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Car reviews - Hyundai - Tucson - 30 Special Edition

Our Opinion

We like
Increased presence and performance, ease-of-use, interior space and comfort, slick round town, fun out of town
Room for improvement
Flash exterior juxtaposed by bland cabin, smoothness undermined by dual-clutch automatic, ride suffers on 19s

Hyundai logo14 Oct 2016

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Price and equipment

BASED on the $33,650 (plus on-roads) Active X automatic that is not far above entry level, the $37,750 Tucson 30 Special Edition adds some highly effective exterior bling to make it look top-of-the range. Or even like a hotted-up sports variant.

Unique – and to our eyes delightful – Ash Blue paint is joined by kerb-fearing matte black 19-inch Rays alloy wheels (featuring spangly red centre caps and inflator valves) and purposeful-looking matte black quad exhaust tips nestled into the rear diffuser.

Big matte grey side-steps, a ‘30’ boot emblem and bright red ‘Turbo’ badge complete the look. It certainly gained a lot of attention on the road and one passerby even asked us, “is this a fast car.”

That, dear reader, is a perfect demonstration of why this car is a great flag-bearer for how far Hyundai has come during its three decades on the Australian market.

So, with that initial visual impact still front of mind, our first explore of the cabin reminded us of the Tucson 30’s price point and the fact it is based on the second-from-bottom Active X. The seats are leather, but not electric-adjustable or heated. The air-conditioning is basic and there’s no sat-nav, unless you hook up the touchscreen a compatible Apple or Android smartphone.

That’s not to say it is lacking in standard equipment, the ‘30’ just looks a lot more expensive than it is and we never felt wanting for extra gadgetry once on the road.

We’re glad Hyundai ditched the ActiveX’s asthmatic 121kW/203Nm 2.0-litre petrol engine for this car, as it is really the only fly in that car’s ointment. In its place is a punchier 1.6-litre turbo-petrol borrowed from the Veloster coupe, developing 130kW of power at 5500rpm and 265Nm of torque between 1500 and 4500rpm.

Attached to the turbo engine is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission – rather than the six-speed torque-converter unit of the ActiveX but more on that later – hooked up to an all-wheel-drive system with centre diff lock to aid traction if additional traction is required when venturing off-bitumen. The ActiveX drives only the front wheels.

Like the ActiveX, standard equipment comprises manual single-zone air-conditioning, cruise control, electric windows and mirrors, a trip computer and 7.0-inch touchscreen providing access to the aforementioned smartphone systems plus radio, MP3 playback, Bluetooth with audio streaming, iPod compatibility, a reversing camera with dynamic guidance lines, rear parking sensors, LED daytime running lights, automatic projector beam headlights and Tucson-branded sill plates.

Overall, the upgrades and exclusivity (Hyundai will only make 600) are $4100 well spent.

Interior

As with any Tucson variant, the 30 provided a spacious and comfortable place to spend long journeys. Taller than average adults can easily sit in tandem and those in the rear enjoy plenty of headroom, elbowroom and thigh support, plus a reclining backrest.

There is also excellent visibility from the relatively large side and rear windows. We also found installing an Isofix-compatible car seat remarkably easy in the Tucson, another plus for the young families this car is aimed at.

Practicality is good too, with all four doors hosting generous bottle-holstering bins and the dashboard home to a big glovebox, a tray in front of the gear selector wide enough to accommodate two small smartphones or one tablet, a large bin beneath the central armrest and cupholders between the front seats. A further two cupholders for rear passengers are located in the fold-down central armrest.

Strong air-conditioning performance (a bit too chilly and hard to control for front occupants at times due to the basic analogue design) meant the lack of rear vents rarely troubled those in the back.

From the driving seat, we enjoyed good all-round visibility, a clear reversing camera and a bland but uncluttered dashboard layout with just enough large, logically placed buttons and rotary air-conditioning controls. Hyundai has clearly heeded criticism of the busy dashboards it fitted to the last generation of product.

Like the Active X, the 30’s seats are upholstered in perforated black leather of surprisingly high quality and suppleness and there is plenty of adjustment – including reach and height on the steering column – for drivers at each end of the height spectrum to quickly and easily achieve a comfortable driving position.

