2014 Hyundai Tucson Driving Impressions

The Hyundai Tucson is reasonably agile and responsive, competitive with the other small utilities in its class, such as the CR-V and Escape.

Hyundai's 2.4-liter engine is smooth and quiet in normal driving, but accelerating hard onto a freeway to join the flow of traffic, its thrust is only adequate and the yowl it makes reminds you that it's a small four-cylinder. For 2014, the newly direct-injected 2.4-liter engine is rated 182 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 177 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. Tucson's larger engine is comparable to the other four-cylinders in this class, which do not offer the thrust of a more powerful but more expensive V6. Although Hyundai claims large real-world gains for the Active Eco function, EPA-estimated fuel economy for the 2014 2.4-liter Tucson engine is a modest 21/28 mpg City/Highway, with front-wheel drive.

The Hyundai-designed 6-speed automatic transmission is smooth-shifting and excellent, giving the Tucson a big advantage in efficiency over other vehicles in its class. Additionally, its manual-shifting capability is particularly good. In all but the most dramatically ill-advised shift requests, it gives you the gear you command.

The Tucson GLS 2.0-liter engine features dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, continuously variable valve timing and a variable intake system. Now featuring direct injection, the 2.0-liter produces 164 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 151 pound-feet at 4000. We haven't driven a Tucson with the 2.0-liter engine. As the GLS is not significantly lighter than the SE or Limited, we have to suspect that performance suffers accordingly. The 2.0-liter is also equipped with the Active Eco system, but its EPA ratings are 23/29 mpg City/Highway with front-drive (21/25 mpg with all-wheel drive).

In states that follow California regulations, the S Eand Limited are Partial Zero Emissions Vehicles (PZEV), with horsepower reduced to 180 hp and torque to 176 pound-feet. Pricing and equipment remain the same, so you can satisfy your environmental good intentions with little or no sacrifice.

Motor-driven electric power steering is one of the Tucson's greatest strengths. We found it perfectly calibrated, giving firm steering response and flawless road feel, leaving us no excuse to become uninterested in the driving experience. Absolutely first class. And of course, it's integrated into the vehicle's Electronic Stability Control.

Ride and handling are good. In corners, the chassis had only mild roll, as would be expected of a vehicle engineered and tuned in Germany.

However, we noted a significant difference in ride quality between the front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions. Ride quality with the all-wheel-drive models was noticeably harsher than that of the front-drive Tucsons. This proved particularly true when driving the top-of-the-line Limited AWD, with 18-inch wheels and, therefore, tires with shorter sidewalls. This is not to say that the AWD chassis is terrible, and if your planned use for your vehicle dictates all-wheel drive for climatic reasons, then a Tucson AWD will serve your purpose admirably. But if you have no particular need for all-wheel drive, save some money, and get a gentler front-wheel-drive package. There are a lot of rough roads out there, and spilling your cappuccino is no way to live.

We found the brakes felt good with firm pedal feel and exemplary modulation, meaning nice, smooth, precise stops. All in all, as utilities go, the Hyundai Tucson is a satisfying driving package.

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