Car reviews - Hyundai - Tucson - Active
Silky ride, quality dynamics, intuitive instruments, reasonable equipment levels
Room for improvement
Cheap-looking interior, shortage of mid-range grunt, short-changed on modern safety technologies
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7 Feb 2017
Price and equipment
THE five-seat, two-wheel-drive Tucson Active is what is known in the trade as a price leader – a variant produced to attract buyers into the showroom where, if it goes according to plan, they will be seduced by the more glitzy hardware on offer.
However, the Active still comes with items once the province of luxury cars – 17-inch alloy wheels, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, Bluetooth, seven-inch touchscreen, dusk-sensing headlights, LED daytime running lamps, rear view camera, rear parking sensors and button-operated rear hatch opening.
Manual air-conditioning is standard, but don’t go looking for rear seat vents.
Cruise control is included, as is central locking, albeit without today’s modern keyless entry and push-button start, at least in this variant.
In the back, a full-sized spare wheel sits under the luggage compartment that comes equipped with a retractable cargo cover and cargo net.
The list price for our Tucson Active automatic at time of writing was $31,090 plus on-road costs, which is on par with similar offerings from rivals. Hyundai dealers, however, were offering this model at healthy discounts that have customers driving away for not much more than $30,000.
The Tucson is on the small side of the medium-SUV equation. For example, at 4475mm long, it is 75mm shorter than the market-leading Mazda CX-5 and 130mm shorter than the Toyota RAV4.
Despite this, the Tucson is commendably roomy, especially in the back seat where tall adults will find sufficient knee space and headroom for a comfortable journey. At least, the two adults sitting the outer seats will, but a passenger who draws the short straw for the middle of the 60/40 split-fold rear bench will find the trip rather hard on the posterior and back.
Those rear seats have recline function, operated by a lever on the sides. The front seats also have a lever-operated recline function for pre-set positions, instead of the rotary knob variety that we prefer for its greater variety of positions.
The Active comes with cloth seats that – despite attractive contrast stitching – look pretty cheap and feel rather abrasive on the skin.
In our test vehicle, the unremitting grey plastic came across as rather dreary, broken up only by metallic finishes on items such as the air vents and console and steering wheel trim. The steering wheel rim is cost-cutting plastic – you need to move up in the range to get the leather alternative. At least it has both tilt and telescopic adjustment.
Hard surfaces abound, relieved by a few areas such as the arm rests, door trims and dash top.
On the positive side, expansive cubbies are plentiful – under the central armrest, in the console, door bins, glove box (which is cooled) and more. Not one but two 12-volt outlets are available to front seat passengers, along with plugs for easily accessed devices to hook up to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
At 488 litres with the back seats up, the luggage space is tight compared with some others in the class, not helped by the full-sized (alloy) spare wheel that raises the floor. However, space around the wheel can be used for under-floor storage. Laying the seats down creates a flat 1478L of usable space.
We also applaud Hyundai’s simple instrument layout, with common-sense buttons, levers and dials. All intuitive, all easy to master.
So far in our test, we have not been able to fault the quality – nothing has fallen off, squeaked or rattled. Yep, Hyundai has come a long way.
Not so sure about the so-called new-car smell, though. While some manufacturers could bottle and sell their delicious scent alongside Chanel 5, Hyundai’s smells a little industrial.
Engine and transmission
Around town, the front-wheel-drive Tucson Active’s 114kW/192Nm 2.0-litre petrol engine works fine in tandem with the six-speed automatic transmission of our test car, scooting away from the lights.
However, out on the highway, the lack of mid-range torque forces the transmission to hunt for lower gears when challenged on hills. This knocks the fuel economy around, making the claimed 6.1 litres per 100km fuel consumption for country running look fanciful. We got around 8.0L/100km, although it must be remembered that our vehicle was spanking new and no doubt still tight.
We would be tempted to consider one of the three other engine options, all of which offer more performance. Of these, the 2.0-litre diesel with its hefty 400Nm of torque is probably the pick of the bunch. More efficient too.
The petrol Active comes only in two-wheel drive, while the diesel and 1.6-litre turbo petrol Tucson variants have all-wheel-drive traction. For most mid-size SUV drivers whose natural habitat is urban Australia, this is not an issue.
Just don’t try to drive it on the beach or up to winter ski fields.
Ride and handling
This is where we get to pour out our affection, as the Tucson belies its cheap Korean car tag with a quality ride, confidence-inspiring handling and classy steering.
Unlike way too many vehicles that err on the side of stiffness to enhance cornering, the suspension settings of the Tucson Active are set permanently to comfort – what we would call a Goldilocks setting: not too hard and not too soft.
Yet, the Tucson – with chassis settings developed in Australia for vehicles shipped here – still masters corners with an unruffled competence, aided by electric-assisted steering tuned to suit the vehicle perfectly.
With conventional Macpherson struts at the front and quality multi-link independent set-up at the back, the suspension’s initial bump absorption sucks up those road imperfections while standing firm to keep the four wheels planted on the big bumps.
Safety and servicing
And this is where we bring out the big stick. Technically, the Tucson range is rated by ANCAP as a five-star crash performer, at least from December 2015 when a few improvements were made.
The problem is that while the top variant, the $45k Highlander, gets a full suite of safety tech – helping to earn that five-star gong – the other variants, including the Active, miss out.
To be fair, the Active gets the usual electronic stability control, ABS and side curtain airbags, among other things, but it misses out on good stuff such as autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assist, blind-spot warning and – our favourite – rear cross-traffic alert (warning of approaching traffic when backing out of a blind spot).
It is not on its own here, as most of its direct rivals do too.
Like other manufacturers, Hyundai will argue that cars are built to a price and that adding these gadgets puts the car out of reach of many customers, but the day is fast approaching when ANCAP will demand these be fitted across the range or no five star rating for you.
The Tucson is covered by a healthy five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, but service intervals are a rather brief 10,000km or 12 months. Owners can tick the box for a pre-paid service plan or iCare service that caps prices at $269 and $399 for scheduled maintenance over the first five years, depending on whether it is a minor or major service.
We have enjoyed our stint in the Tucson Active more than we expected. As an everyday family workhorse, it nips about town with an easy air – comfortable, practical and relatively efficiently.
When we took it on a longer drive, however, the shortcomings of the low-torque 2.0-litre petrol engine started to become apparent, even on mild hills.
If we were looking at one on the showroom, we could be fairly easily convinced to look at one of the more up-market variants, such as the ActiveX, Elite or Highlander, that not only promise more power but extra-plush interiors and added equipment.
Actually, we know that, as we have already sampled the diesel Tucson Highlander and came away impressed.
Mazda CX-5 Maxx automatic is $29,890 plus on-road costs.
The CX-5 is the best-selling medium SUV in Australia, and it is not hard to see why. A classy interior, superb dynamics, top-shelf build quality and sharp pricing puts most of its rivals in the shade. The Maxx, however, suffers from one of the same problems as the base Tucson – an asthmatic 2.0-litre petrol engine. It lacks a few attractions of the Tucson – alloy wheels, for example – but does have blind-spot warning.
Toyota RAV4 GX 2WD automatic is $30,590 plus on-road costs.
A bit bigger than the Tucson and CX-5, the RAV4 has the advantage in luggage room – an important factor in this class. It shares the asthmatic 2.0-litre engine problem with the others, but its continuously variable transmission (CVT) helps to keep things moving. Like the CX-5 Maxx, the GX comes with steel wheels and lacks the Tucson’s connectivity. Customers can now tick the box for autonomous emergency braking, though.
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