By the terms of the unwritten rules of the automotive world, every car must grow larger with each succeeding generation.
Larger, roomier, more powerful. It’s the automaker’s mantra.
While Hyundai complies in nearly every case, its 2014 Tucson goes against the grain. The compact crossover has remained resolutely compact; it exists in a no-man’s-land between large hatchbacks like the Nissan Juke and almost-midsize crossovers like Honda’s CR-V.
The Tucson ($22,235, including destination) is ideally suited for the urban grind; it’s large enough to accommodate four adults but small enough to slip easily into tight parking spaces. Its dimensions translate into a small-car highway ride, but its rigid unibody and Euro-tuned suspension produce better-than-expected responsiveness.
On the winding, two-lane road I drive into town, my Tucson Limited ($27,075) tester felt composed and stable. Body lean through the corners was controlled and the ride remained unruffled over broken surfaces.
The Tucson is updated for 2014 with refreshed sheet metal, standard projector headlights and LED running lights, new touch screens and an enhanced navigation system. Tucson’s two four-cylinder engines add direct injection for improved power delivery.
Its cabin is stylish, modern and smartly organized. Controls are clearly labeled and easily understood. Excellent Fit-and-finish and materials quality complete the picture.
Rear-seat legroom is adequate for all but larger adults. The second row reclines in two stages, but doesn’t slide fore and aft.
For 2014, Hyundai drops last year’s entry-level GL, leaving the previous mid-grade GLS as the new base. Standard features include a/c, power accessories, 60/40-split folding and reclining second-row seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, a trip computer, privacy glass, rear spoiler, cloth upholstery, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with redundant controls.
The six-speaker audio system includes iPod/USB connectivity and satellite radio. Illuminated cupholders and rear-seat a/c vents are useful flourishes.
The Tucson’s ride is stiff-legged by US standards, but most owners will judge that an acceptable trade-off for its dynamic handling characteristics. Hyundai’s SACHS Amplitude Selective Damping, standard this year across the line, allows improved shock-absorber control and better management of the tire-to-road contact patch.
A 164-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine powers the GLS. Front-wheel-drive models earn EPA-estimated fuel economy of 25 mpg combined (23 mpg city/29 mpg highway); AWD is rated at 23 combined (21 city/25 highway).
SE and Limited trims get a 182-hp 2.4-liter four rated at 23 mpg combined (21 mpg city/28 mpg highway) with FWD, and 22 combined (20 city/25 highway) with AWD.
Neither engine is much more powerful or efficient than before, but improved low-end torque produces quicker and more immediate acceleration at low speeds. All-wheel-drive is now available on all Tucson trims.
Equipped with the larger engine, my AWD test car had enough grunt to pass slower traffic easily, though the engine grew noisy when pushed hard. The six-speed automatic made smooth and relaxed shifts; a manual-shift function allows drivers to hurry things along as needed.
By defying the bigger-is-better convention, the Tucson carves out a unique, city-friendly niche for itself.
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at email@example.com.
2014 Hyundai Tucson Limited AWD
Vehicle base price: $20,633
Trim level base price: $27,700
As tested: $28,700
Optional equipment: carpeted floor mats
Tow rating: 2,000 lb
EPA rating: 20 city/ 25 highway/22 combined
Regular unleaded fuel specified