Nathan Ponchard reviews the new Hyundai Tucson midsize SUV, which initially arrives in Australia with a sole engine choice – a two-litre petrol.
If change is as good as a holiday, then the all-new, fourth-generation Hyundai Tucson is currently sunning itself on a white-sand beach, chilled G&T in hand.
But this wholesale makeover of Hyundai’s medium SUV staple isn’t a case of ‘change for change’s sake’. The Tucson competes in the highest-volume automotive segment in the world and the new-gen ‘NX4’ model plays a crucial role in Hyundai’s perpetual push upmarket.
Based on the fresh N3 platform that debuted underneath the Santa Fe in 2018, to cover every base possible the new Tucson has branched into two distinct models. Australia gets the super-sized version, produced in South Korea, whereas the Europeans get a shortened model built in the Czech Republic.
Our Tucson rides on an 85mm-longer wheelbase and is 150mm longer overall than the previous circa-2015 model, whereas the Euro interpretation has expanded only marginally. While that may pay dividends when parking in Roman back lanes, the man-sized alternative is now abundantly blessed with space – not that the old Tucson suffered from inadequacy in this department.
From its vast 539-litre boot (with full-size alloy spare under the floor) to its sizeable increase in overall cargo volume and rear-seat legroom, the new Tucson is almost ridiculously roomy.
It’s also particularly well-specified. Just three variants kick-off the Australian line-up – Tucson, Tucson Elite and Tucson Highlander – and all feature a standard centre airbag between the front passengers, blind-spot collision avoidance assist, speed-limit assist, junction turning assist, lane-keep assist with steering assist, adaptive cruise control and auto-folding mirrors, as well as a premium slush-moulded dashboard with cloth trim inserts across the dash and doors.
An N-Line package will soon be available on every model as well (around July/August), bringing 19-inch alloys, bespoke styling, leather and suede upholstery, LED front and rear lights (as per Highlander) and a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster (also as per Highlander).
The N-Line pack will cost $3500 extra on a $34,500 Tucson 2.0 FWD, $2000 on a mid-spec Elite (starting at $39,000) and $1000 on a Highlander (starting at $46,000).
As for overall cabin comfort, it’s deeply impressive, even in the base cloth-seat model with manual adjustment (which gets leather only on its steering wheel). The Elite scores perforated leather seating with electric driver’s seat and front heating, and a more upmarket 10.25-inch multimedia screen that sits flush in the centre stack.
The Highlander is the headline-grabber, however, with eight-speaker Bose audio, standard LCD instruments and two-tone interior treatment (in ivory or brown), plus fan-cooling for its front seats. It also gets full-LED exterior lighting which really enhances the look of the car.
Come June/July, there will be three drivetrains to choose from, though only one is available right now – an unremarkable 115kW/192Nm 2.0-litre petrol four tied to a six-speed automatic. Hyundai calls it a ‘new’ Smartstream-G engine but that’s stretching the truth – it’s the previous multi-point-injected 2.0-litre ‘Theta’ engine with efficiency improvements and a new name.
The alternative engines are much more promising – a smooth, new-gen 1.6-litre direct-injection turbo-petrol with 132kW/265Nm and a heavily revised 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four (now with an alloy block, saving 20kg in weight) that produces 137kW/416Nm – each with all-wheel drive.
The turbo-petrol carries over a seven-speed clutch transmission whereas the diesel gets a new eight-speed auto. Both are significantly more economical than the front-drive-only 2.0-litre – 7.2L/100km for the 1.6T and 6.3L/100km for the CRDi versus 8.1L/100km for the base donk.
The problem with the 2.0-litre is that it doesn’t match the impressive standard of the rest of the new Tucson. It’s yesterday’s engine in tomorrow’s car, and it only takes one excursion to the 6500rpm redline to realise it … which unfortunately happens often.
The poorly calibrated six-speed auto frequently upshifts way too early, soon realises its mistake and then grabs the lowest gear possible to regain speed. And then repeats this process again and again.
Even in Sport mode, there’s zero ‘fuzzy’ logic going on in the transmission – more like ‘Fozzie Bear’ logic (ie. the definition of ditsy). And all this faffing about merely highlights the 2.0-litre engine’s inadequacies.
Drive the Tucson sedately, making only moderate demands, and the 2.0-litre is adequate but anything beyond this treatment exposes its lack of performance and refinement.
That’s such a shame because otherwise, the new Tucson drives exceedingly well. Even though there’s little steering feel at straight ahead, it has a lovely progression in its response as you point into a corner and handling is excellent.
The new Tucson is so easy to place and feels so planted that it inspires confidence. And while the resulting ride is quite firm, there’s a level of control in the Tucson’s suspension that harmonises nicely with its design polish. Even the Highlander on 19s is quite refined, which is a relief because that’s the one you should buy…
… but probably only in AWD turbo-petrol or turbo-diesel form. While Hyundai should be praised for offering the 2.0-litre in every model grade, it’s completely at odds with the rest of the car and offers zero improvement over the same, equally deficient drivetrain in the previous model.
All that aside, though, this is a hugely improved car. Striking to look at, with a handsome interior, it’s also superbly practical, refreshingly democratic in its equipment and model-grade offering, impressively built and fun to drive.
Just make sure you choose the engine that suits your needs. Get that wrong and the end result is no holiday.
Variant tested HIGHLANDER (FWD)
Key specs (as tested)
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