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We drive Hyundai's amazing X3 rival

2004-11-16 07:53

John Oxley

In fact both 4x4 models come in at prices which would make a lot of single cab bakkies blush - and the Land Rover Freelander, Honda CR-V and Nissan X-Trail positively writhe in discomfort.

And the BMW X3? The lowest-priced automatic version costs around R140 000 more than the top Tucson, while offering no more space, similar styling (especially from the back) and much the same off-road ability.

As with all its opposition - with the exception of the Jeep Cherokee - the Tucson is car based, built on a heavily modified Elantra platform - although it is completely new in every respect, including the 2-litre turbo-diesel and the 2.7-litre V6 found in its bigger brother, the Santa Fe.

There are three cars in the new Tucson range - a 2-litre petrol 4x2 (it's actually front-wheel-drive, like opponents the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V) and two 4x4 models, the petrol V6 and the range-topping 2-litre turbo-diesel.

Urban cowboys

Hyundai chose to launch the cars at high altitude, in a mainly tar drive to Machadadorp in Mpumalanga, but there was enough off-road driving to see that the Tucson has all the attributes required by today's breed of urban cowboys, such as pavement hopping and parking in public gardens.

In fact the car can do a lot more than that, and we drove over open ranges that gave the Tucson no pain - nor the passengers too much discomfort.

In terms of styling the Tucson is chunky and masculine, especially at the back.

From the front there's much of the look of the Santa Fe - the same chrome-plated horizontal radiator grille design, strong flanks, and a bold-looking front bumper, with fog lamps placed in the middle.

Strong D pillars at the back give it much the same looks as BMW's rival, with a large lift-up tailgate flanked by bold taillights.

From the side the look is smooth yet strong, aided and abetted by built-in roof rails.


Inside there is a feeling of practicality and robustness, although I would have preferred a soft-touch feel to the dashboard rather than the hard and unyielding plastics chosen.

That said, there's a lot of space, with enough room in the back to keep at least two adults comfortable, and lots of knick-knacks space (plus lots of cup holders).

The dashboard is neat and well laid out, with a metallic-look centre stack and door trims, plus a neat instrument cluster using a central speedo that partially overlaps the rev counter. There are also small fuel and temperature gauges.

Naturally the seats fold down to give additional carrying capacity when required, and standard features include ABS brakes with electronic brake force distribution, cruise control, power steering and central locking.

There are also electric windows, a trip computer, luggage net, roof rails, climate control aircon system, front loader CD and MP3 player, dual airbags, leather upholstery and alloy wheels.

A glass sunroof with an interior cover is added to 4x4 versions.

The engines

As mentioned there are three engines.

The first is a DOHC 1975 cc Hyundai-designed and built petrol unit that produces 104 kW at 6 000 r/min with a maximum torque at 184 Nm at 4  500rpm, driving through the front wheels via a 5-speed manual gearbox.

Hyundai has concentrated on keeping the Tucson's weight down, and since it is only fitted to the 4x2 version, with manual transmission, it gives quite lively performance and surprisingly good handling.

This 2 656 cc V6 DOHC unit produces 129 kW at 6 000 r/min and has a maximum torque of 241 Nm at 4 000 r/min. As expected, despite the extra weight of the four-wheel-drive system it is a lively performer, and definitely to be recommended if you want to tow.

It is fitted to a 4-speed automatic gearbox with sequential manual option.

The most expensive unit - though not the most powerful - is the 1 991 cc CRDi intercooled common rail turbo-diesel unit which produces a very healthy output of 82.5vkW at 4 000 r/min, and maximum torque of 245 Nm between 1 800 and 2 500 r/min.

This gives "in-betweener" performance - it will still cruise quickly, but heavy loads will slow it down a tad.

Again, it's fitted with a 4-speed auto 'box.

Electronic system

Economy is a sore point with most 4x4s, and so to get the best out of this brace Hyundai uses an electronic four-wheel drive system it calls "On Demand 4WD".

In normal driving, you're mostly in front-wheel drive, where the torque is split in 80-20% front to rear.

As the front wheel traction decreases the torque to the rear wheels increases for better grip..

When you hit the 4WD lock button, a central differential lock will engage if the vehicle speed is less than 30 km/h, which gives you better 4X4 capability for off-road driving.

In 4WD mode the torque to the front and rear wheels are split 50-50%.

If your speed increases over 40 km/h the system will disengage and return to all-wheel drive mode until the speed is reduced to below 30 km/h to re-engage 4WD.

There's also a traction control system which is always active unless you switch it of with a button and the TCS OFF indicator lamp is on.

This system reads the driving conditions, and then transfers the power of the engine to any wheel that is not slipping. This allows you to pull off or accelerate in wet and slippery conditions

Suspension and brakes

At the front there's a MacPherson strut system with a reversed L-shaped lower arm and gas filled shock absorbers, while at the back it's independent with dual links and, again, gas shocks.

Anti-roll bars are fitted back and front, with softer settings on the 4x2 model. Big (380 mm) ventilated discs are fitted at the front, and solid ones at the back, and there are 6.5J X 16 inch alloy wheels as standard.

The Tucson has a 3 year/ 60 000 km full maintenance plan and 3 year/100 000km manufacturers warranty.


  • Tucson 2.0 petrol 4x2 manual R194 900
  • Tucson 2.7 V6 petrol 4x4 auto R254 900
  • Tucson 2.0 CRDi diesel 4x4 auto R256 900

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