Raymond D. Young / Raymond D. Young | August 08, 2007 00:00
A tall SUV taskEveryone's building SUVs, regardless of size. For most of the carmakers, the formula is simple: take an existing sedan platform and build an SUV body onto it. This procedure, if done right, will produce an inexpensive vehicle worthy of all-season duty. Build it too soft and it will just be a tall wagon with nary a hint of SUV genes; build the opposite and it will just be too much of a workhorse, jarring every bone of its would be occupants. The key then is balance.
Why this SUV frenzy, one may ask the carmakers? People's lives nowadays are so cramped up that a sedan may not answer all their mobility needs, but they are not hardcore enough to assume ownership of a full size SUV. In short, they just wanted a little more out of a sedan. Now this is where things get tricky; the phrase "little more" is subject to different interpretation by the manufacturers. This is where the meat is.
Along this trend comes another one, which is the resurgence of the diesel engine. Suddenly the oil motor that painted the world black by mistake is now making a comeback, albeit on another guise dubbed as Common Rail Direct Injection Diesel, or CRDi. Now, that slow, smoke belching piece of iron, with the aid of modern technology, is now a peppy and efficient power plant, being responsive, powerful yet very frugal.
In the Philippines, Hyundai is known for their CRDi engines and also their penchant for "dieselizing" the entirety of their line-up. True enough, no other car brand in the country today has a complete line-up of diesel-powered vehicles but Hyundai, from its Getz hatchback to its top-of-the-line crossover SUV, the newly-launched VeraCruz. Hyundai simply had too much faith in this future wave, and it definitely gave them the advantage.
As they are currently the only brand to have diesel engines in their entire line-up, at least here in the local setting, if one wanted a diesel powered compact SUV, then the Tucson would be the obvious choice. As with other compact SUVs in the market, it's based from an existing sedan platform, which is of the Elantra, to be exact. Powering the Tucson are two engines, one 2.0 liter petrol engine good for 142 Hp, and a CRDi diesel variant. The unit loaned to this writer is the 2WD CRDi variant with automatic transmission.
The Tucson CRDi's displaces two liters which enables it to possess 112 horses and 254.8 Nm starting at an accessible 1,800-2,500 rpm. Coupled to a four speed automatic transmission with H-Matic option, the Tucson proved to be pleasurable to drive whether it is on short, city jaunts, or on long motorways.
The Tucson's exterior slightly deviates from the norm of SUV design. Slightly retroactive is the rendering of the front headlamps, which employs CSR (Complex Surface Reflector) technology versus the other's projector type headlight housings. This may be an old design, but come servicing time this will be very economical as it needs only the perennial H4 type headlight bulbs. Honeycomb treatments adorn the grille, as well as bumper air ducts. Round fog lights slightly break the monotony of the front end, but are a welcome addition nonetheless.
The side profile, on the other hand, evokes a tall wagon perspective, with large doors providing easy ingress and egress. The rear profile, on the other hand, is somewhat plain Jane in this writer's opinion, save for the attractive clustered tail lamps (no LEDs here), and as well as the polished dual exhaust pipes. The rear hatch glass can be opened independently from the hatch door itself, adding convenience points as one need not open the entire hatch door to put miniscule stuffs. Also noticeable are the standard roof rails.
The beige interior suggests economy bordering to plasticky, but looks durable nonetheless, although at first glance the color scheme may prove to be a chore to clean. This price-conscious scheme is likewise carried on to other interior bits such as the sidings, dashboard, and the seats. Although simple-looking, seats provide adequate support, although minor revisions to the side bolsters for more comfort wouldn't hurt. Silver accents on the center console and on the shifter area, as well as a 2-DIN head unit with cassette/CD and MP3 playback, break the dichotomy of beige and gray of the Tucson's accommodation.
What the Tucson may lack in interior luxury is very well complemented by its utilitarian nature as suggested by numerous cubby holes and acres of usable space. The driver's seat is height adjustable, and complementing this is the tilt-adjustable steering column. Sliding and reclining second row seats are also default, which also fold down to yield more cargo space. The molded back of the rear seat, which serve as the cargo floor when folded down, looks washable and resistant to stains Front passengers are likewise provided with a two-tier center console and front seat under tray, as well as an auxiliary power outlet.
Taking the Tucson for a weekend spin around the Metro and in nearby provinces prove its mettle. As the CRDi technology promises, every drop of diesel fuel returns more than enough power while maintaining very excellent fuel economy, which ranges from 12-13.5 km/liter in mixed cycle driving. A gentle press, not a maniacal mash, is needed on the accelerator pedal to make available the humongous torque needed for uphill climbs or during overtaking maneuvers. Press it inappropriately and be prepared for the inevitable torque steer, a trait common to front wheel drives with powerful engines.
Steering and suspension characteristics of the Tucson, on the other hand, is acceptable in this writer's standpoint, but fine tuning to totally eliminate torque steer as well as slight bump steer maybe needed. Steering characteristics border between talkative and frigid and will accommodate newbie and experienced drivers alike. Springing duties courtesy of struts with roll bars on all four corners are pliant overall, but a little more softness to further improve road hugging prowess is more than welcome. The way the Tucson brakes, albeit devoid of electronic brake assist technology, is short of commendable, as it is confident from the initial bite as well as its pedal feel, which is devoid of lifelessness and sogginess.
As mentioned earlier, the Tucson is marketed as an entry-level SUV. With a very affordable 1.078 M entry fee, one gets a compact SUV that can be otherwise qualify as an all-season wagon. Yes, the Tucson may need some tweaks to its character, like a DSC program to improve handling and provide check-and-balance to that torquey CRDi engine, but doing so may jack up its affordable price, its main selling point.. For the cynics out there, keep in mind this is Hyundai's first stab with a compact SUV designed over an existing sedan platform. Its powerful diesel engine, roomy interior, as well as attractive styling are the main plus points of this car, and of course, together with its price, it still is a good alternative for those tired of the usual variety of brand in the market today. Give it some time to mellow and improve, and indeed this will be an SUV for keeps.