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Car reviews - Hyundai - Tucson - range

Our Opinion

We like
Design, steering, handling, cabin packaging, diesel oomph, refinement, turbo petrol’s punch, warranty, practicality, space
Room for improvement
2.0’s lack of low-down torque, expensive turbo engines, ride can feel a bit firm, vocal tyre noise on some surfaces, dull cabin

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Hyundai logo29 Jul 2015

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

IT IS ironic that Hyundai HQ insisted on the ix35 replacement returning to the nearly forgotten Tucson badge, because the company’s (almost) all-new mid-size SUV has strong European, rather than American, design and dynamic character, that is far removed from the rough and ready US-focussed crossover that last bore the nameplate in Australia.

Put mildly, that’s ancient history, and the only old fashioned thing about the third-generation crossover that literally crosses over from a compact to mid-size SUV, with surprising results.

Longer and wider in all the right ways it needs to be to take on the phenomenally successful Mazda CX-5, the Tucson is arguably the best-looking vehicle the company makes (that doesn’t wear a Kia badge).

Yes, the TL-series Tucson is a massive step forward over any SUV that Hyundai has previously offered, and we are frankly hard-pressed to find real issues beyond one obvious big one. Ex-Audi stylist Peter Schreyer oversaw this one, and it shows in the newcomer’s proportions and detailing.

However, while the exterior ranks right up with the segment smartest, the US-penned cabin has a whiff of unnecessary ordinariness about it – not in execution, design, or even material use, but just in its dull sameness.

Large central wing-motif vents, a multi-textured T-shaped steering wheel, big white graphics against soft-touch buttons… check, check, check. It’s all like a massive Hyundai part’s bin raid, starring elements of Sonata, i30, and Santa Fe. Except that every single item works brilliantly and exactly as it should, there’s nothing to inspire here.

If you’re not after a philosophical appraisal of the Tucson’s cabin architecture, then do consider this: access is easy, through large doors and deep windows that afford adequate vision out for smaller folk the front seats seem supportive for long-distance driving the rear backrest reclines to add even more comfort to an already spacious and inviting second row and the cargo area appears to be at least the equal of CX-5 and Ford Kuga – complete with a full-sized spare wheel underneath. Family friendliness abounds.

However, unlike higher-line variants, the expected volume-selling Active X lacks rear face-level airvents some of the lower plastics seem drab and cheap and the ride isn’t always as settled or as quiet as the class best, with a fair amount of road and/or tyre noise entering from the back.

But our biggest Tucson bugbear only affects one of the (so far) three available engines, although we would predict that would increase to two if we had the base 114kW/192Nm 2.0-litre MPI (not landing in dealerships until October).

Smooth and revvy it may be, but the Active X’s 121kW/203Nm 2.0-litre GDI direct-injection petrol unit needs the tacho needle to be pretty much facing due north before any meaningful performance can be had. Hyundai has clearly geared it cleverly to take off the line with some enthusiasm, but a load, or hill, or both, has the atmo four-pot screaming to keep pace with your right foot’s performance expectations. And as you shall soon see, the chassis definitely deserves better. We shudder to see what the less powerful version is like.

Most of that is remedied by the 1.6-litre T-GDI from the Veloster SR Turbo coupe, providing a spirited mix of low-rev urge and mid-range pull, helped out ably by a slick shifting seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that – on the beautiful rural roads around snowy Thredbo – really rose up to the occasion of hustling the Elite AWD along.

Only when needing to overtake on a steep incline is there any real hesitation felt, though an inner-city drive may reveal a different beast when it comes to laggy DCT responses. We’ll see about that.

If it’s effortless acceleration and immediate reactions that you’re after, then the 136kW/400Nm 2.0-litre CRDi turbo-diesel won’t disappoint mated to a six-speed auto, it beavers away beneath that bonnet with industrial-strength action and refinement, sweeping the circa-1700kg Tucson Elite AWD along with swift surety. Hyundai’s diesels certainly can do.

It’s worth adding that both these turbo engined AWD models command a premium – from $38,240 for the 1.6 T-GDI petrol and over $40K for the CRDi. And that’s before hitting the Highlander flagships.

In the past, we’d question the wisdom of spending Mazda money on a Hyundai compact SUV, but the latest Tucson’s newfound driving dynamics put it at least near the top of its segment for steering and handling capabilities.

Beautifully fluid and well weighted, the helm offers responses and capabilities beyond what any ix35 could achieve, for an engaging and enjoyable drive that really needs to be experienced to be believed for a South Korean vehicle.

Especially on smooth mountainous roads, the SUV is up with the class best, for safe and controlled handling and roadholding characteristics. Bravo, Hyundai.

Poor roads revealed some pitter-patter coming through, translating into occasional rack-rattle in the heavier diesel-powered version (Elite CRDi wearing Hankook 225/60R17 tyres), and the Tucson’s ride doesn’t seem to have quite the same amount of suppleness as a Ford or Volkswagen equivalent.

But compared to most other rivals, these are just mild annoyances, and not the norm in everyday driving scenarios. And even on gravel, progress is lively and nicely modulated, with less intrusive stability/traction control intervention than on previous Hyundais.

Buyers moving up to this will most likely revel in the Tucson’s dynamic thoroughness.

Mazda, Nissan, and Toyota ought to be worried. Ford, Mitsubishi, and Kia should be panicking. Hyundai has done its homework and the ix35 replacement ticks most of the boxes with bold confidence. The need for stronger base engines is the only issue, in what is otherwise a handsome, spacious, and enjoyable CX-5 alternative.

New name or not, the latest Tucson definitely feels more at home in Australia than its American namesake suggests. Good one, Hyundai.

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