To nit-pick, we’d prefer the infinite control of a Euro-style rotary backrest angle controller to the ratchet-style system Hyundai fits.

Sliding heavy items into the well-shaped 488-litre load area is a breeze due to the boot floor being flush with the bottom of the tailgate opening. Beneath is a full-size alloy spare wheel and Hyundai supplies a cargo net, some shopping bag hooks and metal tie-down points.

Folding the 60:40 split rear seats forward is performed via the backrest recline levers and liberates a 1478L space, with a flat floor and no step or large gap between at the meeting of boot carpet and seats.

Overall the Tucson’s interior lacks design flair and some odd choices of where to place soft-touch and hard plastic surfaces. But compared to the try-hard, button-overload interiors of the recent past, it’s comfortable, appears to be hard-wearing and, importantly, just works.

Engine and transmission

Hyundai’s 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine is a generally sweet and refined little unit with linear, predictable power delivery and enough low-down torque to effortlessly overcome more than a tonne-and-a-half of Tucson plus passengers and their luggage.

It also enables a keen driver to exploit the Tucson’s engaging dynamics, but more about that later. However, there is little point in revving this engine beyond the 5500rpm power peak – even if the redline is another 1000rpm north – because its smooth nature quickly gives way to coarse thrashiness. For fast, fun driving, the sweet spot lives between 3500 and 5500rpm.

With the all-wheel-drive system and bigger 19-inch alloys, there is plenty of traction to put the turbo’s extra performance to good use, at least in the dry conditions of our test and during our brief venture onto gravel roads.

But we did miss the slick, quick six-speed torque-converter automatic of the ActiveX. Hyundai’s seven-speed dual-clutch unit as paired with this turbo engine misses the mark. It sounds and feels typically dual-clutch snappy during suburban driving but this tails off significantly when more is asked of it.

Like many dual-clutchers, it struggles on low-speed inclines, such as traffic-clogged hilly streets or steep driveways. It felt like a rookie driver grappling with a manual gearbox and at during one tight manoeuvre, even seemed to stall the engine.

Driving briskly on twisty country roads was a let-down too. Unlike the more intuitive torque-converter of the ActiveX, the 30’s dual-clutch would frustrate by staying in a high gear for too long, then being slow to kick down, even in Sport mode. Manual shifts were neither quick nor crisp, making us question the point of Hyundai using this transmission technology.

For the record, the engine is flexible enough to reduce the number of gear-changes required on twisty roads but we have to call out the transmission’s shortcomings. It’s a shame, but forgivable as it only stands out because the Tucson 30 is otherwise such a lovely car to drive.

In the Tucson Elite, this drivetrain officially consumes 7.7 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle. We averaged 8.6L/100km and saw 6.6L/100km on the motorway. Our dynamic thrash pushed the average figure up to 10.6L/100km.

For comparison, the front-drive ActiveX automatic is rated at 7.8L/100km on the combined cycle. During our road-test of that car, in which the gutless engine required regular visits to the redline, we achieved an indicated average of 8.4L/100km.

Two-tenths of a litre more fuel consumption is well worth it for the extra performance of the turbo engine and sure-footedness that all-wheel-drive provides. Unlike many similar engines, the turbo can run on regular 91 RON Unleaded.

Ride and handling

Wearing bigger 19-inch alloy wheels introduces more firmness to the Tucson’s otherwise supple ride, along with a touch more road noise. But neither deteriorates to unacceptable levels compared with lesser variants on smaller rims, even when tackling poorly maintained or coarse-chip surfaces.

The beautifully weighted and delightfully accurate steering remains present and correct, with a meaningful improvement to fast-road confidence in Sport mode and just the right amount of assistance in Normal or Eco. It thankfully lacks the soggy, artificial steering feel that has plagued Hyundais in the past and we found the 10.6-metre turning circle to be city-friendly.

But best of all, the Tucson just gets on with the job, providing a genuinely effortless feel and exhibiting few ride or handling vices. It was unruffled by the pockmarked corner surfaces and mid-bend dips of our dynamic test route. The confidence-inspiring levels of steering feel transmit the presence of these surfaces, but it never descends into unpleasant rack-rattle or kickback.

