The biggest challenge in attending the annual auto show in Detroit is not the 12-hour days; it’s getting there.
The reason is weather.
Like Chicago, Detroit is subject to lake effect driven winter storms that, combined with the flat and featureless landscape, can treacherous road conditions and even disorientation.
I can remember 1999 when the snow in downtown Detroit was above the knees and so wet that I could not make it from my hotel to Cobo Hall which was directly across the street.
So when I drive to Detroit, I select my vehicle wisely. Four- or all-wheel-drive is a must as is fuel economy because service centres along the way are few and far between.
Actually it was a query from a reader about fuel consumption that led me to pick a 2011 Hyundai Tucson GLS AWD for the annual drive to Detroit.
The reader wanted a compact CUV and the Tucson was on his short list of three. Because form follows function in the red hot Canadian compact CUV segment, they tend to be the same in terms of content, utility, cargo/passenger volume and, of course, fuel.
Hyundai was one of the first to open up this segment which has since caught fire with Canadians. Indeed, I did a little research and found out I drove a Tucson all the way back in 2004.
Kind of dumpy in terms of styling and a bit on the slow side with a 2.0-litre engine, that first generation Tucson was nevertheless like all Hyundais being stoutly built and generous in terms of standard equipment and, here’s the biggy, easy on the wallet.
A lot of water has passed under the automotive bridge since then and Hyundai today is a world automotive power, being one of the few automotive companies to ride serenely over the world banking meltdown of two years ago.
But the battle to stay competitive against competitors like Toyota RAV4, Honda CRV and VW Tiguan never abates.
For 2011, Hyundai offers the Tucson in five model trim levels.
While the main four models (GL, GLS, Limited, Limited with Navi) all depend on the 2.4-litre four-cylinder ‘world engine,’ Hyundai this year slid in an entry-level L model with 2.0-litre engine into the lineup starting at $19,999.
Tested here is the GLS model with optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) with the as tested price of $28,799. At the top end, if you opt for the Limited with leather and full navigation system, pricing starts at $34,249.
The 2.4-litre with variable valve timing produces 176 hp and 168 lb/ft of torque with a six-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual function. On-demand AWD is optional on the GL and GLS and standard on the two Limiteds.
The GLS AWD tested here has fuel consumption ratings of 10.1L/100 km city, 7.1L/100 km highway and 8.8L/100 km combined.
In terms of safety equipment, the Tucson leaves nothing out with anti-lock braking system (ABS), Electronic Stability Control (ESC), traction control system (TCS), dual front, side, and curtain airbags with rollover sensor, Downhill Brake Control (DBC) and Hillstart Assist Control (HAC).
On the inside you will find: AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3/Aux/USB stereo with six speakers, power windows and door locks, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, air conditioning, steering wheel audio controls, cruise control, cloth inserts with leatherette bolster seats and front heated seats.
And just for the record, the GLS on the outside features power heated outside mirrors, rear wiper/washer, rear spoiler, 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels with 225/60R17 tires, roof rails and fog lamps.
This year’s drive from Toronto to Detroit started out with snow falling heavily. The plows were just keeping up with it but that meant slushy drifts on top of frozen pavement on the main highway.
Here I could just feel the Tucson starting to slew a millisecond before the AWD activated. Instinctively, I lifted off the gas with the sensation of just beginning to lose grip being heightened by the AWD.
Two weeks before I passed by the Strathroy, Ont. area, there was a snowstorm so big that cars and trucks and their occupants were stranded for a day.
As usual, I stopped overnight at a friend’s farm in the vicinity only to hear him warn of an expected 10-15 cm of snow overnight.
It didn’t happen but there was still about five cm on the ground. My friend offered to snow blow his half-kilometre long driveway but I said I’d just drive out. Besides, if there was slow going, I could always lock up the AWD for maximum traction.
Thanks to four good snow tires, I just motored away with no slithering or wheel spinning with the AWD digging in and doing the job.
There were more weather incidents, but you get the picture.
Coming back in frigid temperatures, I put the Tucson on cruise with the XM satellite radio on Real Jazz and rolled along almost all the way back to Toronto in what was actually an enjoyable and leisurely drive.
Hyundai has made huge strides, not just in Canada, but also around the world.
But the other thing is Hyundai has more than taken its place in the mainstream of Canadian consumer trust which is a major accomplishment considering the awful products it was selling when the company opened its Canadian doors some 25 years ago.
No matter what Tucson model you buy, each comes with two, five year or 100,000 km warranties and three years and unlimited mileage on the roadside assistance program.
If you have been considering a compact CUV, as many Canadians are doing these days, the 2011 Hyundai Tucson is well worth considering.
Hyundai Tucson GLS AWD 2011
Body Style: Compact CUV.
Drive Method: front-engine, all-wheel-drive.
Engine: 2.4-litre, DOHC inline four-cylinder (176 hp, 168 lb/ft)
Fuel Economy: 10.1L/100 km city, 7.1L/100 km highway, 8.8L/100 km combined
Towing Capacity: With trailer brake, 907 kg; without, 454 kg
Price: Tucson L (5MT) – $19,999; Tucson L (6AT) – $22,799; Tucson GL (6AT) – $24,299; Tucson GL AWD (6AT) – $26,299; Tucson GLS (6AT) – $26,799; as tested Tucson GLS AWD (6AT) – $28,799; Tucson Limited AWD (6AT) – $32,249; Tucson Limited w/ Navi AWD (6AT) – $34,249