The Skinny: Going from the lacklustre ix35 to the genuinely excellent Tucson, Hyundai finally has a deserving little bro' to its Santa Fe family hauler in the local line-up. That's crucial for the company, given the growing importance of the SUV market and the need for compelling product to satisfy the growing ranks of SUV owners.
Its new Tucson range stretches from $27,990 for the Active 2WD, to the Highlander (we're testing here) at $45,490 (plus on-road costs). And, happily for Hyundai, the Tucson is beyond good - it's great. Great to look at, great to drive, great value.
The Tucson, especially in the top-grade Highlander diesel spec, has the right stuff to go head-to-head with the mid-size SUV establishment, and win.
Vehicle Style: Medium SUV
Price: $45,490 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 136kW/400Nm 2.0 turbo diesel 4cyl | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.8 l/100km | tested:7.8 l/100km
I was never all that fond of the ix35. In its first incarnation it rode as hard as a rollerskate, and a mid-cycle suspension update took the edge off that harsh ride but didn’t make it truly comfy.
It was also a tad sluggish (aside from the diesel), and looked a bit of a frump. In fact, the primary appeal of the ix35 lay in its keen pricing at the lower end of the range, as well as Hyundai’s excellent warranty terms. The vehicle itself was truly average.
But the ix35 is gone and the midsized Tucson is here - bigger than the ix35, but occupying the same slot in Hyundai's line-up as a smaller alternative to the Santa Fe.
And while the asking price for the Tucson is higher than the equivalent ix35 model, you get a much better car for your money. Much, much better.
We took the top-end diesel Tucson Highlander for a week to take a closer look at what it offers, and loved it.
Quality: As the top-grade $45,490 Highlander, you’d expect the interior to feel a bit upmarket, and the Tucson doesn’t let you down.
Plastic quality is good, hard scratchy surfaces are few and the leather, though coarse-grained, is perforated for a premium look.
There’s also some restrained use of piano-black and silver accents, and small details like the leather shift-lever gaiter add another level of polish to the presentation.
Comfort: After a week behind the Tucson Highlander’s leather-shod wheel, we found little to complain about with the ergonomics.
The view out ahead is great, over-the-shoulder vision isn’t bad, both front seats get heated and ventilated electrically-adjustable seats (ten-way for the driver, six-way for the passenger), and thanks to a reach/rake adjustable steering column, the driving position is a natural one.
The second row seats get face-level air-vents, a fold-down centre armrest and adjustable backrest recline, but the Tucson’s high beltline means kids may have to strain their necks to see outside.
For adults, leg and headroom is plentiful even with the added intrusion of the Highlander’s panoramic glass sunroof.
Equipment: Hyundai has taken the unusual decision not to spec the Highlander or Elite grades with an Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible infotainment unit, despite such hardware being standard in the lower-spec Active and Active X.
That means there’s no smartphone-mirroring capability on the Highlander, and the only mobile device connectivity comes in the form of Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming. How old-fashioned.
But the rest of the spec list is impressive enough.
Expected mod-cons like front and rear parking-sensors, reversing camera, dual-zone climate control, cruise control and satellite navigation are joined by heated wing mirrors, powered tailgate, panoramic glass sunroof, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist and autonomous emergency braking.
Storage: The Tucson’s boot measures in at 488 litres with the rear seat reclined back, and up to 1478 litres with the second row folded flat. The ix35 boasted a higher seats-up luggage capacity of 591 litres, but the Tucson’s seats-down volume is a handy 42 litres bigger.
For a family car though we’d like to see a few more useful features like shopping-bag hooks and moveable cargo barriers. Those features make the difference between a large boot and a truly useful one.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: There are four engines in total in the Tucson family, starting with a port-injected 2.0 litre petrol, a direct-injected 2.0 litre, a 1.6 litre turbocharged petrol and a 2.0 litre turbo diesel - the powertrain on test here.
With 136kW and 400Nm it’s got a mild (1kW/8Nm) output increase over the old ix35 diesel, but it pulls just as effortlessly from low RPM as that motor did.
Peak torque is on tap between 1750-2750rpm, and that’s where the engine and gearbox prefer to operate.
While the turbo Tucson gets a fancy twin-clutch automatic borrowed (like its engine) from the Veloster, the Highlander diesel gets a more conventional six-speed hydraulic auto that takes power to all four wheels via an on-demand AWD system.
