Previewed in Frankfurt as the Euro-spec ix35, Hyundai introduced the U.S. version of its completely redesigned compact crossover at the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show. While prudently keeping the Tucson name here, this five-passenger hauler gains a bit more capability and boasts loads more character thanks to its serendipitous match of Hyundai's new "Fluidic Sculpture" styling, a greater degree of people-friendly packaging and even better operating efficiency. Beneath its bolder exterior contours, the new Tucson's unit body incorporates significantly more high-strength steel than before, improving its ruggedness and rigidity while helping trim over 60 pounds from the complete package. Inside, the passenger compartment displays the same kind of contemporary visual cues as its bodywork and brings a long list of standards from air conditioning and a full complement of power assists to a 160-watt audio system with AM/FM/CD/MP3/USB/iPod capability/XM Satellite Radio and front/front-side/side-curtain airbags. Leather upholstery, a navigation system with real-time XM NavTraffic capability and a 360-watt audio upgrade, rear-view camera, Bluetooth connectivity and a slick dual-panel panoramic sunroof also are available. Equally important, the Tucson's slight dimensional stretch nets more people space than many of its competitors, most notably for the rear-seat passengers. Cargo capacity also grows -- by an impressive 13 percent -- and can be expanded from 25.7 to 55.8 cubic feet by flat-folding the 60/40 bench.
Although Hyundai has trimmed the Tucson's engine menu for 2010, the new-and-standard 2.4-liter Theta II four-cylinder makes more power and gets better mileage than the now-departed optional 2.7-liter V6. Rated at 176 horsepower and 168 l-ft of torque (or 170/163 in PZEV form) it can be paired with either a six-speed manual transmission or optional six-speed automatic in the GLS, while the latter gearbox, which also features a Sportshift gate, is standard issue on the upline Tucson Limited. Both trim levels offer a choice of front or all-wheel drive, and come with electronic stability/traction control and anti-lock disc brakes with Brake Assist and Electronic Brake-force Distribution. New to the mix for 2010 are Hyundai's first application of Hillstart Assist Control (HAC) and Downhill Brake Control (DBC). The new Tucson goes on sale later this month. While pricing has yet to be finalized, a Hyundai source indicated that it's likely to start below the $20,000.