An optional diesel engine and eight-speed automatic finally gives the new Hyundai Tucson the smooth powertrain it deserves.
The new Hyundai Tucson looks cool, is packed to the gills with safety tech, and it has a comfortable, well-sorted ride quality. It was just missing a smooth engine-gearbox pairing.
No longer: enter the Tucson diesel. Carmakers are ushering diesel engines out the door left, right and centre, but as the 2022 Tucson proves, a well-sorted and modern diesel continues to make sense in a midsize SUV.
That sentiment may be true in and of itself, but the pre-eminence of the diesel in the Tucson lineup also reflects on the fact that neither of the two petrol engines available with the Tucson are that impressive.
The 1.6-litre turbo petrol is punchy and quick but its seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission lags and hesitates. And the base two-litre petrol is underpowered and its own six-speed auto chases high gears relentlessly … where the engine makes no torque.
That indictment leaves the diesel as the Tucson engine to buy if you want to make quick, smooth, effortless progress while also sipping the least fuel of the range. Cheap servicing just completes the picture: diesel is the way to go if you want a 2022 Hyundai Tucson.
Deftly combining all-wheel drive, the most power and torque of the lineup, the best fuel economy and the most sorted auto – a new-gen eight-speed torque converter unit – takes care of the engine question.
That leaves the question of which Tucson trim to purchase. There are three: base (simply badged Tucson – on which no diesel is available), the mid-spec Elite tested here ($45,000 before on-road costs), and the Highlander ($52,000).
Middle-spec is often best. Is that the case with the Hyundai Tucson?
Benefitting from an overhauled two-litre diesel engine now branded “Smartstream-D”, the diesel Tucson is no more powerful or torquey than the previous generation of this model, which was already decent in those areas.
Instead, the new Tucson turbo diesel, which makes 137kW of power and 416Nm of torque, concentrates improvements in the equally-important areas of fuel economy and refinement. It’s quieter than before and its thirst is even more miserly.
It’s no firestarter in terms of performance, but the Tucson diesel is entirely … adequate. It marches off the line with authority thanks to an easy partnership with the eight-speed torque converter automatic gearbox, which hooks up quickly – and thanks to standard AWD, avoids wheel slip every time.
There is muted diesel clatter as the Tucson 2.0D accelerates reasonably quickly towards triple digits. It’s no drag-race SUV – a Volkswagen Tiguan 162TSI will show it up for pace – but like all diesels it does its best work in the low- and mid-ranges.
Overtaking on the highway? Pulling up long hills? The Tucson diesel owns those situations, making effortless, quiet, easy progress. 416Nm of torque is quite a lot for this segment and you feel it in the pit of your stomach accelerating between 70-110km/h, for instance.
It’s really the gearbox that polishes off the show nicely here, in stark contrast to the foibles of both the ill-tuned six-speed auto in base two-litre petrol and the dated, occasionally hesitant seven-speed dry dual-clutch Hyundai pairs to the turbo petrol engine.
By contrast the diesel’s eight-speed vanishes into the background – which is exactly what an auto ‘box should do on a family crossover.
The old Tucson rode a little nervously, but Hyundai have dialled that sensation right out of the new ‘NX4’ generation – no matter the engine or wheel size. This is a comfy, supple midsize SUV – again, the sensation we look for in family motoring.
Hyundai’s tendency to engineer sporty and firm suspension into SUVs has been tempered just slightly here, so that the Tucson glides over road surfaces that look smooth to the eye – previously, the sensation was of the suspension always fidgeting. That is gone.
Traverse the kind of punishing, washed-out imperfections common to Australian B-roads and the Tucson takes them in its stride, though the sheer volume of the cabin can mean a bit of suspension boom from the rear end over the roughest stuff.
Every suspension change brings compromise and if anything, the compromise here is that the previous Tucson’s surprisingly frisky demeanor in the corners has been dampened a bit – not that this really worries us. The new Tucson is still communicative and capable, but it doesn’t lift-off oversteer like the old one wanted to…
If you want a hot hatch, of course, Hyundai can sell you quite a few, with the i30 N recently updated with an automatic option and the forthcoming i20 N on the horizon. There will soon be a Kona N sports SUV as well.
That creates a bit of space for the Tucson to be what it is: comfortable, capable, and relaxing to drive. It’s pretty refined, too.
Unfortunately, the Elite spec doesn’t score the flagship Highlander’s digital dashboard, so it misses arguably the best safety feature the Tucson offers: crisp, high-res blind spot cameras that actually work.
But you don’t get this on the Elite. What you do get is well-tuned adaptive cruise control and lane hold, which finds and keeps the centre of the lane easily.
All Tucson variants have forwards AEB with car, cyclist and pedestrian detection that relies on both radar and a camera system. All trim grades also have blind spot collision avoidance, rear cross traffic alert with AEB intervention, exit warning, and a haptic steering wheel. All score tyre pressure monitoring.
The Elite sees the safety suite upgraded to take in front parking sensors, advanced rear occupant alert (that actively detects occupants), plus automatic high beam. The $7,000 upgrade to the Highlander adds the aforementioned blind spot cameras, plus reversing AEB, a 360-degree camera, and Hyundai’s Smart Park feature on the diesel only.
