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Car reviews - Hyundai - Tucson - ActiveX

Our Opinion

We like
Does almost everything well, ease-of-use, spacious, comfortable interior and ride quality, pleasing dynamics
Room for improvement
Underpowered, thrashy 2.0-litre petrol, inconsistent brake pedal feel, bland interior

Hyundai logo7 Dec 2015

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI and ROBBIE WALLIS

Price and equipment

With a sticker of $32,990 plus on-roads, the Tucson Active X automatic is firmly entrenched price-wise among its Japanese rivals, some of which outgun it with larger engines or standard all-wheel-drive.

But Hyundai piles up standard equipment like a guiltily absent relative does with Christmas gifts, the highlights including leather upholstery, 18-inch alloys and touchscreen connectivity for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Adding an X to the base Active badge also upgrades the 2.0-litre petrol engine from a 114kW/192Nm MPI unit to a GDI (direct-injection) version developing 121kW and 203Nm while using a touch less fuel. In this case, it drives the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission that commands a $2500 premium over the manual Active X.

Other standard equipment includes manual single-zone air-conditioning, cruise control, electric windows and mirrors, a trip computer and seven-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.

Because our test car was an early version it did not have the acclaimed Apple CarPlay system activated (it is just a dealership software update away for cars that do not have it), but aside from that, we never felt wanting for extra gadgetry once on the road.

Interior

We found the Tucson provided a spacious and comfortable place to spend long journeys. Six-footers can easily sit in tandem, with those in the rear enjoying plenty of head and elbow room plus excellent visibility from the large windows.

Even the slightly humped central rear seat is not too bad and does not impinge on headroom. Families with tall teenage children will be happy here.

The Tucson picks up more points for the decent sized door bins with bottle holders all round, a large glovebox, a big space in front of the gear selector wide enough to accommodate two smartphones, another generous cubby beneath the central armrest and two different-sized cupholders between the front seats, supplemented by a further two for rear passengers in the fold-down central armrest.

A lack of rear vents in this model grade posed few problems for back-seat passengers, who felt the flow of chilled air from the front.

Meanwhile the driver enjoys good all-round visibility, a clear reversing camera and the minimalist, uncluttered dashboard layout includes just a neat smattering of buttons and rotary air-conditioning controls. Everything else is left to the multi-function steering wheel and seven-inch touchscreen.

We found the placement of the Tucson’s big buttons logical and easy to use, a theme carried through to the crisp, clear instrument panel and trip computer display.

The Active X’s seats are upholstered in leather of surprisingly high quality and suppleness, and there is enough adjustment – plus reach and height on the steering column – to achieve a comfortable driving position, although we’d prefer the infinite control of a rotary backrest angle controller to the notchy release-handle system Hyundai fits.

A rather heavy to close tailgate opens to reveal a well-shaped 488-litre load area, beneath which is a full-size alloy spare wheel with plenty of space around it for storing odds and ends, plus two plastic-lidded ‘secret’ compartments at each edge. It is supplied with a cargo net, some shopping bag hooks and metal tie-down points.

Sliding heavy items in is a breeze due to the boot floor being flush with the bottom of the opening and folding the 60:40 split rear seats forward (via the backrest recline controls on their sides) creates a 1478L space, with a flat floor and no step or large gap between at the meeting of boot carpet and seat-backs. Those recline controls also liberate varying levels of extra seats-up space depending on the tolerance of rear passengers and ISOFIX child seat mounting points are fitted to outboard positions.

Compared with previous-generation Hyundais criticised for their over-the-top, busy dashboards, the Tucson’s latest interior design thinking is bland and it could be said they have gone too far the other way.

Beneath the window-line, our car’s cabin was almost entirely black with a gunmetal grey surround for air vents, interior door handles and gear selector surround. Very muted and very plain, with a surprising amount of hard plastics.

Apart from upholstered areas, only the door caps and part of the dash have soft-touch finishes.

