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2012 Hyundai Tucson with Active ECO System

by Martha Hindes

2012 Green SUV Buyer's Guide - Road & Travel Top 10 Picks

Audi Q7 TDI Clean Diesel

Jeep Grand Cherokee FFV

BMW X5 xDrive 35d Diesel

Lexus RX 450h Hybrid

Hyundai Tucson Hybrid

Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid

The term "sport utility vehicle" used to mean a heavy, hulking chunk of steel with the capability to tame the trackless wilderness on a whim. Then came the designers. Vehicles that once were the equivalent of riding boots and spurs opted instead for trendy looks, fashionable high tech interiors, a comfortable ride, superior fuel economy and the transitional designation of "crossover" utility. One example of the latter that has risen to the head of the pack is the 2012 Hyundai Tucson.

The current generation Tucson arrived a couple of years ago and for 2012 has undergone mostly invisible changes and upgrades to improve driving, handling and fuel economy where it excels. Those are the kinds of improvements one might not initially notice but that can add up in comfort, refinement, handling and mileage gains.

Part of those 2012 improvements come from Hyundai's new Active ECO system on automatic transmission models that help improve fuel economy along with low rolling resistance silica tires. New, high efficiency air conditioning puts less drain on the vehicle's electrical system. A larger capacity fuel tank extends driving range.

In a world that is growing greener by the day, the gasoline powered Tucson does not incorporate costly hybrid technology, but uses such internal tweaks to raise its environmentally friendly footprint. Those sometimes intangible fixes give a very noticeable boost to fuel economy, raising its best highway rating to 32 miles a gallon. In environmentally friendly fashion, the 2012 Tucson receives a coveted PZEV (Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle) rating for strict emissions reducing states such as California.

All Tucsons now ride on four-banger power after an earlier V-6 engine was dropped from its lineup. The base, front-drive GL model is powered by a 2.0-liter inline four cylinder engine that puts out 165 horsepower to move its nearly 3,200 pounds of curb weight. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, and six-speed automatic with manual mode optional. Upmodel GLS and Limited editions come only with the six-speed automatic and are powered by a 2.4-liter inline four generating 176 horsepower. Both are available with all-wheel drive.

All models, if fitted with trailer brakes, can tow as much as 2,000 pounds. Downhill brake control and hillstart assist control are standard. And fuel economy ranges from 20-MPG city to the front-drive Limited version's 32-MPG highway rating.

Stylewise the Tucson is a grabber. It features Hyundai's new "fluidic sculpture" design elements that add expressive curving, subtle shaping and sculpting, and a look of balanced proportion throughout its smaller compact size, especially in the top-line Limited trim level riding on 18-inch wheels. Upmarket amenities available on the Limited include a navigation system, Autonet audio with seven speakers and the availability of a panoramic sunroof for models without sporty roof rails. Leather seating is standard on the Limited.

If there's any payback for Tucson's eye candy appeal, it comes in the five-passenger Tucson's limited ability to do heavy duty loading in its more limited trunk area. One might consider the larger Hyundai Santa Fe if such talent is a regular driving necessity.

Pricing for the Tucson starts at a bargain $19,145 for the base GL and tops at $26,495 for the PZEV Limited.

And if honors determine the success of a vehicle, then Tucson must be smiling all the way to the display cabinet. It repeatedly has assimilated "best of" kudos for multiple facets. Hyundai guiltlessly flaunts the results that range from a "BEST BETS" designation from the Center for Auto Safety, "Top Safety Pick" from the Institute for Highway Safety, a "Best Buy" rating from Consumer Guide, and a best resale value top 10 spot from Kelley Blue Book that estimates a vehicle's worth when it's time for the used car market. If Hyundai keeps improving the Tucson, we wonder if it will need a larger display cabinet in the future.

For more info on Hyundai brands, click here.

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