The biggest difference between the Tucson Elite and the flagship Highlander is found inside. While the Elite’s cabin is modern, pragmatic, spacious and comfortable, it doesn’t hit the technology-driven highs of the…well, Highlander.
The Elite is fairly well decked out with a 10.25-inch central touchscreen, heated front seats, and ten-way power seat adjustment for the driver.
But the Highlander goes the whole hog with available cream or brown leather colour options, impressive 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, a premium Bose stereo, power adjustment for the passenger seat, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and a cooling function for the front seats – plus a panoramic sunroof.
Frankly, the Highlander seems like it’s worth another $7K. If you tick the lush cream or brown leather, the flagship Tucson feels posh.
Each grade has an N Line option pack that does feel like a big upgrade: black upholstery is replaced by cool leather/suede pews, and you get a special steering wheel, dark headlining and red stitching throughout. Plus Hyundai throw in the 10.25-inch instrument cluster normally reserved for the Highlander … though it doesn’t score the blind spot cameras on the base or Elite specs.
All of that being said – no matter which trim you buy, the Tucson’s interior has had a major spruce-up compared to the previous generation, which was serviceable but had a whiff of fleet car to the interior design.
Every grade now gets a leather steering wheel, cool cloth inserts across the dash and doors, and cutting-edge infotainment integration in the slate-like dashboard. The base grade has an eight-inch screen (with the odd bonus of wireless CarPlay and Android Auto), while the upper two trims have a ten-incher but wireless smartphone integration gets scrapped.
The Elite upgrades from the base car by having the bigger screen, plus integrated navigation and digital radio. The six-speaker stereo is OK, but the Bose system on the Highlander is a noticeable upgrade in power and clarity. We like that all grades have an acoustic windshield, though the Elite also grabs a solar tint as standard. That’s handy in the Australian summer.
You’ll also immediately notice the Elite has push-button control of its automatic gearbox, unlike the conventional shifter on the base grade. There are also paddle shifters located behind the wheel for manual control.
The driver’s seat, which has power lumbar across the range, is comfortable and supportive on long drives, though memory is reserved for the Highlander. No Tucson grade has adjustable lumbar for the passenger seat.
The real feeling in here is one of space. Hyundai Australia followed their American counterparts by importing only the long wheelbase version of the NX4 Tucson – there’s an SWB iteration sold in Europe that actually looks quite different.
Most of the benefit is found in the back seat, which has legroom on par with a Santa Fe – though unlike that latter SUV you don’t get a dinky third row, even though one probably would have fit (and would have allowed the Tucson to compete squarely with the three-row Honda CR-V and Skoda Kodiaq).
Still, the fact Hyundai chose not to squeeze in sixth and seventh seats means it’s palatial in Row 2, with air vents and a centre armrest standard, even though the door skins take a hit in quality and revert to hard plastic uppers.
Oddly, even at $45K for the tested diesel, the Elite retains a manual tailgate, which opens kind of high – a power item would have been more appropriate. Still, the 539-litre boot is enormous and all grades accommodate a full size alloy spare wheel under the cargo area floor. That feature is becoming very rare, even in the midsize SUV class.
The diesel engine is the most expensive of the trio of Tucson powertrains to service, but scheduled maintenance for this midsize SUV is still pretty affordable.
Hyundai now sells prepaid servicing plans, allowing you to lock in current prices and avoid future maintenance cost increases.
Go that way with the Tucson diesel and you’ll pay $1,125 for a three-year/45,000km plan or $1,875 for a five-year/75,000km pack. Both work out to an average of $375 per year.
Those 12 month/15,000km service intervals apply to the diesel or the base two-litre petrol, but the 1.6-litre turbo petrol requires more frequent 12 month/10,000km maintenance.
That means that while the two petrols share $957 three-year and $1,595 five-year plan pricing, the turbo petrol only covers 50,000km distance in that time while the base petrol can go 75,000km. Why? Probably because of the turbo petrol’s dual-clutch automatic requiring a bit more attention.
Like all Hyundai products in Australia, the Tucson is covered by a five year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
Fuel consumption for the Tucson is lowest with the diesel engine. We recorded just 7.5L/100km combined, which is really good for a midsize SUV. Both the turbo petrol and the naturally aspirated base engine use around 9-10L/100km.
There’s no doubt that the turbo diesel is the right engine for the Hyundai Tucson.
There is also little doubt in our minds that the Highlander is the right specification to buy – but that’s easy for us to say when it’s not our $52,000 (plus on-road costs)!
For those seeking a pragmatic, fairly well-specified Tucson, the $45,000 Tucson Elite diesel makes a lot of sense. We just wish Hyundai hadn’t cheaped out on halogen lighting and a manual tailgate. This car is just too expensive for those omissions.
That being said, the compelling $2,000 N Line package solves that issue with LED lighting outside – while also adding a more chic interior with cool leather/suede seats.
So, we can see ourselves buying an Elite diesel with the N Line option. It becomes a battle between whether the luxe additions of the Highlander – think a panoramic sunroof, cooled seats, Bose audio – justify the extra five grand.
For us they do, because even at $52,000, the Tucson Highlander diesel feels like a good bargain: the last stop before the $66,400 Genesis GV70 base model in Hyundai’s midsize SUV stable.
Variant tested ELITE (AWD)
Key specs (as tested)
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