Russ Smith

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If you're wondering what tow car to buy and you're on a budget, our expert Russ Smith thinks there's a lot to like about a 2004 to 2009 Hyundai Tucson

Introduced as a budget alternative to the Land Rover Freelander, the Tucson built on Hyundai’s growing reputation in the 4x4 market in the wake of its larger Santa Fe and Terracan models. And, as caravanners, we're interested to see what tow car potential this car, built from 2004 until 2009 has.

The Tucson is more of an image car than a hardcore off-roader; Hyundai admitted as much by offering a two-wheel-drive version. Fortunately, the Tucson is easier on the eye than its big brothers.

It’s more pleasant to drive, too – it was designed to feel quite car-like. Fairly firm suspension can make it bumpy around town, but that gives it good handling and is a major benefit for towing. The ride becomes comfortable at speed, particularly on motorways.

The Tucson combines a reputation for reliability that far exceeds the Land Rover’s with rock-bottom prices: you can pick up a two-owner, 64,000-mile diesel specimen for three grand.

Model history

The Tucson was launched in March 2004 with a choice of two petrol engines and one diesel.

The 2.0, four-cylinder petrol unit came with 134bhp, a five-speed manual gearbox, and would return 34mpg. The 2.7 V6 could only be had with a four-speed auto and did 28mpg. The 2.0 CTRD diesel had just 111bhp, but 181lb ft of torque, and could be had with the manual or automatic gearbox. That gave 39mpg, or 35mpg for the auto.

A two-wheel-drive was added, but the rest were part-time 4x4s, using the front wheels in normal conditions but engaging four-wheel-drive automatically when slippage was detected. It can also be manually locked in 4WD.

In April 2006, the diesel engine was replaced by a new Euro 4-rated unit kicking out 138bhp and 225lb ft of torque. Even better, it returned the same mpg, though the five-speed auto was only available in two-wheel-drive Tucsons. The manual ’box for diesels was now a six-speed.

The final change, for the last year of production, came in August 2008. The 2.0 petrol was more fuel-efficient and offered an extra 5bhp. The diesel produced 148bhp at a slightly better 40mpg.

Even the lower-spec GSI got traction control, air conditioning, roof bars and an RDS CD stereo; CDX added leather seats and a bunch of extra toys; the Limited model added climate control, front fog lights, body-coloured bumpers and side mouldings. The trim levels were renamed Style, Comfort and Premium in 2009.

Trouble spots

The oil in the six-speed gearbox needs changing at 60,000-mile intervals. Some Tucsons slip out of dealer servicing by this point – and many more once they hit the 120,000 mark. Because independent garages may not know about the oil change, you need to see evidence in the history file that it was done. If it’s missed, the transmission will deteriorate; quite a few fail at six-figure mileages because of this.

Expect to get high tyre wear – they can last as little as 10,000 miles on the back and 15,000 on the front. If those on an otherwise nice car are wearing down, use it as a bargaining point. Even discount-tyre depots charge £90 a corner for a name brand.

If the brake feels at all ‘soft’ or lets the car travel far, walk away. It’s probably failed or failing seals in the ABS control unit, which is expensive to replace. It’s not common on these, but has been reported enough to look out for.

If you get any jolting or unevenness from the engine under acceleration, don’t panic. Torque reaction can shake piping from the air-induction system, which confuses the ECU into delivering wrong amounts of fuel. Just reattach the pipes properly and tighten their clips.

Also, prior to purchase, check all the electrics. Problems here are more likely than on German or Swedish cars. In addition, inspect the underside for damage from off-road excursions.

Verdict

The Hyundai Tucson offers a lot over the Toyota RAV4, Nissan X-Trail, Freelander and other pricey rivals. It has finished third in its class in used-car reliability surveys, too.

What tow car ability does it have? As a tug it performs well, earning high praise from owners. Some point out that earlier diesel engines should be ‘chipped’ to improve power and economy.

Our pick of the range is the 2.0 CRDi Premium. This is the latest, the highest spec, and the most powerful of the diesels. But we’d happily pay half the price for a 2006 CRTD in kit-rich CDX trim. However, we'd steer clear of the 2.0 Comfort 2WD – why would anyone want a car that resembles an off-roader but is ill-equipped to deal with anything more taxing than speed humps in a car park?

What you need to know

Tucsons can be found for as little as £1250, but they won’t be pretty. Think of starting at £2000, unless you want two-wheel drive or an early petrol car. The better petrol versions are from £2500 upwards and, as suggested in the introduction, around £3000 or so gets you into diesels with histories, low miles and few owners.

The very best top-spec, late diesels can fetch as much as £9000. With a bit of shopping around or buying privately, though, you should be able to track down something just as good for perhaps £1000 less – they are out there.

Here are some useful figures (for a 2007 Tucson 2.0 CRTD GSI):

  • Kerbweight 1773kg
  • 85% match 1507kg
  • Towing limit 1600kg
  • Towball limit 75kg

If you're buying a Tucson to tow, you'll need to fit a towball. Speaking to PF Jones, a Witter flange towbar will cost £107.18 and a Westfalia detachable towbar will be £208.80 (fitting extra).

You'll also be interested in other running costs, so we've got servicing quotes. These are £110.38 for an interim service and £163.36 for a full service, no matter which model Tucson you buy.

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