Hyundai's latest Tucson — agile, frugal, and versatile

The 2014 Hyundai Tucson offers the automaker's first panoramic sunroof. (Hyundai/MCT)

Hyundai entered the small SUV market in 2004 with the first Tucson, which was last redesigned for 2010 with more technology, more room for passengers and cargo, and better fuel economy.

Now, for 2014, the five-passenger compact crossover offers Hyundai's first panoramic sunroof, touch-screen navigation, Bluetooth hands-free phone, Hill Start Assist Control and Downhill Brake Control.

The sunroof and navigation are included in a Technology Package ($2,750), along with LED taillights and a premium 360-watt audio system with seven speakers (two front door mounted, two tweeters, two rear and a subwoofer).

Mechanical upgrades for 2014 include two new direct-injection engines – a 164-horsepower 2.0 liter and 182-horsepower 2.4 liter inline four-cylinder, which produce more torque and are more efficient than those in the 2013 models.

Tucson is offered in front- or all-wheel drive, with six-speed automatic transmissions. EPA mileage estimates for Tucson range from 20 mpg city/27 highway to 22 city/30 highway.

An active Eco system allows the driver to maximize mileage by pressing a button on the center console. Driving in Eco mode, mostly on the highway with cruise control engaged, I managed 24.5 mpg during my test drive. My tester was rated for 21 city/28 highway/24 combined.

Tucson comes in eight models, offered in eight exterior colors and three interior colors, with prices ranging from $21,450-$27,700 (plus $875 freight). All models were given to top "good" rating by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for performance in frontal, side and rollover crash testing.

The Tucson has lots of features to help avoid accidents and to lessen the severity of an unavoidable impact. They include electronic stability control with traction control, antilock braking with brake-force distribution and brake assist, downhill brake control and hill-start assist, and tire-pressure monitoring.

Also included are front and rear crumple zones and reinforced unibody construction, active head restraints, and air bags in the dashboard, doors, seats and roof (with rollover sensors).

My 2.4-liter Tucson Limited front-drive tester (base price $26,200) was Winter White outside, with beige seats, front-center armrest, door pillars, mid-dash trim and speaker covers, and roof, dash, leather wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob, console, door panels and carpet/floor mats. Carpeted floor mats were a $110 option.

The two-part black louvered grille was chrome accented, and the exterior door handles were chrome. The roof side rails were gray and the lower body-side cladding and lower rear bumper were black, visually increasing the Tucson's 6.7 inches of ground clearance, giving it a floating appearance.

The tester also had 18-inch alloy wheels with five three-part sculpted spokes in matte silver and pewter–very attractive.

Body-color power/heated outside mirrors had LED turn indicators, lined up like jewels on the housing. The projector-beam headlights with LED accents and silver trim were striking even when not illuminated.

The interior door handles, center-stack trim, instrument panel, and steering-wheel buttons were pewter-colored. The perforated/quilted leather seats were comfortable front and rear, with sport-style bolstering in the front. The front seats were heated and the driver's seat was power-adjustable, including lumbar support.

Front door panels were boldly divided into speaker area and armrest area, with a medium-size map/bottle holder below. The bottle holder was in the middle of the pocket, which divided the area that could be used for storing maps/papers. There was a medium-size cubby on the front of the center console with two power outlets and auxiliary jacks.

Tuscon's center stack was at the outer limit of my arm reach, and the position of the screen caused some glare, but overall the controls for the audio system, phone, and navigation were simple and well labeled.

Touch-screen controls for all systems (except the HVAC, which had simple "old school" controls under the touch screen) were intuitive, with folders and pages well defined and labeled. There were also simple controls for cruise, audio and phone on the tilt/telescopic steering wheel.

The navigation system had several helpful functions, such as programmable icons including emergency destinations, navigation by coordinates, intersection, exit/entrance number, home-address button, office-address button, address input, previous destination, gas station search and restaurant search. The rearview camera shared the display screen.

Programming by address input was simple, and audio directions were precise and frequent, along with detailed directions on a split screen showing the next turn and measuring the distance by a countdown-style gauge.

Tucson also comes with Hyundai's Blue Link, a telematics system connected via smartphone, web application or an in-car system, which allows the operator to call for help (roadside assistance/SOS), find a shortcut, find a gas station, get vehicle "health" reports, remotely lock the vehicle, locate the vehicle, and start the vehicle.

Blue Link also features stolen-vehicle slowdown/ immobilization/recovery, and geo-fence, curfew and speed alert (teen driver/anxious parents, alerts by email, text or phone signal).

The rear seatbacks could be folded down in a 60/40 configuration, and also reclined slightly for a more comfortable position. My rear seat passengers had plenty of head and leg room – 39.1 inches and 38.7 inches respectively – and liked the reclining feature. They also had air vents on the back of the center console and small map/bottle pockets in the doors.

Tucson's flat cargo area with the seats folded (original cargo area was 25.7 cubic feet) came in handy for taking some bulky items to recycle and donate. There were several cargo hooks, a bag hook on the back of the middle seat, a retractable/removable cargo cover, a power outlet and a covered storage area under the carpeted cargo floor with a compact spare tire, tire tools and a little extra space for hiding small items – camera, purse, or cell phone for example.

Tire tools were wrapped in a felt bag to keep them from rattling around, a very good idea. There was also an emergency release handle on the lower edge of the liftgate.

I didn't have a third passenger, but the rear middle seat was adequate with a little less legroom and no plush quilted seat. All three rear seating positions had tether hooks and lower hooks for child safety seats.

My Tucson was smooth, with plenty of power, although Eco mode did cause a slight decline in acceleration. The Eco button was on the center console, and was easy to reach to disengage, if necessary.

The vehicle also was nimble, with a 34.7-foot turning diameter and very little lean when turning.

Overall, the Tucson is nice looking, well equipped, agile, frugal, and versatile. My tester's list price was $29,835, including $875 freight and $2,750 in options, minus a $395 manufacturer discount.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Emma Jayne Williams' auto reviews appear in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She can be reached at emmajayne1948@gmail.com.

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