Nowhere is Hyundai’s ascendancy as an auto manufacturing powerhouse more evident than in the utterly transformed 2011 Tucson compact SUV. The previous generation Tucson was so outclassed by the competition that it stuck out like a sore thumb in their excellent line-up of compact cars, family sedans, sport coupes, crossovers and (thanks to the Genesis) luxury sedans.
The 2011 Hyundai Tucson (initially introduced in 2010) borders on the shocking if you have ever driven or even sat in the previous generation. It is roomy, well built, refined and a quite stylish interpretation of Hyundai’s new “fluidic sculpture” design language that debuted with the 2010 Sonata. This new look will soon find its way to the Elantra and Accent as well.
But the biggest shocker here is the fact that the 2011 Hyundai Tucson is still a screaming bargain. The mid-level GLS model I tested stickers at $21,845 but boasts a feature content that would embarrass many SUVs costing upwards of $30,000.
Now, I have driven most every compact SUV on the market today and the 2011 Tucson is now my 2nd favorite after the Honda CR-V. But if you are on a budget my recommendation might actually be quite different. Read on to find out more.
I admit it took me a while to warm to Hyundai’s new design language when it debuted with the new Hyundai Sonata. I have now grown to like the look of that family sedan which now looks poised to surpass the Nissan Altima as the 3rd best selling family sedan in the United States. At the very least it should be praised for being adventurous and different.
From the beginning I never had a problem seeing that Hyundai had a huge hit on its hands with the latest Hyundai Tucson. I think consumers agree as I have noticed more and more on the roads surrounding my South Orange County home. Now if the nipped, tucked and pulled snobs of South O.C. like it, you know it has to look good.
The 2011 Tucson actually looks even better in the metal than it does in pictures. Thanks to the many concave creases in the body it is hard to catch exactly how attractive this compact SUV is just by looking at pictures. I, for one, had quite a bit of trouble taking photos of it myself. But then, I am a terrible photographer so that isn’t telling you much.
Interior Styling and Utility
Although the 2011 Hyundai Tucson and recently introduced 2011 Kia Sportage are essentially the same under the skin, they couldn’t look or feel more different. Both inside and out the Kia looks much more angular and masculine whereas the Tucson has a more flowing and somewhat feminine look to it.
But don’t think that just because you are a guy you have to buy a Sportage. If you aren’t secure enough in your masculinity to drive an SUV with soothing curves than maybe you should spend your new car buying money on some therapy.
The interior of the 2011 Hyundai Tucson has a very ovoid and organic feel to it which was only enhanced by the reddish brown hue used to accentuate the insides of my test model. Hyundai calls this color “taupe” (which it isn’t) but a more traditional black is also available.
Although I have never seen a “taupe” interior with this shade of brown in any other car before, it really gives the Tucson a very upscale feel. At the very least it is much more imaginative than the battleship gray you find in way too many Toyotas.
Now, there isn’t a lot of soft touch plastic on display inside the 2011 Hyundai Tucson GLS but my tester had a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob that were both delightfully soft to the touch. I also found the design of the steering wheel in particular to be visually pleasing from an aesthetic point of view. Yes, I just said “aesthetically pleasing” about a Hyundai. Get over it, this is not 1986 and this is not an Excel.
The simple and straightforward buttons and knobs for the air conditioning and stereo are also made from high quality plastic so that pretty much takes care of most of the touch points you come in contact with during normal driving. The dashboard may not feel squishy but how often do you feel up your dashboard? Again, if you do that a lot you may need to start seeing a therapist.
Hyundai really thought through the design of the 2011 Hyundai Tucson’s interior and expertly balanced cost considerations with the demands of the market. In addition to all of this there is also plenty of room for four ample sized six-footers to ride in the cabin with plenty of leg and hip room leftover.
The cargo area is also surprisingly large with 25.7 cubic feet behind the second row and 55.8 cubic feet with the rear seats folded flat. They don’t fold completely flat so perhaps it is more accurate to say “almost flat.” This small niggle won’t matter to most people anyway if they have heavy cargo sitting on top of them anyway. Then they will be “quite flat.” Okay, I will stop.
Given the fact that the 2011 Tucson’s exterior design demands very thin roof pillars, visibility in all directions is excellent. You can’t see anything when you are backing up in a Nissan Rogue, for example, so this stuff matters. The 2011 Tucson’s small size and tight turning radius also mean it’s a snap to maneuver in crowded parking lots.
Pricing, Features and Content
Usually when I look at the as tested price of one of the vehicles I am reviewing I think to myself “they want that much?” This time, however, I was shocked at how little Hyundai was charging. For a little over $21,000 you get air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, 17-inch alloy wheels, a 2.4 liter 4-cylinder engine, a 6-speed automatic, XM satellite radio, Bluetooth, USB/iPod integration, AM/FM/CD player with six-speakers, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel (a rarity), keyless entry, a roof rack, a subtle liftgate spoiler and much more.
