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An SUV Package Worth Opening

2005 Hyundai Tucson Wagon V-6

By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 30, 2005; Page G01

I don't know how long Hyundai Motor Co. can continue doing what it's doing. But I'm sure the Korean car company's rivals are hoping that it will stop -- and soon.

The onetime laughingstock of the global automotive industry is kicking tailpipe, taking market share and doing it all with highly desirable products.

2005 Hyundai Tucson Wagon V-6 (David Dewhurst)

Nuts & Bolts

Downside: I have only minor complaints, most of them to do with the Tucson's less-than-inspiring exterior styling.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Excellent in all three categories. This is an enjoyable urban commuter.

Head-turning quotient: The Tucson is totally inoffensive, but it's not every exciting.

Body style/layout: Small, front-engine, front-wheel-drive SUV/wagon with four doors and a rear hatch. It also is available with four-wheel-drive.

Engines/transmissions: The tested Tucson GLS comes with a standard 2.7 liter, 24-valve V-6 engine that develops 173 horsepower at 6,000 revolutions per minute and 178 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 revolutions per minute. It is mated to a standard four-speed automatic transmission that also can be shifted manually. The top-of-the-line Tucson LX comes with the same drivetrain. The base Tucson GL gets a 140-horsepower four-cylinder engine and a standard five-speed manual transmission.

Cargo and fuel capacities: The Tucson GLS has seating for five people. Cargo space is 22.7 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 65.5 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. Fuel capacity in the front-wheel-drive Tucson GLS is 17.2 gallons of recommended regular unleaded gasoline.

Mileage: I averaged 23 miles per gallon in highway/city driving.

Safety: Traction and stability control, side and head air bags.

Price: The price of the tested Tucson GLS front-wheel-drive model is $21,739, including $1,145 in options (high-end sound system and other amenities) and a $595 transportation charge. The dealer's invoice price as tested is $20,374. Pricing sources include Hyundai, www.edmunds.com, and www.cars.com, an affiliate of The Washington Post.

That's bad enough from the viewpoints of Hyundai's American, Japanese and European competitors. But Hyundai is offering its cars and sport-utility vehicles loaded with standard equipment at prices often comparable to or lower than those of competing models equipped with less.

And the standard equipment offered by Hyundai isn't silly stuff. For example, there is the 2005 Tucson, Hyundai's entry in the small sport-utility vehicle segment. It comes with electronic traction and stability control, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, side and head air bags, heated side-view mirrors and a four-speed automatic transmission -- which also can be shifted manually -- at a base price, including transportation charge, under $21,000.

How does that stack up against the Tucson's (as in Tucson, Ariz.) toughest challengers, the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4?

I drove the front-wheel-drive version of the Hyundai Tucson GLS, which comes with a standard 2.7-liter, 173-horsepower engine. The comparably priced Honda CR-V LX and Toyota RAV4 front-wheel-drive models come with standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engines -- 160-horsepower for the Honda and 161-horsepower for the Toyota. The base four-cylinder Hyundai Tucson GL starts at under $18,000.

Both the Honda CR-V LX and the similarly equipped Toyota RAV4 match the Tucson GLS in standard safety equipment -- which is a good trend that all other car companies should follow. But in addition to having a stronger standard engine, as well as a host of standard comfort amenities, such as air conditioning and heater ducts for the front and rear seats, the Tucson comes with a class-leading standard warranty -- five years/60,000 miles bumper-to-bumper coverage and 10 years/100,000 miles protection for the engine and transmission.

By comparison, the Toyota RAV4 comes with three years/36,000 miles bumper-to-bumper coverage and a warranty of five years/60,000 miles on the engine and transmission. The Honda warranty is three years/36,000 miles for both the basic coverage -- bumper-to-bumper -- and the engine and transmission, jointly referred to in automotive parlance as the "drivetrain."

The bottom line: The 2005 Honda CR-V LX has a base price of $20,510, including a $525 transportation charge; the Toyota RAV4, $20,165, including $565 for transportation; and the Tucson GLS, $20,594, including a transportation charge of $565.

Hyundai, of course, has had to try harder than Toyota or Honda, or any of its other rivals, to win customers. The Korean company's debut in the U.S. market in 1986 was an unqualified embarrassment. It came in with the Excel subcompact car, which was anything but excellent. Instead, it was the standard bearer for poor automotive quality.

But Hyundai did not quit. It improved its products by listening to its customers -- quickly making changes where buyers said changes were needed and by adhering to a philosophy long ignored by American and European car companies, and lately put aside by the Japanese: Economy does not have to be bereft of class, styling or anything else that makes buyers fall in love with far more expensive vehicles.

The Tucson GLS certainly represents that thinking. It's more of a wagon than it is anybody's SUV, especially in its front-wheel-drive presentation. But that matters little. What counts is that the Tucson is the kind of vehicle you look forward to driving every day. Although its exterior is conservatively styled, its interior is elegant, comfortable -- just downright pleasant.

It is an easy driver. It moves well through urban and highway traffic. It is reasonably fuel-efficient. And when that monthly note comes around, it is a lot easier to take than much of the competition, especially considering what it gives you for your money.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company