Into the Jungle Gym

MOLDED FROM OLD Though a good-looking machine overall, the Tucson was designed by an old pen at Hyundai. Park the new Sonata or the Santro next to it and there's no resemblance, is there?

MOLDED FROM OLD Though a good-looking machine overall, the Tucson was designed by an old pen at Hyundai. Park the new Sonata or the Santro next to it and there's no resemblance, is there?  

The Tucson wears a tux, drinks diesel and claims to be a mountaineer. What's the real story? Sriram Narayan finds out

Pronounced `too sawn', this is Hyundai's attempt at making life for the Honda CR-V a bit difficult. The Honda CR-V, as you may already know, is a near one-of-a-kind in our market, an SUV pretender that is a little more than a big car with high ground clearance. And that's the reason for its success. It doesn't have the right mountain-terrain defying artillery, but has enough bite to chomp away uneven roads. It's not the best of luxury cruisers but has great on-road manners and handling prowess. Now, the Tucson has all of what the CR-V has. Plus, it's a diesel. So, besides the diesel factor, what are the other things going for it?

Hyundai has left little room for complaint in the looks department. Instead of those intimidating, bicep-strewn lines typical of an SUV, the Tucson looks rather friendly and smart. And to augment those modern lines with a dash of daredevilry are neat-looking body claddings on the sides and twin exhaust pipes. It's got this nice semi-formal, ready-for-a-game-of - soccer-on-the-way-back- from-office look. Inside, the most striking feature is those two aluminium strips bordering the centre-console, all the way down to the gear-knob.

The driver has generous head, shoulder and legroom. Combine this with the adjustable steering wheel and you have a great car, keeping you free from fatigue.

The back seats can be tilted and will fold flat to the floor, giving you acres of space if you have to lug some massive luggage. Bolt them back into place and the seats offer enough room for three.

Turn the ignition and the Elantra-sourced two-litre engine lets out a gentle murmur. You will be hard pressed to find any `diesel-ness' in the machine. Floor the accelerator and the Tucson darts ahead enthusiastically. Some 14 seconds later, you will see the speedo touching 100 kph and you can go all the way up to 164 kph. The 112 horses lend the 1.7 tonner sprightly acceleration.

You will be surprised at the car-like behaviour of this SUV. Well, don't be - the Tucson borrows its platform from the Elantra. And unlike true-blue off-roaders that use a ladder-frame chassis, the Tucson is a monocoque. A ladder-frame comprises an arrangement wherein the body is bolted on to the chassis. It's useful for hardcore off-roading and for carrying heavy loads.

A monocoque is where the body is the chassis, thereby lending the car better handling characteristics. So while a car based on a ladder-frame will find itself at sea on winding roads, a monocoque keeps its act together and is more compliant while negotiating bends and corners.

True, a ladder-frame could have afforded the Tucson with better off-roading credentials, but frankly, it would be a waste for a car that is never going to go on rescue missions in Siberia or for that matter, the Thar.

The Tucson, like the CR-V, drives on a part-time, four-wheel-drive system. Power is fed to the front wheels and the moment there is a loss of grip, all-wheel-drive is engaged and power is channeled to all the four wheels. However, unlike the CR-V, the Hyundai lets you activate four-wheel-drive at the touch of a button.

Though you may like the idea of feeding power to all the four wheels all the time, this does consume more fuel.

So engage the four-wheel-drive lock only on the highway and on slippery or loose surfaces.

The front-wheel-drive arrangement works just fine in the city. Add to that a light steering and good low-end power and you have a pretty nimble SUV to slither around in the city in. However, with all that space and a nice eager engine, it would be a crime to keep it confined to the concrete jungle all the time. Take it out on the highway and the Tucson will reward you with its on-my-feet demeanour.

It's ever ready to change direction and if you want to go flat-out on those long straights, the Tucson maintains its composure and is very stable.

Your family will be happy too as this soft-roader gobbles up uneven surfaces without as much as a shrug. Thank the tall springs for this cosseting ride.

But then, tall springs also mean a higher centre of gravity. Read - more body-roll and lesser confidence around corners. Lesser than the CR-V at least.

Now, it all filters down to whether the Tucson makes a good buy. Obviously, we will have to compare it to its closest competitor, the CR-V.

And if you stretch your options, you could consider the Ford Endeavour too. Now, the Ford is a more capable off-roader but loses out on on-road dynamics and interior comfort due to its pick-up truck platform. Useful if you live in places that have poor excuses for roads.

So for the city slickers, the options really filter down to the CR-V and the Tucson.

Well, if you hadn't noticed, the advantage of the Hyundai Tucson was staring at you right at the beginning. It's everything that the CR-V is, plus, it's a diesel.

And coming back to where we started, at Rs 15.80 lakh, the Tucson does have a lot going for it. Besides that diesel factor.

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