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2005 Hyundai Tuscon SUV

A Hyundai Tucson GL can be obtained nicely equipped for $21,540. It was named Best New Crossover Vehicle for 2005.

2005 Hyundai Tucson GL
Base model isn't basic with Tucson

By Bill Roebuck

A recent test drive of a 2005 Hyundai Tucson had a bit of a twist. Instead of the fully loaded models manufacturers usually make available for evaluations, this one was almost bare bones.

The front-wheel drive GL, the base model in the Tucson SUV lineup, had only two options -- the air conditioning package (that also includes keyless entry, a security alarm system and privacy glass), and Mica Paint, a sparkly addition to the standard paint job.

These options added $1,545 to the base price of $19,995, which is quiet reasonable for a compact SUV that I found to be quite roomy inside.

Getting to test drive a base model is uncommon. When auto manufacturers go through the process of selecting which models to let the media test drive, they often face many obstacles.

It is important for them to get brand new vehicles into the hands of journalists quickly to help build up interest among potential customers and to provide unbiased commentary on their features and characteristics.

But long-awaited new marques such as the Tucson also are coveted by dealerships and they usually want every vehicle they can get their hands on, as soon as possible. That can make it difficult for the distribution operation to carve out a few for the marketing or media relations departments.

Another problem is choosing which equipment level to showcase to the media. Sometimes, it's whatever model they can get their hands on. But when they have a choice, it can be a challenging decision.

Should they pick a top-of-the-line, fully equipped model? Usually, they do. Sure, journalists get to experience every feature a model can offer, but the higher price may affect the overall evaluation.

Some manufacturers choose mid-line models with a few key options -- ones they think their target customers will choose. Such vehicles often provide a fair view of what the consumer can expect.

Sometimes, a bare-bones model gives a completely different impression compared to a fully loaded one. It's always a concern that options can skew your opinions.

I'd already driven a well-equipped, V6-powered Tucson GLS AWD several months ago, and had been positively impressed with its design and performance. The base GL I drove last week provided an interesting contrast.

With this model, my opinion was not going to be swayed by soft leather seats or toys such as a power sunroof.

It turns out the base Tucson GL is not stripped but nicely equipped.

Standard features include a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 player, front and rear fold-down seats, and advanced electronic stability, traction control and antilock braking systems.

Other included features are 16-in. alloy wheels, windshield wiper deicer, power windows, power heated outside mirrors, power door locks, roof rack side rails and an underbody skid plate.

The tailgate has a handy flip-up rear glass, not so common among SUVs. The open liftgate easily clears the heads of tall drivers. The hard-backed rear seats fold flat -- with headrests in place -- to extend the cargo area from 644 litres to a generous 1,856 litres.

The undercarriage boasts rack and pinion steering and a fully independent suspension with a rear stabilizer bar, and gas-filled shock absorbers. Even so, the setup makes the GL's ride stiff. You feel bumps in the road through the driver's seat.

The 2-litre four-cylinder engine in the GL is peppy enough, giving 140 hp at 136 ft-lb of torque. But the power runs out on the highway. The four-banger revved fairly high at highway speeds -- over 3,500 rpm at 120 km/h -- making me wish for a sixth gear on the five-speed standard transmission to tone down the engine noise.

Otherwise, I was quite happy with the space, performance, comfort and ergonomics of the Tucson. It actually seems to have more useful room, both front and back, than the larger Hyundai Santa Fe SUV.

Upscale GL and GLS models of the Tucson offer additional features such as all-wheel drive, a 2.7-litre V6 engine, dual-coloured body cladding, dual exhausts, cruise control and more, and up the ante to as much as $28,725.

Yet you may not miss those enhancements with the base GL. The fact that you can get a well-featured Tucson for under $22,000 highlights the value for money factor.

Such value was part of the reason the Tucson was named Best New Crossover Vehicle in the 2005 Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) Canadian Car of the Year Awards, which factor in total vehicle price as a key criteria.

Copyright Bill Roebuck, 2005

2005 Hyundai Tucson GL
Base price: $19,995
Price as Tested: $21,540
AC Tax: $100
Destination charge: $799
Fuel consumption: 10.6 litres/100 km city, 7.9 litres/100 km highway
Warranty: 5 years/100,000 km, 5 years/100,000 powertrain, 5 years/100,000 Roadside Assistance.