I was pleased to be chosen as the first auto writer in the area to test-drive Hyundai's new-for-2005 Tucson GLS compact SUV. Kind of a nice pre-Christmas gesture, I figured. And most timely, too. During the evening of Dec. 22, liquid ice streamed out of the clouds, sheathing Middle Tennessee within a glassy glaze.
When December 23 dawned, a solid sheet of ice coated my house, my yard, my trees, my driveway, my road, my Tucson. It seemed folly to strike out upon a round of errands, but the calendar left me no choicejust deserts, I suppose, for declining to believe in Santa Claus.
The Hyundai reveled in the circumstances. With fewer than 800 miles on the odometer, this was Tucson's baptism not by fire but by ice. Although equipped with front-wheel-drive instead of with Hyundai's optional all-wheel-drive powertrain, the Tucson accelerated, steered and stopped like a snow leopard. This was fantastic! These next two days of errands and last-minute shopping were going to be a piece of cake.
Several aspects of the Tucson's configuration rendered it ideal for the chores at hand. An optional 2.7-liter twin-cam V6 makes moderate power (173 horsepower, 178 foot-pounds of torque); but more importantly, it delivers that power smoothly and progressively. Wheelspin on ice was easy to catch and control, yet even if my attention span wandered momentarily, standard traction control and stability control responded immediately to restore forward progress.
As for loot, the five-passenger Tucson handles cargo with versatility. Behind the rear seat, 23 cubic feet of stowing space is ample; and when you need more, the rear bench splits into 60/40 sections to fold flush with the floor. Maximum cargo space approaches 66 cubic feet, which is remarkable when one considers the Tucson's derivation from the Hyundai Elantra econo-car. Best of all, my Tucson cost $20,009, as-tested.
For the conditions that prevailed this Christmas week, I couldn't have chosen a more practical and capable vehicle; and yet it was the Hyundai Tucson that had chosen me, in a sense. It had chosen to test-drive me to my limits of comprehension.
Not three miles from home on my first sortie of the day, I waited for a red light to change. I was waiting there still when the light changed to green; and by now I had company. A shiny 2003 Lincoln Navigator was idling perpendicular to me after tagging my bumper and lurching me into crossing traffic. "There was nothing I could do," was the hapless driver's explanation as she bounded out of the Navigator. "I started sliding all the way up the hill"which was 100 yards behind us. "I had the brakes on, and nothing happened. No steering, no brakes, nothing."
Miraculously, the Lincoln tagged the Tucson's cladding around the left-rear bumper and cracked the plastic only. Although the Navigator wore a big divot in its right-rear passenger door, my Hyundai survived relatively uscathed. We exchanged particulars and parted ways, leaving it to dueling insurers to mop up the mess that my new acquaintance had wrought.
The Tucson shrugged it off, and I trundled over to the opposite side of town where common sense, I hoped, was in more abundant supply. For you see, common sense suggestsindeed, vehemently dictates-that brakes are useless in a slide. When you want to slow down and stop on ice, do not ust the brakes! Use the transmissionthat's right, the thingy with the shifter lever that ratchets down from "D" to "3" to "2" to "L," or some such similar sequence depending on the vehicle.
Auto or manual, every transmission has a range of gearing (yes, even the new continuously variable or CVT transmissions); and it's the gearing that slows you down without causing wheels to skid. When your front wheels aren't skidding, they're steering; and when they're steering, your vehicle is going where you want it to go under your direct control. Personally, I find it much more enjoyablenot to mention much safer and much less expensiveto stay in control of my vehicle. To each his own, I suppose.
I can now confidently assert that, despite wishful thinking, the opposite side of town is as dismally bereft of common sense as my own. Not four hours after my initial unintended rendezvous of the day, I was stopped at the exit ramp from a local mall waiting to turn right when, once again, an out-of-control vehicle hurtled in fishtailing desperation directly at me. This bozo maneuver resulted in the bumper of a 1990 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme center-punching my Tucson's left front wheel.
"There was nothing I could do," was the explanation of hapless driver No. 2. "I started sliding all the way up there, and I had the brakes on all the way. Nothing happened."
Something happened, alright. The left front suspension of a brand new, 800-mile-old Hyundai Tucson GLS crumpled under the blow. Yet, once again, nary a scar of evidenceno rumpled sheetmetal, no dangling parts. When I asked Bubba Junior why he hadn't downshifted and steered out of the impending collision, he just looked at me as if wondering what the heck PlayStation controls had to do with anything.
So I limped home with one front wheel akimbo and the prospect of a Christmas Eve eve spent completing insurance claims and accident reports. All in all, an enlightening day, blessedly free from personal injury or serious harm for all involved, and yet perplexing to have been chosen through some agency or other for a road test with much greater than usual implications.