27 Feb 2019

Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2019 review

Mid-life makeover breaths new life into this premium small SUV
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Standing still is not an option.

Car makers are constantly improving, so any brand - or car - that doesn’t make adjustments, no matter how small, is in danger of falling behind.

Nowhere is that more important than in the medium SUV market; the type of vehicles Australians are buying in big numbers, drawn by family-friendly cabins and plenty of choice.

Recent times have seen the introduction of the all-new Holden Equinox, new generation Subaru Forester and the most-popular of them all, the Mazda CX-5, got a major upgrade late in 2018. The next few months will also see the arrival of the all-new Toyota RAV4.

Into this constantly evolving battle comes the upgraded Hyundai Tucson. The South Korean brand has introduced a range of design changes to try and keep the five-seat SUV fresh and popular.

The most notable change is the look, with a new front-end that brings the Tucson in-line with brand’s latest styling language for SUVs, with a large ‘Cascade’ grille, new headlights and LED daytime running lights.

Is the Hyundai Tucson Highlander right for me?

We’re reviewing the range-topping Highlander, which is targeted at those who want a luxurious experience but aren’t worried about the badge on the front. While ideally suited to a young family, the fact the Tucson is loaded with creature comforts makes it an appealing option for young professionals who want to treat themselves, or someone downsizing but not wanting to give up the goodies you get in bigger, luxury models.

What does the 2019 Hyundai Tucson Highlander cost?

The Highlander is available with two engine options, a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol and a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel. We’re testing the petrol-powered version here, which is priced from $46,500 (plus on-road costs), while the diesel adds $2300 to the cost.

Design

What is the Hyundai Tucson Highlander's interior like?

Spacious, practical but unspectacular would be the best way to summarize it. Hyundai redesigned the interior of the Tucson, including a new dashboard and instrument panel, but it still lacks the ‘wow factor’ you get from a premium brand.

It’s dominated by dark plastics which make for a muted ambience but there are some nice touches that lift it in certain areas, such as the leather-trimmed steering wheel and seats. More brighter trim work would help liven up the cabin though.

How much space does the Hyundai Tucson Highlander have?

There’s good room front and back for an SUV this size. The front seats are soft and comfortable, and they offer good lateral support.

In the back there’s good headroom, as you’d expect in an SUV with its tall roof, and there’s more-than-adequate kneeroom for kids but taller adults may find it a bit squeezy without some compromise from those in the front.

The boot measures 488-litres officially and has a nice wide, flat load area so it will swallow plenty of luggage. Being the top-spec model the Highlander comes with a power tailgate for added convenience.

What's the Hyundai Tucson Highlander's tech like?

Hyundai introduced a new-look instrument panel for the updated Tucson, but it retains traditional dials and isn’t available with a digital display panel like some of its competitors. But it does have plenty of other standard equipment including an 8.0-inch touchscreen, wireless smartphone charging, navigation with live traffic, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, digital radio, Bluetooth and a premium Infinity eight-speaker sound system.

Ownership

How reliable is the 2019 Hyundai Tucson Highlander?

Mechanically the new model carries over largely unchanged so it should be well sorted by now. That covers the big ticket items, such as the engine and the dual-clutch transmission, that latter avoiding any of the major reliability problems that have hurt some other brands with the complex gearboxes.

How safe is the Hyundai Tucson Highlander?

Another area of significant change for this updated model was safety, with the brand introducing more active safety features and spreading them across the range.

Being the pinnacle of the range the Highlander comes fully loaded with everything Hyundai has in its arsenal. Officially known as Hyundai SmartSense it includes autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane keeping assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, high beam assist, adaptive cruise control with stop and go function, driver attention warning and a surround view parking camera system.

Also included is full airbag protection for all occupants, with front, side and curtain coverage.

What is the Hyundai Tucson Highlander's warranty like?

A five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty may be fairly standard these days but Hyundai was the first to offer such extensive coverage, so it has a lot of faith in its product.

What are the on-goingcosts for the Hyundai Tucson Highlander?

Hyundai offers lifetime capped price servicing for all its new models, so you’ll know what you need to pay to keep your Tucson in tip-top shape. Visits are required every 12 months/15,000km.

A minor service will set you back $274 while the major 50,000km check up is $374. Over the first three years you’ll be spending $822.

Feature

Is the 2019 Hyundai Tucson Highlander value for money?

Looking at the extensive standard equipment list it’s hard to argue that its price is unreasonable. It may not have a prestige badge on the front, but the Tucson Highlander provides more luxuries and creature comforts for less money than its similar size wouldbe rivals from the European car makers.

Driving

What's under the Hyundai Tucson Highlander's bonnet

As mentioned earlier there is a choice of engine options. While the diesel has its benefits, namely better fuel economy and more torque, there’s a lot to like about the petrol option. Good for 130kW of power and 265Nm of torque it’s paired to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with all-wheel drive.

It provides plenty of motivation for the Tucson, making it feel sprightly off-the-mark and punchy on the move, which gives the SUV a surprisingly sporty feel at times.

The dual-clutch auto for the most part does a good job, particularly on the move, but could be smoother in low speed situations where it can occasionally be caught between a decision.

While the diesel engine has more mid-range pulling power, thanks to 400Nm of torque, it lacks the initial surge of the petrol and its more refined soundtrack.

How much fuel does the Hyundai Tucson Highlander use?

The official claimed combined cycle return is 7.7-litres per 100km, which is behind the best-in-class. The real world will also see returns in the low double digits, unless you can drive with a very light right foot, particularly in the city because its urban claim is 9.6L/100km.

What's it like to drive the Hyundai Tucson Highlander?

Hyundai Australia used this mid-life update as an opportunity to re-examine the local ride and handling package, putting the Tucson through its paces again to fine-tune it for Australia’s unique conditions.

The primary goal was to make it more comfortable in the urban environment and there were several major changes to try and achieve that. The front struts were redesigned, as were the rear assist arms and bushes.

The results are an improvement in the way the Tucson feels around town, soaking up bumps with more confidence and becoming less disturbed by repeated smaller imperfections. However, the 19-inch alloys on the Highlander do pick up more of the hits than the smaller wheels on the lower grade models.

The steering ratio was also improved for a tighter turning circle, and it remains nicely weight for an SUV - light for easy maneuvering in traffic and car parks but still with enough feel and feedback to give the driver confidence on the open road.

How does the 2019 Hyundai Tucson Highlander compare to the competition?

There’s no question the Tucson is up against some stiff competition. There’s a reason why the Mazda CX-5 is the best-seller, and the new turbocharged engine only made it more appealing. The latest Subaru Forester is also an excellent offering, with great space and safety credentials as well as a nice driving experience. Plus the new Toyota RAV4 impressed on our first test drive overseas.

But the Tucson is still one of the best choices in this highly competitive contest, particularly in this high-grade level, where it offers so much bang for your buck.

TMR's Verdict

For people looking for something special in their next SUV but without breaking the bank the Tucson Highlander has a lot of appeal.

Its size appeals to singles, couples and families and its generous array of standard equipment really does push it up against similarly-sized luxury models. It’s locally polished driving character only adds to its charms.

This mid-life upgrade has certainly shown Hyundai isn’t standing still with the Tucson.

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