Car reviews - Hyundai - Tucson - range
Engaging handling, elegant and expansive interior, striking style, egalitarian model range, generous equipment
Room for improvement
Outdated and unrefined 2.0-litre engine, insufficient transmission calibration, lethargic adaptive cruise control
All-new Hyundai Tucson kicks goals with up-to-date technology in all areas bar one
7 May 2021
COMPETING in what has become the largest automotive market segment in the world – medium SUVs – is no longer about applying the ‘lift and separate’ philosophy to a medium sedan.
To truly succeed, you need an aspirational vehicle that suits every purpose and fits every price point, while also being future-proofed against changing buyer expectations.
Toyota’s current RAV4 has shown that if you build the zeitgeist – a hyper-efficient, hugely capable, cutting-edge medium SUV – then buyers will clamour for it like never before.
In that context, Hyundai’s all-new medium SUV – the fourth-generation NX4 Tucson – needs to bring buyers to the yard. If the new Tucson has any hope of reining in its chief Japanese rivals (RAV4 and Mazda’s CX-5), then it must have impact.
Once every variant and drivetrain option becomes available, the new Tucson will be tough to ignore. But does the volume-selling 2.0-litre front-wheel drive – expected to make up 60 per cent of total volume – deliver enough of a technology story to fulfill Hyundai’s upmarket aspirations, particularly in light of the fact there will be no hybrid version available in Australia for the foreseeable future?
First drive impressions
Since Hyundai Motor Company Australia (HMCA) first fettled the ix35’s chassis a decade ago, the Korean brand’s medium SUVs have been among the best in their class to drive. Never quite the best, but certainly impressive – especially given the historical evidence to the contrary.
The all-new NX4 Tucson – riding on a shortened development of the N3 platform underpinning the larger Santa Fe – aims to lift that dynamic reputation to the next level while also enhancing Hyundai’s quality perception and overall brand image. So no pressure…
Straight out of the box, first impressions are hugely positive. Hyundai’s striking ‘folded-paper’ styling appears more refined on the handsome Tucson than it does on the i30 Sedan, and there are some lovely details such as the disguised LED running lights that form a large part of the front grille and the full-width LED light blades that decorate the rear of the top-spec Highlander (or any variant optioned with the forthcoming N-Line package).
Even the fact that every model gets a posh-looking satin-chrome fillet garnishing the D-pillar speaks volumes about the strides the new Tucson has taken in design and interior quality – especially the range-topping Highlander.
Inside, HMCA’s decision to go for the larger Korean-built Tucson rather than the shorter, perkier Czech-built version pays huge dividends when it comes to space. An 85mm wheelbase stretch and 150mm of additional length delivers almost large SUV levels of room, with the acres of rear legroom and an enormous 26 per cent increase in cargo volume with the rear backrests folded deserving the highest praise.
The overall interior design also achieves a high standard. Slush-moulded plastics and front-row cloth inserts across the dashboard and door trims make even the base Tucson feel quite upmarket – especially compared to a base Santa Fe – though again it’s the Highlander with its 10.25-inch LCD instrument screen, two-tone leather treatment and flush centre stack that makes the biggest impression.
That said, any Tucson optioned with the forthcoming N-Line package (arriving July/August) will receive the LCD instruments and full-LED exterior lighting, as well as leather/suede upholstery. By democratising the Tucson line-up, Hyundai has made many elements of this newfound design slickness available to all.
HMCA hoped to launch both petrol engines simultaneously, though calibration issues have delayed the AWD 1.6-litre turbo-petrol by a month. A heavily revised 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four with an eight-speed automatic and AWD (available on Elite and Highlander only, as per the 1.6 turbo) should arrive in July.
Unfortunately, that situation leaves it up to the front-drive 2.0-litre to make a great first impression, which is something it isn’t really capable of.
With a modest 115kW and an even skimpier 192Nm (produced at a steep 4500rpm), the 2.0-litre petrol four with six-speed auto is far removed from where it needs to be. Hyundai calls it a ‘new’ Smartstream-G engine but it’s merely the previous multi-point-injected 2.0-litre ‘Theta’ engine with internal improvements aimed at enhancing efficiency.
The smooth 1.6-litre direct-injection turbo-petrol, on the other hand, is a new-generation engine with completely different bore and stroke measurements to the former 1.6T. Outputs of 132kW/265Nm are little changed and the same goes for the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, though Hyundai says it’s a much more polished drivetrain.
The 2.0-litre not only feels deficient compared to the excellent 2.0-litre in a base RAV4, it fails to live up to the impressive standards set by the new Tucson in almost all other areas.
Driven moderately, such as in most urban environments or on cruise-controlled highways and freeways, the Tucson 2.0-litre is entirely acceptable, but the more you ask of it, the greater your disappointment. And much of that can be levelled at the inadequate calibration of the six-speed auto, which merely highlights the engine’s lack of refinement and torque.
It simply refuses to hold a gear if you back off – even in Sport mode – which means it prematurely upshifts, then realises the engine doesn’t have the grunt to pull the chosen gear and then downshifts as far as possible. And plays out this scenario ad nauseum.
Anything beyond 4500rpm can be intrusively unpleasant, though the test 2.0-litre Highlander did seem slightly quieter than the Elite and base Tucson we also drove. At least that situation is easily fixed by opting for the 1.6-litre turbo-petrol or 2.0-litre diesel, providing you can afford an Elite or Highlander.
What can’t be changed is the new Tucson’s chassis tune which, alongside the base engine, is comparative bliss. HMCA felt that the global tune of the NX4 Tucson was so good that they didn’t need to alter anything for our market, and so it proves.
Besides some numbness at straight ahead, the steering is beautifully progressive in its response and delivers eager turn-in, with the increased weighting in Sport mode well-suited to the Tucson’s overall handling excellence.
This is a poised and confidence-inspiring car to drive on any surface, and even the Highlander’s 19-inch alloys with 235/55R19 tyres don’t really seem to punish the ride quality.
Admittedly, the new Tucson is a firmly suspended car with noticeable low-amplitude busyness over smaller irregularities, yet there’s an overall finesse in its suspension control and a general level of road refinement that supports the Tucson’s all-round abilities admirably.
Indeed, the fourth-generation Tucson is a much-improved medium SUV that surely challenges (or exceeds) the class benchmark for space, interior design (in most areas) and value. Offering the base engine in every model grade also deserves praise for its egalitarianism, though it’s that very drivetrain that undermines the Tucson’s otherwise-impressive polish.
Here’s hoping the AWD 1.6-litre turbo and 2.0-litre diesel can make amends.
The Road to Recovery podcast series
Model release date: 1 May 2021
All car reviews
Click to share