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Hyundai Tucson V6 CDX Auto Roadtest

My neighbour is an anthropomorphist. They can't lock him up for it, but there are times when I could quietly slay him (when legal). An anthropomorphist is someone who attributes human characteristics to inanimate objects. In his case, it's his car.

It even has a name: Harry. The last one was called Suzi, but he considers his new Hyundai Tucson (pronounced Too-son) to be more masculine: hence Harry. He will say things like "Harry's not feeling himself today," or "Harry needs to get himself a good wash."

I do not share with my neighbour a need to name the cars I test, although in this case I might make an exception. I shall call it Rose, for the very good reason that it grew on me. The more I drove it, the more I liked it.

At first I expected it to be rather bland, mainly because of its appearance. I don't like the small wheels and large tyres, which are seemingly standard fitments on most Pacific Rim cars. Nor did I particularly like the curvaceous styling, although I can recall that the principle looked good in 1995. The colour, too, was somewhat dated: I associate turquoise with tarted-up Metros.

However, appearances can be deceptive, and once behind the wheel I began a voyage of discovery. Or should I say Discovery? Having switched to the Tucson from the new Land Rover Discovery 3, I was immediately struck by the welcome simplicity of the Tucson fascia and running gear. OK, so the Disco is in a different league, but for day-to-day use, the Tucson has much in its favour. It requires no PhD in advanced all-terrain control, and the ride of the V6 model is quieter and smoother than that of the Landie, despite the latter's having active air suspension.

Under normal circumstances, the Tucson runs in fuel- and tyre-saving two-wheel drive (indeed the company has just launched a budget two-wheel drive model), but when the going gets tough, four-wheel drive automatically cuts in providing proportional drive, front and rear. There is also a fascia-mounted button, which locks the four-wheel drive in an exact 50:50 split. Either mode proved surprisingly effective. Traction control is standard.

I took the Tucson on some of the BOATs (Byways Open to All Traffic) that climb around Leith Hill in Surrey. The tracks were muddy, and in some places steep, yet the Tucson never once let go; and for most recreational purposes would provide adequate off-road ability without resorting to the cost and weight of fancy electronics and rally raid suspension.

Of course, comparing the Tucson with the Disco is hardly objective, but alongside its natural competitors, such as the Toyota RAV 4, Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester and Mitsubishi Outlander, the Hyundai still stacks up well, particularly in value terms. The Tucson is exclusively 5-door, yet frequently works out cheaper than its 3-door rivals. For example, the lead-in 2.0 GSI model is a modest £14,995; the cheapest RAV4 is £17,245.

I drove the range-topping 2.7 V6 CDX with Porsche-designed, hybrid H-matic transmission, all of which is stickered at a modest £18,695, some £8,000 below the equivalent Freelander price. And in case you are thinking that the Tucson short-changes on specification, let me reveal the tick list.

On the 2.7 V6 CDX, all these things are standard: front, side and roof airbags; cruise control; climate-control air-conditioning; heated door mirrors; electric sunroof; electrochromatic rear-view mirror with a built-in compass; electrically heated windscreen; heated front seats; leather seat facings, gear knob and steering-wheel; luggage net; under-seat storage; trip computer; under-body skid-plate; fog lamps....need I say more? No? Good; the CDX specification includes almost 60 items, and I need to go out tonight.

If you took Hyundai's best-selling Coupe, and swapped the sleek lines for a big-bodied, roomy, all-wheel drive estate car, what would you get? Exactly; the Tucson. Built on a developed version of the Coupe platform, and sharing its top-drawer Delta V6 engine, the Tucson will sprint to 62 mph in a respectable 10.5 seconds. Top speed is an equally respectable 112 mph, and the peak torque of 241 Nm is enough to make the Tucson a passable tow car, with a 1600 kilo braked-trailer limit.

None of these figures is class-leading but in view of the price, all-round value, and easy driveability of the Tucson, it is not inconceivable that it might become the people's champion within its sector, much as has been the case with the Coupe, recently updated for 2005.

I suppose the Tucson's biggest rival must be the Kia Sportage, which is hardly surprising given that it is the same car. Hyundai owns Kia, and both cars are built side-by-side on the same production line. However, the Hyundai steels the edge, at least in terms of the fascia design and layout. Although the profile is identical, Hyundai's version contrives to appear more up-to-date, with modern-looking switchgear, tasteful use of brushed-aluminium trim and apparently better quality materials. Not that I normally bother with such trifles, but even the radio looks classier and is properly integrated with the centre stack.

The front centre armrest is height adjustable and contains two storage boxes, the lower large enough to contain a dozen CDs. The split rear tailgate is handy, although the upper (glass) portion is a fair height above the ground, and care must be taken to avoid rubbing against the bumper or bodywork, both of which collect a lot of crud. The rear seats fold completely flat, therefore making optimum use of the large load platform, the capacity of which ranges from 642 litres to an Ikea-emptying 1854 litres.

With six pots and the thick end of three litres you might expect that the Tucson would be equally capable of emptying a petrol pump, but there you would be wrong. With a combined figure of 28.2 mpg, there is no need to call out AA to deal with its drink problem. But if you like to stretch the plastic, go for the CRTD CDX. Similar spec but with a diesel engine and 39.8 mpg on offer, even more if you spend all your time extra-urbanising.

But if you are a townie and use you 4x4 only to deliver the kids right up to the classroom door, you will have to put up with an at-best 21.4 mpg, which is the official urban consumption.

I used the Tucson quite a lot in town, and found the high, typical-of-its-class, command and control driving position entirely suited to the cut and thrust of SW4. I tried the sequential side of the H-matic 'box once or twice, just to prove to my partner that men can multi-task, but preferred the L for Lazy side, which also proved L for Leather when the V6 picked up its skirts on kickdown.

Indeed, driving around London proved to be relaxing and stress-free; especially with some Victorian guitar-picking (Obadiah Straits) on the CD, and a light right foot. Good all-round visibility, decent mirrors, a tight turning circle, and the barest murmur from the engine proved a welcome antidote to some of the ultra-hot machinery that's come my way in recent months. OK, so it's not as majestic as the new Disco, but you can park-up the anonymous-looking Tucson in Acre Lane without worrying about its acquiring envy stripes or a one-way ticket to Abu Dhabi.

The seating, too, is remarkably comfortable for a car sold largely on a price proposition. As well as smoking about town, I also took the Tucson to Belgium, and on what amounted to a fairly long haul, experienced none of the twinges I noticed in the Disco, the seating of which leaves something to be desired, powered leather or not.

Rear seat occupants in the Hyundai also get a comfy ride, with plenty of head-, shoulder- and leg-room as befits a car of this nature. But the rear seats are less contoured than the front, and body roll - of which there can be a considerable amount - is most noticeable aft of the B-pillar.

Notwithstanding a few minor niggles, this car is a good all-rounder that offers genuine off-road ability and all the concomitant benefits of SUV motoring at the price of a medium saloon car. Moreover, it is the only 4x4, and one of very few other cars of any class, to come with an industry-leading 5-year, unlimited-mileage and fully transferable mechanical warranty. On top of that, the Tucson comes with bundled three years' RAC Assistance cover.

Not that you are likely to need it. Hyundai always scores well in reliability polls, and, for that matter, in customer satisfaction polls, as is entirely the case with Tucson Harry's owner.

Posted on 12.01.2005 by Graham Whyte
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