If you want all-wheel drive that will add $1,650 to the sticker price but oddly enough even my front wheel drive tester had hill descent control. A lot of all-wheel drive SUVs don’t even offer that feature. In addition to all of this you have Hyundai’s excellent 10 year warranty package for the powertrain.
Fuel economy is also quite impressive with 22 city/31 highway according to the EPA. During a week of testing I averaged a little over 26 miles per gallon. I remember when economy cars used to average 26 miles per gallon in the real world. The 14.5 gallon fuel tank may not be huge but with fuel economy like that you still are left with a decent cruising distance.
SUVs are never as fun to drive as cars but that is a universalism I have never found to be disproven among the many, many variants I have driven. I don’t care if you call it a crossover, if it is tall and has a hatch it is an SUV. The rest is just marketing jargon.
But in the echelon of family SUVs the 2011 Hyundai Tucson marks itself out as a bright, shining star. The steering is light for easy maneuverability but it never feels numb like so many Toyota systems. A lot of SUV power steering racks nowadays confuse heaviness with feel but from behind the wheel of the Tucson you always feel in complete control.
Body roll is kept in decent check but you never want to tackle a tight freeway off-ramp at 90 miles per hour in an SUV anyway. Not that I would ever do that. Given the Tucson’s small size, it is amazing at how well it handles the ruts, bumps and road irregularities inherent to most Southern California freeways. Wind and road noise are also nicely muted for a vehicle of this size and price.
The 2.4 liter 176 horsepower/168 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder feels plenty powerful loaded up with 3 passengers and a dog as the 6-speed automatic is very good at keeping the engine in its optimal powerband. The 6-speed automatic is one of Hyundai’s designs and it is one very smooth operator. Kudos to Hyundai.
While the 2.4 liter 4-cylinder has enough power for freeway passing maneuvers it is still buzzier and less refined than the four banger used in Honda’s CR-V. Engine noise at high RPMs is really the only thing holding back the 2011 Hyundai Tucson from class leader status. At cruising speeds, however, the engine in the Tucson settles down into a muted thrum.
(Note: Due to California’s strict emissions regulations, models sold here have engines rated at 170 horsepower/163 lb. feet of torque. Also, a turbocharged version of this 4-cylinder engine is rumored for the Sportage and Tucson but that cannot be confirmed at the time of this writing.)
How Dog and Kid Friendly is It?
My test GLS model came with cloth/leatherette seats (read: cloth/vinyl) but don’t assume that since it doesn’t have leather the Tucson’s interior isn’t durable or easy to clean. Toyota uses a very similar cloth/leatherette material for the seats in the 2011 Toyota Sienna SE and that minivan is designed to withstand nuclear attack levels of familial destruction.
The cloth/leatherette material looks nice and helps accentuate the unique feel of the interior. Although it is essentially vinyl it does a very good impersonation of leather. Hence the name “leatherette” but I choose to call a spade a spade. The center section of the seats is also made from a very durable cloth material that appears difficult to stain and resistant to doggie claw marks.
The rear seats are also wide enough to accommodate two large breed sized dogs and attaching your dog to a pet safety harness is a snap thanks to a relatively low ride height and wide rear doors. This low ride height also makes it easier for older dogs to get in the Tucson and easier for moms to load heavy strollers into the cargo area.
(Note: See the end of this article for more info about dog safety harnesses.)
If you need/want a compact SUV that is family friendly, stylish and well built yet are on a strict budget, the 2011 Hyundai Tucson GLS really is your best choice. I may still think the CR-V has it topped for drivetrain responsiveness and performance but unless you have driven that Honda SUV you will never notice. Hyundai should be very, very proud of this SUV and I guarantee you will never regret buying a 2011 Tucson.
Vehicle Tested: 2011 Hyundai Tucson GLS (Front Wheel Drive)
Base Price: $21,845
Price as Tested: $22,740 (including destination)
Options on Test Model: Floormats–$100
Engine: 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine
Power: 176 horsepower/168 lb. feet of torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
0-60: 9.5 seconds
Fuel Economy: 22 city/31 highway
Average Test Economy: 26.7 miles per gallon
Fuel Tank Size: 14.5 gallons
Runs on: Regular Unleaded
Cargo Area (behind second row): 25.7 cubic feet
(all seats folded): 55.8 cubic feet
Warranty: 5 years/60,000 mile bumper to bumper
10 years/100,000 mile powertrain
Safety Ratings (IIHS): “Top Safety Pick”
Vehicle Assembled in: Ulsan, South Korea
Vehicle Provided by: Hyundai Motor America
Automotive Pet Safety Info Provided By: BarkBuckleUp.com