Twentysomething: 2009 Hyundai Tucson 25th Anniversary Edition

Jodi Lai: It was a cold and snowy day, James. The conditions were treacherous but my lust for adventure was overwhelming. I called up two friends and loaded the helicopter with my skis and my friends’ snowboarding gear. We soldered through the perilous landscape and went where sane people wouldn’t dare. My heart was racing and I took a deep breath of sharp, cold air before plunging into the wilderness. Seriously.

OK so the helicopter was actually a Hyundai Tucson, the “wilderness” was a small ski hill in Uxbridge and my friends spend more time on their asses during our snowboard outings than they do doing 360s and rail slides. But it’s for people like us quasi-active urbanites that compact SUVs such as the Tucson are made.

I’m not entirely hardcore, but the “perilous landscape” that was Toronto during a snowstorm isn’t for the faint-hearted, so give me some credit, James. The Tucson was able to handle the snowy trek up to the ski hill and had enough room, with one rear seat folded down, to comfortably fit all our gear. It was a bonus that the cargo area was lined in durable plastic, so after our “adventure” was finished, I was able to wipe off the melted snow easily.

James McMurtrie: Gnarly, dude. I’m glad one of us used this SUV for what it was meant. My time spent with it was certainly different. At a recent family reunion, my uncle asked what I was driving next. When I told him the Tucson, he said it was a step up from the Santa Fe, which I didn’t think sounded quite right, but what do I know? Of course, he was wrong and instead of getting a posh interior outfitted with a marble finish and dashboard colour schemes that would prompt me to quickly hit the bank and wrap a roll of fives in a hundred-dollar bill, I got a stripped-out budget SUV.

I want a pony and my dad gets me mule? Worst sweet 16 ever, dad. I was not ballin’, nor was I rolling with the Benjamins and, since I live in the city, it all seemed a tad pointless.

It looked “dainty” from the outside and, because it’s an SUV that only has front-wheel drive, it makes me see the Tucson as more of an awkward SUV-looking crossover. Maybe one that hasn’t quite, crossed over yet.

JL: I agree with you on the dainti-ness of the Tucson’s exterior. It’s too bubbly and is in need of some aggressive lines, which I think will pump up the Tucson’s street cred, however nowhere near the “ballin'” status you expect. People who want to be ballin’ don’t buy Tucsons; they buy chromed-out Rolls-Royces or Caddy Escalades if they haven’t made it to the real big leagues yet.

This car isn’t made for people like you (or gangstas, apparently) who live in the city, but for people like me, who live in the suburbs and need the space for snowboard trips and visits to Ikea.

However, your opinion that the Tucson is a stripped-out SUV is totally bunk. Yes, it can be had on a tighter budget and, like a lot of Hyundais, it lacks a certain road presence, but for less than $25,295, you can have all the amenities and power goodies you’ll ever need. And if the four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive powertrain doesn’t satisfy, you can upgrade to a V6 with 4WD.

I was content with the Tucson’s performance as an urban hauler. And I think your expectation of the Tucson (or any SUV, for that matter) to be gangsta is rubbish.

JM: A V6 4WD version? Well, that’s a horse of a different colour. Our Tucson felt like a gazelle masquerading as a hippo. It was agile, lightweight and nimble, which felt odd (not bad, mind you) because I have come to expect SUVs to have more of a weighty and powerful presence.

A V6 4WD version makes almost too much sense, leaving me questioning why the version we tested even exists. I say save the small engines and lightweight frames for the crossover segment and let them have their softcore fun in the sun. SUVs are supposed to be large and in charge, aren’t they? Call me ignorant, but couldn’t Hyundai have taken a page from The Simpsons and given us a Canyonero?

JL: You ARE ignorant. You want to drive an SUV that has the handling characteristics of a boat? I think your definition of an SUV is silly. Our Tucson is a compact SUV for people who need the space (enough for a ski trip, not enough for an entire hockey team) without the fuel-thirsty 4WD setup. The only way I could ever justify buying a 4WD V6 giant SUV is if I had a heavy trailer to haul up to cottage country and if my cottage was on top of a mountain. I liked the Tucson’s car-like driving dynamics and that it didn’t feel weighty because it would be counterproductive to my suburban/city needs.

The 140-horsepower four-cylinder was enough to suit my needs, seeing as SUVs don’t inspire my inner race car driver. Still, I was surprised that it had reasonable hustle, even in the mid-range.

The Tucson was also easy to park and manoeuvre around the city, thanks to a tight turning circle, big windows, high seating position and light steering. I also appreciated the clean interior layout and the addition of a Garmin GPS, which jived well with the rest of the user-friendly dash.

And I resent your “softcore” comment. Have you ever battled it out in an Ikea parking lot on a Saturday afternoon?

JM: I have actually, but I don’t see what a fistfight has to do with driving.

At any rate, we don’t all have money for flashy SUVs, nor do we all want something that says, “No, I’m not aware of the current economic crisis” or better yet, “Yes, I am aware but as my new mammoth V8-powered SUV shows, I am totally indifferent.”

Instead, Hyundai gives us something we can really use. And while my experience left me with few memories worthy of my memoir, that’s no slight against the Tucson. If you need an SUV because you actually haul things or if you want to chew up the dirt at the Havelock Jamboree, then perhaps the V6 AWD Tucson is for you. But if the prospect of getting a van leaves a bad taste in your mouth (or wallet), then the four-cylinder Tucson is by no means a poor decision.

By Jodi Lai and James McMurtrie
National Post

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