Special Coverage

Greater L.A. Auto Show

SUPERIOR TWP, MI – Claiming it has more style, power and better fuel economy, Hyundai Motor America is aiming its second-generation Tucson cross/utility vehicle, which is making its debut at the Los Angeles auto show today, squarely at the segment’s sales leaders, the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Nissan Rogue.

“The new Tucson 4-cyl. has the same power as the old V-6, but it has almost 20% better fuel economy than the (previous) 4-cyl. model, so it’s a huge improvement,” Scott Morgason, HMA director-product planning, says at a recent media event here in describing the CUV’s strengths.

Hyundai has a long hill to climb to match the volume of its competitors. Honda’s CR-V sold 172,528 units through November, while the RAV4 delivered 132,346 units and the Rogue 70,671, Ward’s data shows. Sales of the current Tucson through November stood at just 14,508.

The upcoming ’10 U.S.-spec Tucson will be powered by Hyundai’s 2.4L 4-cyl. Theta engine, making 176 hp and 168 lb.-ft. (227 Nm) of torque.

That compares with the ’09 model’s 2.0L 4-cyl., which produces 140 hp and 136 lb.-ft. (184 Nm) of torque. Its 2.7L V-6 churns out 173 hp and 178 lb.-ft. (241 Nm).

The new 4-cyl., with continuously variable valve timing on both camshafts, will be mated to Hyundai’s new 6-speed automatic transmission or a 6-speed manual. The in-house automatic is 26 lbs. (12 kg) lighter, with 62 fewer parts than the 5-speed automatic it replaces in the ’09 Tucson, Hyundai says.

Through the increased use of light-weight materials, the Tucson with the 6-speed automatic has the best curb weight among key competitors at 3,203 lbs. (1,453 kg), Morgason says, despite gaining 3.3 ins. (8 cm) in length and 1 in. (2.5 cm) in width.

Hyundai expects a well-equipped, front-wheel-drive Tuscon with a 6-speed automatic to achieve 23/31 mpg (10-7.6 L/100 km) city/highway. Adding all-wheel drive drops the fuel economy to 21/28 mpg (11-8 L/100 km).

Hyundai claims the FWD-equipped Tuscon bests the fuel performance of 4-cyl. CR-V, RAV4 and Rogue.

The Tucson equipped with an automatic will get an eco-indicator light between the speedometer and tachometer dials to show the vehicle is being driven in a fuel-efficient manner. A manual-equipped model will feature an indicator signaling to drivers when to shift up or down for optimum fuel efficiency.

Hyundai will release a high-mileage “Blue” version of the Tucson for the ’11 model year, with a 2.0L Theta engine, low-rolling resistance tires and revised engine calibrations.

Unlike the new ’11 Sonata, which also boasts the Theta engine, the ’10 Tucson has port injection, compared with the Sonata’s direct-injected 4-cyl. However, Hyundai expects fuel-sipping DI technology to proliferate through its lineup in coming years.

The Tucson is the first vehicle to come out of the auto maker’s German research and design center in Frankfurt.

It also is the first Hyundai to boast the auto maker’s new “fluidic sculpture” design language, part of which is a new hexagonal grille that will make its way onto future models from the brand.

Hyundai is positioning the Tucson as a more urban-oriented vehicle than its predecessor, offering such premium features as an optional panoramic roof, automatic temperature control and touch-screen navigation system with rearview camera.

Standard equipment includes hill-start assist; downhill brake control; and six airbags, including Hyundai’s first side-curtain airbag with rollover sensors.

Count on the ’10 Tucson’s suspension tuning to match its Euro-heritage, Morgason says of the CUV’s “sporty, modern” driving feel. For simplicity’s sake, Hyundai will offer just two trims: the GLS and Limited. Despite the two transmissions and choice of FWD or AWD, there only are 10 buildable combinations, Morgason says.

The new Tucson, which took 36 months to develop at a cost of $225 million, is being assembled at Hyundai’s Ulsan, South Korea, plant. It will go on sale this month in limited numbers in the U.S., with larger quantities available starting in January.

The CUV is the first model to result from Hyundai’s 24/7 version 2.0 product initiative. The ’11 Sonata follows early next year.

In all, Hyundai will launch seven new models in the U.S. from now through 2011, including one based on the entry-level, B-segment Veloster concept roadster shown at the 2007 Seoul auto show. Morgason says the car, which is unnamed, will be the sixth model to debut in the 24/7 cycle.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com