Hyundai Tucson adds direct-injection engine |

Hyundai Tucson adds direct-injection engine

“That is totally driving you crazy, isn’t it?” asked my friend Dan, as we headed up a series of Berthoud Pass-styled curves in the Hyundai Tucson.

In the back, an unsecured 12-pack box of microbrew beers gaily slid from one side of the evidently slickly carpeted cargo area to the other, clinking and clanking. Over and over again, like set dressings from the movie “Titanic.” That particular impact of the relatively small vehicle’s high center of gravity didn’t seem to faze him much, but it did indeed drive me out of my mind.

Such is part of the deal with life in the cute ‘ute class, where short wheelbases and stocky stature sometimes make for precarious conditions.

But the 2014 model of the Tucson I drove this summer, with 2015 models now available, manages to imbue a tiny package with a decent amount of style and passenger comfort, though I recommend you secure your goods in a more fulsome manner.

The SE model I got to drive was outfitted with electronic all-wheel drive and was powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, producing 180 to 182 horsepower (power drops in the PZEV-rated model). The gasoline direct injection system that Hyundai touts as its particular contribution to vehicular efficiency does allow the 3,294-pound machine to move pretty well, and got me as much as 29 MPG on the highway. The other option, also direct injection, is a 2.0-liter engine rated for 164 horses.

Once I dropped off my friend and cleared out the cargo deck, I was able to appreciate Tucson’s attributes a little more closely — and it’s quite a well-sorted little machine, for those of you testing the waters with competitors like the RAV-4, CRV or Escape.

And while it’s not exactly a sports car, I appreciated the way the Tucson was able to enthusiastically hold a curve and keep a steady pace on climbs, with a smooth six-speed automatic (shiftronically driver-manipulated, should you want to do so) helping to ease the overall experience.

Tucson’s overall design aesthetic is also quite charming, though it may look like a tall and slab-sided variation on the Lexus RX models — but at $26,000, is clearly a thoroughly different animal.

New LED-edged projector headlamps, a small body-colored hexagonal grille and a low-to-the-road nose make the Tucson appear nearly Volkswagenesque; my SE model’s attractive smoked-alloy 17-inch wheels and Tucson’s standard (and very prominent) rock guards at the bottom of the doors help to accentuate the prominent curves in the body line. Higher-end versions of the Tucson get additional chrome accents on the grille and door handles.

Large, light doors allow effortless access in front and back, and the driver’s seat position is tall, maybe just a little too tall for my liking. In the rear, seatbacks now recline a bit to give your rear passengers a more comfortable experience.

The interior design, still heavy on the plastics, does get plenty of style points, including swoopy cowls over the instruments. They’ve even added those Volvo-inspired open arches in the center console. And a full-cabin panoramic sunroof also opens the entire vehicle up for more light and feeling of … additional largeness.

Somewhat more than light-duty off-roading can be dialed up with hill-descent control and a switch to lock the center differential for full 4WD traction; just don’t confuse the prominent round button on the center console with a pushbutton start, it’s actually the rear defrost control.

As a sign of Hyundai’s forward-thinking, a limited number of dedicated hydrogen fuel cell versions of the Tucson will be available in California — perhaps a sign of things to come in the distant future in Colorado. The intriguing “Walking Dead” special edition shown here, great for zombie hunters, was also an unconventional offering this year.

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