It is by no means unattractive or cheap looking but it is deeply conservative, plain and lacking inflair. The ambience is lifted somewhat by the light grey pillar and ceiling trim, along with the large windows that provide an airy feel in similar style to a Honda CR-V or Subaru Forester.

Tellingly, the reaction of passengers stepping aboard was ‘ooh, this is a nice car’. So maybe the simplicity and lack of clashing textures just works.

Engine and transmission

Having to haul the Tucson’s 1500kg-plus kerb weight heft plus passengers and luggage, the ActiveX’s 2.0-litre direct-injection four-cylinder petrol engine struggles. Developing 121kW at 6200rpm and 203Nm at 4700rpm, it is little wonder that the slick-and-quick six-speed auto regularly reaches for the upper rev-range when faced with hills or tasked with brisk acceleration.

Passengers found it amusing, while we found it frustrating. With four adults onboard, scaling a hill in an 80km/h limit with the pedal to the metal and the engine screaming had the speedometer going steadily backwards from the desired velocity before we reached the summit.

Even gentler inclines had the engine revving away.

We might not have minded or noticed were it not so obvious that the engine it working its little heart out from the unpleasant thrashing sound and vibrations coming through the steering wheel. It really does get vocal above around 3000rpm, and it goes there a lot.

It’s a shame because the engine is otherwise quiet and smooth, for example, bimbling around suburbs or cruising on the motorway. If you live somewhere without hills – perhaps Holland – it would be fine, but even the most light-footed Australian motorist will have this rev-happy thing howling on a regular basis. You’ll think twice before overtaking caravans on a country road too.

The engine’s shortcomings are even more of a fly in the ointment because the Tucson is otherwise such an easy, breezy car to drive. The six-speed auto just gets on with its job seamlessly in the background for the majority of scenarios. Even the selector’s slick throw means the switch from drive to reverse can be done with the mind elsewhere.

Only when attacking a twisty road did we feel a little let-down by the transmission, and even though we understood that this type of driving is not the Tucson’s modus operandi it is worth pointing out that its slovenly down-changes for cornering were a frustration and a surprise given how lightning-quick its kick-down responses are.

All that was remedied by knocking the selector into the manual gate, but many modern autos simply do it better by themselves than the Tucson did. Using the manual shifts, it was clear to see what a responsive, enthusiastic and clean revver this engine is, but then it needs to be! If only Hyundai could just quieten it down a bit.

To have the otherwise impressive Tucson with a superior 1.6-litre turbo-petrol or 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine, you must spend more on higher-grade variants, which are exclusively all-wheel-drive.

Officially the ActiveX automatic consumes 7.8 litres of regular unleaded per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle. Despite regularly requiring raucous revving, we achieved an indicated average of 8.4L/100km across a broad range of driving scenarios.

Ride and handling

The first dynamic impression of the Tucson is its beautifully weighted and delightfully accurate steering, which lacks the artificial feel that plagues several Hyundais, and is a massive improvement over the iX35. It also provides a city-friendly 10.6-metre turning circle, which we found to be great for urban manoeuvring.

But like many things about the Tucson, during everyday driving our minds were not drawn toward particular facets of its character and the ride/handling balance was a prime example.

Full of passengers on a trip into the hills, not once did we worry about their reaction to body-roll in corners or whether the twisty roads would cause them discomfort or nausea. Apart from the aforementioned engine performance, the Tucson just seamlessly and got on with the job. And it is a long time since we could say that about a car.

Ride quality is also impressive, complimenting the high levels of interior comfort. It took some pretty extreme measures, like one of the worst patchwork roads we could find or crossing a speed bump too quickly to come anywhere close to upsetting the Tucson.

On the stretch of road we use to assess handling, the steering continued to impress, with an unexpected level of road-surface feel through the wheel and beautifully sharp turn-in that elicited a smile on the first corner and felt uncannily like one of the segment’s dynamic champions, the Mazda CX-5.

