownership Value
8 – Bang for the $$
7 – Fuel Economy

123 Total / 150

Copyright © 2006 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Hyundai

Also Published at: PaddockTalk