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2018 Hyundai Tucson Night Edition Road Trip Review By Steve Purdy

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A Car and Travel Story from A Shunpiker’s Journal

By Steve Purdy
Shunpiker Productions
For The Auto Channel

Two of San Antonio’s claims to fame, the downtown River Walk and the Alamo, are just a couple blocks from one another. They represent the modern, cosmopolitan character of the city and the historic underpinnings of this whole south Texas region.

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Our accommodation for this trip is an older hotel converted into small condos overlooking the River Walk where a canopy of huge cypress, live oak and magnolia trees shade the river. Shops, restaurants and hotels line the walk and lure travelers and convention goers from all over the world, offering a rare verdant paradise in this bustling, hot, south-Texas city. It feels almost like a Disney property with tourist flatboats cruising by every few minutes with a narrator at the helm repeating a canned spiel over and over. We’re here to experience the 2017 Hyundai Tucson Night Edition, a special version of the Korean automaker’s small crossover with a bottom line on the sticker showing just under 30-grand. The idea is to give you, our loyal readers, the flavors of both the car and the place.

The Tucson Night Edition made a great first impression. The large, 19-inch, black Rays wheels with red centers, vibrant blue paint scheme with black trim and eye-catching body sculpting put us on notice that this isn’t your usual tepid small crossover. When we got in and started it up I was fumbling with some controls as I got acclimated and my pretty wife asked if it was an electric. It was so quiet and so smooth we had no sense of an engine starting or running. Within the few miles it took to get from the airport to our condo on the River Walk we were already enamored with it.

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San Antonio is one of those places where the central city is not automobile friendly. While traffic isn’t bad, particularly during the week, parking is at a premium, streets are narrow and there seems to be no value of keeping traffic moving on the part of the road maintenance crews. So, to properly evaluate the Tucson Night we’ll need to explore the famous “Texas Hill Country,” to the west and north of San Antonio, where we’ve heard there are some great driving roads.

Though we’ll do our car testing mostly in the countryside we’ll do our writing at a waterside table along the River Walk. She likes to walk while I write so it works well for both of us.

We first explored downtown San Antonio on foot finding highlights like: Market Square where dozens of merchants with tens of thousands of square feet sell mostly the same novelties, gifts and souvenirs; the main plaza surrounded by the beautiful red stone Bexar County courthouse, the classic San Fernando Cathedral and the River Walk; the Briscoe Museum of Western Art; and, of course, the Alamo where many brave rebels died defending freedom. All these are within a short walk from our condo that overlooks the northeast kink in the River Walk.

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The region known as Texas Hill Country stretches west and south from San Antonio and Austin. Rolling hills with thin topsoil underlain by limestone bedrock formations makes it tough to farm but great for grazing livestock and growing blue bonnets and other wildflowers and grasses. Ranchers like president LBJ’s family settled here along the Pedernales River to run cattle, sheep and horses. They made a great living at it.

We met our friends, fellow journalists from Austin, Linda and Jim, for brunch at the rustic and charming Redbud Café in the little town of Blanco just west of Austin. Linda and Jim helped us plan a route through the hills to check out the Johnson Ranch and explore the geography, geology and culture of the Hill Country. I found a field of cattle to use as a backdrop for some car photos at the LBJ Ranch where the road wound through open pastures with some beautiful Hereford cattle grazing. I was hoping for some longhorns for the drama of those rangy bodies and huge racks but, having grown up with purebred Hereford cattle, I was happy we found them.

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There are no steep hills in Hill Country and we were not towing anything. That means we needed little extra power for this job. The Tucson is powered by a direct injected, turbo four making 175 horsepower and 196 pound-feet of torque mated to a slick, 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission that did a fine job of keeping us in a good rev range for changing driving conditions. It has all the power we need, but not as much as we’d like. We feel the good torque number when we put our foot in it, but it feels like it needs to take a deeper breath sometimes if you make it work too hard. The EPA says we can expect 28 mpg on the highway, 24 in the city and 25 mpg combined.