It makes a good partner for the torquey engine. Gearshifts are smooth, the transmission doesn’t exhibit any bad habits such as hunting while going up hills, and the ratios make the most of the 2.0 diesel’s low-end pull.
If you’re looking to tow big things though, maybe look towards the larger Santa Fe. The Tucson’s maximum tow capacity on a braked trailer is a relatively low 1600kg.
Refinement: For a diesel, let alone a diesel from a non-luxury Korean automaker, the Tucson’s powerplant is relatively quiet and vibration-free.
It’s got refinement in spades, and that’s helped by its relaxed torque delivery that rarely sees you needing to mash the accelerator.
Wind noise is also kept at bay, though tyre noise on the Highlander’s 19-inch alloys is noticeable on coarse-chip.
Ride and Handling: Hyundai Australia’s local engineering team have gone through the Tucson’s suspension and tuned it for local roads, and the result is a pleasing balance between ride comfort and cornering stability.
And happily, it’s nowhere near as stiff as the ix35 used to be. Your young ones will no longer be jolted awake by mere expansion gaps.
There is one issue though, and it’s got to do with the Highlander’s electric power-steering. While we like its reasonably tight 10.6 metre turning circle, the steering feel is less well-weighted than in lower Tucson models.
Why? We think the active steering capability of the 'lane keep assist' system may have something to do with that.
Braking: 305mm front and 302mm rear rotors don’t break a sweat when slowing down the Tucson from high speed, and the brake pedal is pleasingly responsive.
ANCAP rating: The Tucson has yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety features: Stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD, brake assist, six airbags, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera are standard on all Tucson variants.
The Tucson Highlander also offers autonomous emergency braking, 'lane keep assist', lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert and a blind-spot monitor as standard.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Five years, unlimited kilometres.
Service costs: Under Hyundai’s iCare Lifetime Servicing Plan, scheduled maintenance costs are fixed for the life of the vehicle.
For the Tucson, a typical 'A service' costs $379, while a more involved 'B service' can cost between $435 and $650 depending on where you are in the servicing schedule.
Service intervals are set for every 12 month or 15,000km.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Toyota RAV4 Cruiser diesel ($48,490) - It costs more, has fewer features, less power, less torque and tows a paltry 1000kg.
The RAV4 may be popular, but besides being fractionally bigger it’s got fewer things working in its favour than the Tucson - at least in diesel form. (see RAV4 reviews)
Mazda CX-5 GT diesel ($46,590) - The CX-5 has a special place in our hearts for proving that mid-size SUVs need not be dull to steer, but there’s no escaping the fact that it’s expensive for its size.
In diesel GT guise it’s more expensive than the Tucson Highlander, yet it’s not even the flagship model - that’s the $50,610 CX-5 Akera (see CX-5 reviews)
Nissan X-Trail TL diesel CVT ($46,280) - While other X-Trail models boast the unique selling point of having a seven seat configuration (a rarity in this segment), the diesel variants are only five-seaters.
The feature count of the X-Trail is much less impressive than the Tucson, and power and torque (96kW/320Nm) from its 1.6 litre turbodiesel are well down on the Hyundai.
That said, it’s physically the biggest out of this group. If size matters to you, give the X-Trail a peek. (see X-Trail reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Tucson Highlander makes a very good impression as the technology-laden flagship for Hyundai’s new midsize SUV range.
While the ix35 was distinctly ho-hum, the Tucson feels far more resolved. Not only is is bigger than the car it replaces, it’s better by several orders of magnitude.
It’s certainly a worthy rival to the dominant CX-5, RAV4 and X-Trail. If you’re in the market for a “starter car” for your growing family, do yourself a favour and put the Tucson on your shortlist.
The new Tucson range currently offers ActiveX, Elite and Highlander models (the entry-level Active model to arrive later in 2015).
Active 2.0 MPi 2WD manual $27,990
Active 2.0 MPi 2WD automatic $30,490
ActiveX 2.0 GDi 2WD manual: $30,490
ActiveX 2.0 GDi 2WD automatic: $32,990
Elite 2.0 MPi 2WD $35,240
Elite 1.6 turbo AWD automatic:$38,240
Elite 2.0 CRDi diesel AWD automatic: $40,240
Highlander 1.6 turbo AWD automatic: $43,490
Highlander 2.0 CRDi diesel AWD automatic: $45,490
Manufacturer list prices shown, dealer delivery charges and on-road costs additional.