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Hyundai Tucson

When you make a list of the world's leading SUV manufacturers, Hyundai might not immediately spring to mind - but that could be about to change.

In terms of packaging and cabin practicality, the Tucson will be second to none in its range. It's a big step forward from the larger Santa Fe, and has one of the most versatile interiors in this sector. We look forward to testing a Tucson fettled for European tastes, but our expectations for the right-hand-drive UK version are high.

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When you make a list of the world's leading SUV manufacturers, Hyundai might not immediately spring to mind - but that could be about to change.

We've already got the full-size Terracan and medium-size Santa Fe, but soon the Korean car manufacturer will have the off-road market covered with the addition of its compact all-roader - the Tucson. Even though the new model has yet to get its tyres dirty in European mud, we have been behind the wheel to deliver our verdict.

Based on a heavily modified version of the Coup� platform, the Tucson was unveiled at February's Chicago Auto Show. It doesn't take an enthusiast to recognise the newcomer as a Hyundai, as it resembles a shrunken Santa Fe.

However, you'll see that the sharper lines and more compact proportions of the Tucson are far more attractive than the bulbous curves of its bigger brother. Beefy plastic body mouldings emphasise this latest Hyundai's high ride height and muscular SUV stance.

Climb inside and the attractive finish continues. While the plastics and trim aren't up to the standards set by leading European manufacturers, the dashboard is well laid out and the cabin surprisingly spacious. Front passengers have more room than they would in a Santa Fe, and people sitting in the rear can recline the backrest to get the ideal position. The boot is also generously proportioned considering the Tucson's dimensions, and the seats fold flat without the need to remove the headrests. The Hyundai's versatility is further enhanced by a well designed opening rear window, which provides easy access to the luggage space.

When the Tucson arrives in the UK this autumn, both petrol and diesel versions will be available. Our car was fitted with a 113bhp 2.0-litre common-rail oil-burner delivering 255Nm of torque. Power is fed through either a five-speed manual or four-ratio auto gearbox and there's an automatic 4x4 system.

In normal driving conditions, only the front wheels are propelled, but all-wheel drive is activated as soon as the electronics sense that traction is lost. In addition, the driver can manually select 4x4 mode at low speeds. On the tarmac, the Tucson is pleasantly car-like. There is some vibration felt through the steering wheel at idle, but refinement is excellent on the move.

Engineers have paid close attention to sound insulation on the door seals, and as a result this Hyundai is a quiet drive. However, the soft set-up means cornering at speed is best avoided and leaves the Tucson feeling clumsy.

While UK prices and specifications have yet to be confirmed, Hyundai says the range will start at £15,000 - so the diesel is likely to cost around £17,000, undercutting many of the Tucson's key rivals. The question is, once the newcomer arrives in the UK, how will the company sell another Santa Fe?

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