Our route along a couple of nicely-paved back roads and a few major two-lanes through Stonewall, Fredricksburg, Kerrville and Comfort presented no challenging conditions but provided a relaxing rural drive and a chance to evaluate the Tucson better. The conventionally-designed, well-tuned suspension on the Tucson handled everything well but we didn’t push it particularly hard. Steering feedback and road feel are decent and it’s quite agile with a distinct feeling of solidness. Again, at speed and even on rough pavement we found it remarkably quiet inside. In fact, my pretty blonde took a bit of a nap in her passenger’s seat as we passed through the intermittent grasslands and woodlots where cold springs from a web of aquifers beneath the ground pop out and become creeks, then streams, then rivers defining the geology and geography of the region.

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Other friends from home, Eunice and Dennis, happened to be visiting San Antonio at the same time so we spent a couple days soaking up local culture with them at the iconic Alamo and along the Mission Trail that is both a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Texas had been a province of Mexico with a great deal of autonomy from the 1700s. In the early 1800s Mexican president Santa Anna withdrew that autonomy seeking to put Texas under the oppressive thumb of the central government. The independence-minded Texans refused to bow to that authority so Santa Anna and his army came to impose it resulting in the famous massacre at The Alamo. Simultaneously, provincial leaders declared independence from Mexico from a safe distance a hundred miles away. Santa Anna, continuing his assault on the rebels, was later defeated and captured in another battle where he was forced to cede the territory to save his own life.

Establishment of the missions featured on the Mission Trail – four of them in addition to the Alamo strung along the San Antonio River – preceded the fighting at the Alamo by more than a century as Spain tried to increase its influence and control over that part of the new world by civilizing and converting the natives. The four outlying missions, well annotated by the National Park Service, are still in use as Catholic parishes while helping illustrate the area’s history. In fact, as we stopped at one we just beat a wedding rehearsal into the sanctuary, and visited another in the middle of a coming-out event for a teenaged Hispanic girl all dressed up in a colorful fluffy gown surrounded by her big family.

The four of us fit nicely into the cabin of this surprisingly refined small Tucson. While we don’t have navigation in this one we still have a good-size touch screen to manage audio, and other functions. At the base of the center stack a large open bin, wherein reside power, USB and auxiliary outlets, is handy for all our loose stuff. Our rear seat passengers were comfortable though Eunice had a struggle trying to get the rear seatbelt hooked in the right receptacle. That system could be improved, we thought. First rate fit, finish and quality of materials could easily be in a more expensive brand.

While we can find dozens and dozens of dining options within a few blocks of our home base on the river, we found none to particularly recommend. More than half feature Mexican or Tex-Mex style food but it’s not hard to find Italian, Asian or Irish. We stumbled in to the lively Good Time Charlie’s café reeking of local culture on one outing where the food was unpretentious just like the patrons but the ambiance was purely local. In general, most restaurant prices range from quite reasonable to modestly pricey. The River Walk is lined, often on both sides, with tables right on the river. Slide your chair too far and you could fall right in.

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After dinner at one of the steak houses we strolled with Dennis and Eunice the four blocks to the San Fernando Cathedral where a lightshow is projected onto the façade three or four nights per week. We also visited the Tower of the Americas built for a World’s Fair in the 1960s. Much like Seattle’s Space Needle we can ride the elevator up over 750 feet for a condor’s-eye view of the city and the countryside.

For a flora and fauna fix we visited both the Wildlife Ranch for a “Texas style safari” right next to the Natural Bridge Caverns about 30 miles north of town, and the San Antonio Botanical Gardens. The Botanical Gardens annotated regional ecosystems of Texas but the Wildlife Ranch was all about exotic animals from other parts of the world. We saw no prairie dogs.

So, to summarize our week, we can say for sure that San Antonio and the surrounding area are a great place to visit with no shortage of cultural, ecological, historical and culinary opportunities in which to indulge. We only had a week, but we scratched the surface well, I contend. Unless you’re a hot weather fan, you’ll probably want to visit October through March, but if you’re spending time on the River Walk, it’s mostly shade, so survivable even in summer. We found remarkable diversity there. You’ll see folks from all over the world along the walk as well as a broad cross section of locals. It turned out to be a particularly inspiring place to write this narrative.

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Regarding the Hyundai Tucson Night - we confidently recommend it. Hyundai quality is at the top of the competition and its vehicles are covered by a generous warranty - better than all but a few. Style, content and price for this dressed-up small crossover are hard, maybe impossible, to beat among the mainstream brands. If you’re shopping in this genre you’ll do well to have it on your list.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved