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Hyundai Tucson City

A smarter alterative to driving a thirsty AWD

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • 2-litre, front-wheel-drive version of Hyundai Tucson
  • Respectable city/urban performance
  • Generous, useable interior space
  • The popular 'cross over' vehicle appearance
  • 15 - 20 percent superior fuel economy
  • AUD$4000 cheaper than the AWD model
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How many times have you seen it? Waxed and detailed small/medium 4WDs jammed bumper-to-bumper in peak-hour traffic; their off-road excursions limited to parking on the owner’s front lawn... It’s easy to be sceptical about these ‘urban trucksters’ but the new Hyundai Tucson City is here to apply some logic to this otherwise insane automotive trend.

The Tucson City is essentially the same as the conventional Tucson AWD (see Hyundai Tucson Elite Test) but there’s a major difference in the driveline, weight and price. The appropriately named Tucson City is powered by a relatively small 2-litre four-cylinder and channels drive to only the front wheels. This might seem like a massive downgrade from the AWD V6 model but with reduced drivetrain losses and a 158kg weight saving, it’s perfectly competent when operating in a city/urban environment. Factor in a considerable AUD$4000 price advantage along with reduced fuel consumption and buyers will really need to think whether they need AWD for adventures or merely acceptance.

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Hyundai raided its parts bin for the Tucson City’s engine. The 2-litre four-cylinder (shared with the Elantra) employs DOHC, four-valve-per-cylinder breathing, variable inlet cam timing and a 10:1 compression ratio. Tuned to deliver 104kW at 6000 rpm and 184Nm at 4500 rpm (using 91 RON unleaded), the 2-litre heart does an admirable job in the 1467kg Tuscon City – it’s responsive, relatively torquey and is rarely left wheezing behind at the traffic lights. But it’s obvious the engine is working pretty hard - it’s nowhere as effortless as the V6 model and in-cabin noise is considerable.

The performance of the 2-litre engine is harnessed by a standard four-speed auto transmission. The trans does a good job adapting to your driving style and the sequential shift system works seamlessly but, when left in Drive, it tends to shift into top gear prematurely. This causes a drone inside the cabin and you need to force it to kick down a gear to maintain speed up any incline. Note that our test vehicle had only around 3000km on it, so the engine may become slightly gruntier over a greater distance.

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The Tucson City’s respectable urban performance is confirmed by its better-than-expected 0 – 100 km/h time. With some stall applied off the line, we recorded high 12 seconds for the sprint - less than a second slower than we recorded in the beefy V6... Unfortunately, hilly terrain and heavy loads cause some stress. In these conditions, the trans is busy hunting for the most appropriate gear and, ultimately, there’s not enough power. If you genuinely intend to load ‘er up and go places, the V6 model will do it better – but that’s only if...

Of course, the big upshot of the City’s reduced weight, smaller engine and simpler driveline is greater fuel efficiency. We struggled to better 13 litres per 100km in the V6 AWD, but little brother has no problem returning consumption around 11 litres per 100km. That’s an improvement of around 15 – 20 percent. Not surprisingly, Hyundai gives the City a smaller fuel tank compared to the V6 – 58-litres versus 65-litres.

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The conventional Tucson largely manages to avoid the awkward, juddering ride often associated with SUVs and, with the absence of a rear drive system and a lighter rear sub-frame, the City version rides even more like a sedan/wagon. It’s compliant and there’s plenty of travel but there is more roll and pitch than a conventional vehicle. Inevitably, the high centre of gravity and ‘all purpose’ 215/65 tyres mean the Tucson City doesn’t have the dynamics of a normal car – something that’s important for buyers to keep in mind. The power assisted rack and pinion steering is responsive and well weighted but precision falls away when you start pushing the limits. Understeer is the Tucson’s natural handling tendency and no amount of mid-corner throttle lift will induce oversteer. Traction control comes standard though it rarely intervenes on dry bitumen unless you provoke it. The City employs smaller rear discs compared to the heavier AWD but braking performance is up to standard. ABS and EBD are fitted.

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Despite its cut-price appeal, the Tucson City’s cabin is identical to the dearer V6 AWD model. Standard equipment includes dual airbags, cruise control, a MP3/WMA compatible single CD/tuner head unit, leather steering wheel (which feels pretty cheap), slide-out sun visor extensions and easy to use rotary HVAC controls. Stepping in/out of the elevated cabin is relatively easy although shorter people may notice the absence of A-pillar grab handles.

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Front and rear occupant space is generous although the armrests in the doors limit rear width, effectively making the Tucson a four seater rather than a five seater (as quoted). With the rear seats upright, the cargo area is large enough to accommodate most Monday-to-Friday loads. The load area can be accessed by the lift-up tailgate or the hinged rear window and you’ll find a retractable cargo blind, 12V power outlet and tie-down facilities. If more space is required, the 60/40 split backrest can be folded forward – an action which automatically lowers the bottom cushion to achieve a near-perfectly flat expanded load area.

Perhaps most importantly, the Tucson City looks almost identical to its AWD stablemate and similar to other AWDs on the market. You get the same elevated stance, 16 inch alloys, front and rear fog lights, roof rails and ‘bee sting’ aerial. The only thing missing are the AWD model’s lower body cladding, wheel arch mouldings and dual outlet exhaust.

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At AUD$26,990, the Tucson City isn’t a huge bargain (we’d like to see it under AUD$25,000) but it is more than ten percent cheaper than the V6 AWD. You get the same social status (so long as you don’t mention anything about the driveline!), commanding driving position and generous interior space - but, in addition to up-front purchase saving, you enjoy significantly better fuel consumption. Anyone wanting to enter the urban AWD scene should really stop and think about this one.

The Tucson City was provided for this test by Hyundai

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