Considering we ventured out in rainy weather, we were impressed with the overall levels of grip and the confidence-inspiring brakes (more about those later), while the high levels of body control and well-contained body-roll impressed considering the levels of ride comfort on offer.

It resists understeer well, but when the grippy front-end does start to wash out, the steering goes eerily numb for a moment. But that was pretty much the Tucson’s only dynamic vice, and the car’s stability control calibration was subtle, allowing the driver to make their own corrections rather than barreling in and stopping play before they have a chance.

Traction is excellent too. For example, it took us a while to believe we were not driving an all-wheel-drive variant, for sharp acceleration out of junctions – even in the wet – was met with only the tiniest (and quickly quelled) amount of wheel-slip.

The Tucson’s most dynamic competitors, the aforementioned CX-5 and the Ford Kuga, both suffer from the trade-off of high road noise levels. In the Hyundai, road noise levels on most surfaces are decently suppressed and driving with no load in the boot results in the majority of tyre roar emanating from the rear, with coarse-chip surfaces naturally the worst offender.

During our time driving the Tucson we never had a problem with road noise, which is not something we could say for the Ford or Mazda, although a Subaru Forester or Honda CR-V is even quieter. We also had to really listen for wind noise from this surprisingly aerodynamic Hyundai, which was a whisper of a rustle from the windscreen.

If there was anything to criticise about the Tucson in this department, it was the inconsistent brake pedal, which was initially grabby, then became perfectly progressive through its mid-travel and bit hard again further towards the end of its arc.

Safety and servicing

Early Tucson adopters are unfortunately saddled with a disappointing four-star ANCAP crash safety rating, due to a difference in performance compared with left-hand-drive examples tested by Euro NCAP, which awarded it the maximum five stars. At the time of writing, Hyundai Australia said it was working on a fix.

ANCAP testing scored the Tucson 11.46 out of 16 for the frontal offset test, in which ANCAP noted that driver leg and foot protection was marginal. Other test results were better, with 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 32.46 out of 37.

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 12 months or 15,000 kilometres, with the first 1500km service free of charge. At the time of writing, Hyundai’s iCare lifetime service plan website quoted between $269 and $399 for scheduled maintenance over the first five years, depending on whether it was a minor or major service interval.

Hyundai provides a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.

Verdict

Even though we whinged about the engine, we thoroughly enjoyed our week with the Tucson. It did so many things well and provided such ease of use that it fitted into life like a faithful friend.

In fact, the sheer pleasure and simplicity of driving this car on a day-to-day basis reminded us of the outgoing generation Lexus RX.

Now that makes it something of a bargain, and a reason for Mazda (along with Toyota, Nissan and Subaru) to be very worried indeed.

But we’d wait for the engineering changes that promise to restore a five-star ANCAP rating.

Rivals

Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2.0 FWD auto/Maxx 2.5 AWD auto from $32,790/$32,190 plus on-road costs
With its classy interior, excellent drivetrains and fun handling, the CX-5 is by far the best-selling medium-sized SUV in Australia for good reason. We would sacrifice equipment to get the punchier 2.5-litre engine as like the Tucson, the Mazda’s 2.0-litre can struggle.

Toyota RAV4 GX AWD automatic from $31,190 plus on-road costs
Trailing the Mazda in the sales race by some margin, the RAV4 is nevertheless a serious contender and will soon receive a facelift to help it stay relevant among increasingly stiff competition. It drives much better than you’d expect but the equipment list is a bit sparse in base GX trim.

Nissan X-Trail ST automatic from $30,490 plus on-road costs
As third most popular medium SUV in Australia, the X-Trail’s move from utilitarian box-on-wheels to modern and funky does not seem to have diminished its appeal. Spacious and affordable with a decent drivetrain, but while dynamics have moved on in leaps and bounds they remain far from class-leading.

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