Pros: Compact dimensions, responsive handling, surprisingly roomy back seat, distinctive styling.
Cons: Sparsely equipped base GL model, underpowered 2.0-liter engine, max cargo space is a little tight, Limited gets pricey.
The 2012 Hyundai Tucson is the rare compact crossover SUV that’s actually, you know, compact. If you don’t believe us, just take a glance at some of the Tucson’s ostensible rivals. CR-V? It’s basically a midsize crossover these days. RAV4? The thing’s got three rows of seats! Equinox? You could reasonably call it huge. Other than the Tucson, most compact crossovers have quietly bulked up a size or two in recent years.
So it’s refreshing to hop into a 2012 Tucson and remember how cool a truly compact crossover can be. With its 103.9-inch wheelbase and 173.2-inch overall length, the Tucson is actually smaller than the compact Elantra sedan, making tight parking lots a cinch to navigate. Those tidy dimensions also pay dividends on winding roads, where the Tucson reveals itself to be one of the most nimble crossovers at this price point. Nonetheless, the Tucson still manages to provide plenty of space for four adult passengers to ride in comfort. Every trip in a Tucson is a lesson in how to use space efficiently.
If we had our druthers, the Tucson would have a little more available power under the hood and a little more hauling capacity, too. But, overall, this Hyundai is a compelling package. Unlike most automakers, Hyundai continues to see the wisdom in putting the "compact" in "compact crossover."
Comfort & Utility
The 2012 Hyundai Tucson is available in three trim levels: GL, GLS and Limited. The base GL starts with the 2.0-liter engine, 17-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, a tilt-only steering wheel, a trip computer, power accessories and a six-speaker audio system with iPod/USB connectivity.
The GLS adds 17-inch alloys, upgraded shock absorbers, cruise control, hybrid cloth/leather upholstery, heated front seats (AWD model only), a leather-wrapped tilt-telescopic steering wheel with integrated auxiliary controls and Bluetooth connectivity.
The Limited tacks on 18-inch alloys, fog lights, heated front seats (FWD and AWD), a power driver’s seat, leather upholstery, a leather-trimmed front console and dual-zone automatic climate control.
Available on the Limited model only is a Premium package that contributes a panoramic sunroof, a seven-speaker audio system with a subwoofer and a navigation system with a 6.5-inch display and a rearview camera.
The Tucson’s front seats aren’t nearly as aggressive as the car’s handling character, so if you like to take corners with verve, prepare to slide around on your perch. Still, we know most Tucson miles will be logged in a straight line, and both the cloth and leather seats are more than up to this task. The base GL’s tilt-only steering wheel is a bit of an insult, frankly. Crossover shoppers shouldn’t have to go up a trim level just to get a telescoping steering wheel. The driving position is outstanding, though, affording a commanding view over the hood.
The Tucson has standard-issue Hyundai gauges, which means they’re crisp-looking, deeply hooded and trimmed with attractive blue accents. Whether you stick with the basic manual controls or pony up for the navigation and automatic climate systems, we think you’ll find them easy to master. Materials quality is just average, but the dashboard looks nice from a distance, which is important for first impressions.
The Tucson’s back seat has a low bottom cushion by crossover standards, so taller rear passengers might find thigh support to be lacking. Headroom and legroom are both ample, however, so actual passenger space back there is just fine for adults. The cargo area behind the rear seatbacks measures a decent 25.7 cubic feet, but the maximum with the seatbacks folded is just 55.8 cubic feet. That’s only a few more cubic feet than what you get in the Elantra GT hatchback.
Even the bare-bones GL gets standard iPod and USB connectivity, although Bluetooth is only standard if you upgrade to the GLS. But otherwise, the Tucson doesn’t have much going on in the technology department unless you get the Limited and spring for the Premium package. Thus equipped, the Tucson features a navigation system with a reasonably intuitive and attractive 6.5-inch touchscreen. We’d like to see wider availability for this system, as a Limited with the Premium package doesn’t come cheap.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The Tucson GL starts with front-wheel-drive and a 2.0-liter inline-4 rated at 165 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual is standard, and a six-speed automatic optional. We like the automatic’s prompt downshifts, but the five-speed manual is imprecise, and the 2.0-liter engine is noisy and weaker than its numbers suggest. We much prefer the GLS and Limited, which come standard with front-wheel drive and a 2.4-liter inline-4 good for 176 horsepower and 168 lb-ft of torque. The six-speed automatic is the only transmission with the bigger motor, and this tandem pulls the Tucson around with respectable verve and refinement.
All-wheel drive is optional on the GLS and Limited. Fuel economy for the GL is 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway with the manual and 22/29 mpg with the automatic, while the GLS and Limited actually improve to 21/30 mpg with FWD, dropping to 20/27 mpg with all-wheel drive.
The 2012 Hyundai Tucson comes with standard stability control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, active front head restraints and six airbags (front, front-side, full-length side-curtain).
In government crash-testing, the 2012 Tucson scored four stars out of five overall, including four stars in frontal impacts and five stars in side impacts. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Tucson its highest rating of "Good" in all categories.
The Tucson rides firmly, but we’re not complaining. Impact harshness rarely registers, and the payoff is that this little crossover can actually dance in the curves. Road noise can be an issue, however; there are definitely quieter crossovers in this class. Overall, though, the Tucson is one of our favorite affordable crossovers from behind the wheel.
Other Cars to Consider
Kia Sportage – Mechanically similar to the Tucson, the Sportage boasts more angular styling and the availability of an awesome turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4.
Mazda CX-5 – Mazda’s new compact crossover goes toe-to-toe with the Tucson across the board, and it might be even more fun to drive.
Volkswagen Tiguan – If you’re considering the Tucson Limited, know that the same money could get you into a decently equipped Tiguan, and the VW is both faster and generally nicer.
We like the Limited for its feature set, but it starts at $24,995 with front-wheel drive. That’s a lot. Smarter money would go toward the $22,295 front-wheel-drive GLS.
In November 2012, Kia and Hyundai adjusted the fuel economy ratings on some 2011-2013 models. This article has been modified to reflect the accurate EPA ratings.