Despite crossover names plucked from the dusty, prickly expanses of the American Southwest, Hyundai isn't the brand to shop if you're looking for a tough, off-road-ready SUV. With a little help from Rockstar Performance Garage, though, it's transformed the cuddly Tucson – a car we last saw in very pavement-centric fuel cell spec – into a convincing all-terrain machine. The ruggedized Tucson will roll into the SEMA Show next month, and we'd be willing to bet it will travel by way of rough, angry Nevada desert.
Icons like the Jeep Wrangler and Land Rover Defender live on as the world's favorite consumer off-roaders, but lighter crossovers can give them a run for the money with the right type of love. We've seen automakers make tough-as-nails versions of unassuming cars and trucks for motorsport and exhibition plenty of times before, the Peugeot 2008 DKR16 (based on the humble, family-shuttling 2008 crossover) being one of the most recent (and extreme) examples. So it's not entirely shocking that a Tucson could roll out of the garage with an insatiable appetite for dirt and rock.
"The focus behind this build was to create an off-roader that nobody expected,” says Nic Ashby, owner and general partner, Rockstar Performance Garage. "The Tucson was a great starting platform with its rigid frame and plenty of room in the engine bay for modifications."
Mission accomplished – we don't think anyone was expecting this one. It's a design that makes you look thrice at the badge and still walk away in disbelief that it's a street-legal Hyundai. It's many times meaner than the stock Tucson and certain to be a lot more fun to drive – at least in the dirt.
Hyundai and Rockstar have dressed the grocery getter with a full set of off-road armor, starting with a suspension and wheel overhaul. They gutted the wheel wells to make room for 32-in Mickey Thompson MTZ P3 tires wrapped around 17-in KMC XD Series Bully off-road wheels. They also added a custom King Shocks suspension with adjustable shocks and struts. The Tucson now sits 6 inches (15 cm) higher.
To give the grippy treads some extra muscle to work with, RPG affixed a variety of component upgrades around the Tucson's 1.6-liter Gamma four-cylinder-based powertrain, including a high-flow custom Magnaflow exhaust, K&N intake and Mishimoto intercooler. There's no indication as to specific output increases, and the partners say simply that the engine breathes freer and enjoys boosted performance. The AWD powertrain includes a six-speed DCT transmission.
The raised height and upgraded tires could probably convey this Tucson's toughness on their own, but Hyundai and RPG found no reason to stop there. They added off-road bumpers, off-road LED lighting, a roof rack, smoked tail lights and a black-and-yellow graphics package. Inside, the RPG Tucson has a new Kicker audio system with 10-in subwoofer and a next-generation Hyundai Blue Link infotainment system.
The Rockstar Tucson will make a debut at this year's SEMA Show, where it will join the usual parade of sports cars, classics and near-monster trucks upgraded with laundry lists of aftermarket components. The show gets started on November 3.