The skinny: The Hyundai Tucson, replacing the ageing ix35, has now grown up enough to be considered a medium SUV to rival the Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4, Nissan X-Trail and Subaru Forester (in order of sales popularity).
It is an all-new collaboration between Europe (where it is styled and built), the US (which did its packaging and interior) and Australia (local engineers had a big hand in the way it drives).
We’re testing the middle-grade specification of this mid-sized SUV, called Elite and priced competitively at $38,240 plus on-road costs. Can it be a happy medium in the class?
Vehicle Style: Medium SUV
Price: $38,240 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 130kW/265Nm 1.6 4cyl turbocharged petrol | 7sp dual-clutch automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.7 l/100km | tested: 9.9 l/100km
SUV sales are booming, up 15.4 per cent compared with last year, where passenger cars are collectively down 2.8 per cent.
So the Hyundai Tucson is more important to the Korean brand than the Sonata sedan launched just before it. Why do we mention that medium sedan? Because the new Tucson and Sonata represent the ‘new’ Hyundai in the way they drive.
For the first time, Aussie engineers have helped pick the chassis ‘bones’ of these models rather than just tuning ex-factory.
It may revive an old name, but the Hyundai Tucson represents an entirely new promise from the brand.
- Standard equipment: cruise control, power windows and mirrors, keyless auto-entry, multi-function trip computer, dual-zone climate control air conditioning, cloth seat trim, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, electric tail-gate, rain-sensing wipers
- Infotainment: 8.0in touchscreen with USB/AUX, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and satellite navigation
- Cargo volume: 488 litres (1478L back seat folded)
From tip-to-toe the Hyundai Tucson is one of the shortest models in the medium SUV segment; just 4.475 metres - perfect for tight parking.
And, despite every other popular rival measuring 4.5m-plus, the Tucson boasts more rear legroom and boot space than nearly all of them.
Up front, the cloth seats – with questionable blue trim in Elite specification – are comfortable and supportive, and you sit lower than you may expect in a medium SUV. One row behind and that plush feeling doesn’t fall apart, with a generous bench, multi-tier reclining backrest and acres of legroom.
While the rear door trims are unflatteringly hard, more importantly there are rear air-vents (disappointingly absent from entry-level Tucson ActiveX).
The Tucson’s boot is a sizeable square space totalling 488 litres in volume.
That beats CX-5 (403L) and Forester (422L) but can’t quite match the RAV4 (577L) or X-Trail (550L). The caveat there is when the Toyota is optioned with a full-size spare tyre (standard on the Tucson Elite), its capacity drops to 506 litres.
Disappointingly, the Hyundai’s rear backrest (split 60:40) doesn’t fold completely flat into the floor as the Mazda’s does (and it gets 40:20:40 split practicality).
The Tucson, however, along with Forester 2.0i-S, gets an electric tail-gate as standard - a rarity in a mid-range model
Up front, there is a smart look to the Tucson dashboard and accommodation, however, spending an extra $5250 to the flagship, fully loaded Highlander (tested the week prior), dramatically improves the interior ambience.
The 8.0-inch touchscreen with nav is easy to use, yet, ironically, only the cheaper ActiveX model scores Apple CarPlay and Android Auto mirroring technology. The reason is hidden in the manufacturing – ActiveX is made in South Korea, while Elite and Highlander hail from the Czech Republic.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine output and configuration: 130kW/265Nm 1.6 4cyl turbocharged petrol
- Transmission type and driveline configuration: AWD
- Suspension type, front and rear: MacPherson strut front, independent rear
- Brake type, front and rear: ventilated front and solid rear discs
- Steering type, turning circle: electrically assisted mechanical steering, 10.6m
- Towing capacity (if applicable): 750kg (unbraked), 1600kg (braked)
To drive, the Hyundai Tucson feels three generations ahead of its harsh ix35 predecessor.
No rival in the medium SUV class has the lush, refined ride-quality of the new Tucson. It’s enough to soothe your baby to sleep and warrants comparison with the brilliant locally-developed Ford Territory from the class above.
On rough country backroads, the Tucson has little trouble maintaining its composure while feeling only a fraction 'floaty' (courtesy of the softer damping, but entirely appropriate for a family hauler).
The steering is direct and consistent, with keen turn-in to corners and a secure sense of balance.
The caveat comes with the tyres – the Highlander tested previously boasts 19-inch Continental ContiSport Contact tyres that cling on for dear life, where this Elite gets 17-inch Hankook VentusPrime rubber that squeals and slips much earlier.
It makes a dramatic difference to driver enjoyment (we much prefer the lower-profile 19s on the Highlander).
The tested Elite comes with a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol that develops 130kW at 5500rpm and 265Nm between 1500rpm and 4500rpm. It’s a flexible and torquey engine, but is paired to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic that is a tad too jerky at low speeds and dithery at higher pace.
For $2000 extra you can option the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel (that we previously sampled in the Highlander).
It’s a wise investment, such is the reward in not just torque (400Nm) but even power (136kW) and refinement. It’s tied to a regular six-speed auto that is a smooth gem, too.
Keep in mind that the petrol requires servicing every six months of 7500km where the diesel has annual or 15,000km intervals. In addition to that time saving, you’ll pocket $300 in three years by servicing the oiler.
You’ll also save fuel – the petrol’s 7.7L/100km claim blew out to 9.9L/100km on test, where the diesel’s 6.8L/100km claim expanded only to 8.0L/100km in similar (but not identical) conditions.
ANCAP rating: Not tested.
Safety features: Six airbags including dual-front, front-side and full-length curtain, ABS, ESC, rear parking sensors, reverse-view camera.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The CX-5 is the benchmark for dynamics and connectivity, though it lacks rear-seat space. The X-Trail is not great to drive but it is spacious and loaded. Likewise the Forester offers more features than any, though again it is less refined. For the biggest box, choose the RAV4 but not for its basic cabin and engine.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Hyundai Tucson is a landmark medium SUV. It is by some margin the smoothest and quietest medium SUV to drive, wrapped around a superbly roomy and comfortable cabin.
The Elite petrol specification is very impressive for its $38,240 ask, but at the very least we’d try to find another $2000 to option the brilliant diesel.
Better again, we’d furiously tap the calculator to try and buy the more luxurious, grippier Highlander that represents the Hyundai Tucson at its best.
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