The beautifully sharp turn-in of front-drive Tucsons is apparently not lost to the addition of all-wheel-drive, but the additional front-end bite provided by the larger contact patch of the 30’s 19-inch alloys revealed an engagingly playful nature and even a bit of tail-happiness when making mid-corner throttle adjustments.

In many ways, the Tucson’s twisty road demeanour feels uncannily like one of the segment’s dynamic darlings, the Mazda CX-5, and we don’t doubt Hyundai benchmarked its product closely on that competitor.

High levels of body control and well-contained bodyroll impressed on the 30 as much as other Tucson variants, especially considering the uncompromised ride comfort.

The Kumho tyres gripped strongly without drama-queen screeching during the dry conditions of our test – although we have questioned the brand’s wet-weather performance on other vehicles – and the Tucson resists understeer well.

Unlike front-drive variants, the all-wheel-drive Tucson 30 does not seem to suffer as badly from the steering feel going on holiday once grip limits are approached. However the additional grip and traction seemed to fool the car’s stability control calibration, which would kick in less subtly than other variants we have tried that rode on 18-inch wheels.

We are pleased to report that inconsistent brake feel of previously tested Tucsons was absent in the 30, and the anchors worked with admirable, reliable proficiency with no squirming when stamping on the pedal from high speed.

Safety and servicing

Hyundai came back from the Tucson’s original and disappointing four-star ANCAP crash-test rating with a strengthened driver’s footwell to upgrade the model to five stars following a re-test.

ANCAP testing scored the Tucson 14.53 out of 16 for the frontal offset test (up from 11.46). Other test results remained at 16 out of 16 in the side impact test, 2 out of 2 in the pole test and rated its whiplash protection as ‘good’.

Pedestrian protection was ‘marginal’. Overall it got 35.53 out of 37 (up from 32.46).

Dual front airbags plus side chest curtain airbags are standard, as are rollover sensing and impact-sensing automatic door unlocking, along with electronic stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, hill descent control, hill-holder and trailer stability assistance.

Service intervals are six months or 7500 kilometres, with the first 1500km service free of charge. At the time of writing, Hyundai’s iCare lifetime service plan website quoted between $189 and $289 for scheduled maintenance over the first five years, depending on whether it was a minor or major service interval.

It should be noted that because it uses the 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine the Tucson 30 requires more frequent service intervals than the 2.0-litre direct-injection petrol as used in the ActiveX, which has 15,000km/12-month intervals priced at $269 and $399 for minor and major intervals respectively (prices correct at time of writing).

Hyundai provides a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.

Verdict

Like every other Tucson variant, the 30 Special Edition did so many things well and provided such fantastic ease of use that it fitted seamlessly into our hectic work/life schedule.

But unlike other Tucson variants, the 30 genuinely puts the special into special edition and we are confident that people finding their way into the 600 to be sold in Australia will feel very lucky indeed. We reckon it will become a sought-after model on the used market in years to come.

Well-chosen cosmetic additions make the Tucson a genuinely striking vehicle, and not just to our eyes judging by the reaction of others. The drivetrain upgrade is also of meaningful benefit and a strong value-for-money component of the total package, even though we have reservations about the dual-clutch transmission.

Good job, Hyundai. It was with a heavy heart that we handed back the keys.

Here’s to the next 30 years.

Rivals

Volkswagen Tiguan 110TSI Comfortline 2WD from $36,990 plus on-road costs
Looks like we have a new benchmark-setter. Spacious, classy and great to drive, with generous equipment levels.

Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2.5 AWD from $35,790 plus on-road costs
The upmarket interior, excellent drivetrains and fun handling mean the thousands of CX-5 buyers are not wrong. Definitely go for the punchier 2.5-litre petrol engine.

Toyota RAV4 GXL AWD from $36,990 plus on-road costs
Updates mean the RAV4 continues as a serious contender and that remains relevant among increasingly stiff competition. It drives much better than you’d expect but dollar-for-dollar equipment levels suffer against rivals.

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