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2005 Cute Ute Buyer's Guide

2005 Hyundai Tucson Review

by Martha Hindes

2005 Hyundai Tucson
2005 Hyundai Tucson

It has a cutesy-snubbed nose. Light plays appealingly along subtle crease lines that run from fore to aft along its side. A sporty roof rack and fold-flat passenger seating promises it won't be tethered to boring suburban streets, but will yearn to travel along coastal highways, through mountain passes, along dirt roads to a secluded lakeside cabin.

This is Tucson, the new, small-front-drive SUV from Korean-based auto maker Hyundai's California headquartered subsidiary, with a distinctively American character. Its name, for one of the Southwest's fabled cities, suggests it knows exactly what it is after -- an impressive number of compact sport utility buyers wanting that "yee haw" factor.

Tucson, on sale in February as a 2005 model, comes in three trim levels. It is powered by transverse mounted, 2.0-liter I-4 or 2.6-liter, all-aluminum I-6 engines, with plenty of stability and safety technology. Transmissions are a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic with Shiftronic manual mode for that sense of rodeo adventure. An on-demand four-wheel-drive system is one of the few options.

When Hyundai confirms pricing (in a matter of hours from press time, we expect), one should be able to drive away in a stick-shift base model for around $18,000. Will it take imaginary six guns blazing to corral a loyal following? Probably not. With its larger brother, the Santa Fe, Hyundai already proved that attractive styling, lots of standard equipment, bargain prices and a lengthy warranty were more than enough to do the job.