There's no doubt the Hyundai Tucson is a popular choice in the mid-size SUV segment, and the top-spec Highlander is the pick if you want all the fruit – and then some. But is it the best bang for buck?
Chances are, if you’re looking to become the proud owner of the latest Hyundai Tucson, it’s more than likely going to be front-wheel drive and petrol-powered.
At least, that’s what the overwhelming majority of buyers are choosing when it comes to Hyundai’s mid-size SUV.
The stats are a real eye-opener for those still under the impression diesels rule the world in this category, with a staggering 84 per cent preferring the petrol option over diesel’s paltry 16 per cent take up.
Of the four trim lines offered in the Tucson range (Active, ActiveX, Elite and Highlander) it’s perhaps less surprising to learn the lower grade Active and Active X variants make up 77 per cent of all model sales.
And of those, it’s the better equipped Active X proving to be the most popular choice, with 56 per cent of buyers swayed by the partial leather seats, premium steering wheel and shifter, 18-inch alloys, electric folding (and heated) mirrors and illuminated glovebox for just over two grand more comparing auto with auto ($31,590 versus $33,650).
But, if you want all-wheel drive and Hyundai’s latest turbo-petrol motor, you’ll need to stump up for the Elite or top-shelf Highlander (priced from $39,250 and $45,450 plus on-roads respectively) powered by Hyundai’s in-house-developed, 1.6-litre, direct-injection turbo-petrol engine.
I know what you’re probably thinking, ‘a medium SUV powered by a diminutive 1.6-litre four-cylinder motor – can’t be good, right?'
Granted, it’s a small displacement powertrain charged with lugging around almost 1700kg of heft with just 130kW and 265Nm of torque at its disposal. But, it does so, with surprising ease and flexibility, thanks to its broad torque band – peaking from 1500-4500rpm.
It’s enough to get the Tucson scooting away from traffic lights with a fair degree of haste, and without a whole lot of lag, either. And unlike the 2.0-litre models which are equipped with either a six-speed auto or manual transmission, the 1.6 turbo-petrol is equipped with a seven-speed double-clutch gearbox exclusively – and it’s not perfect.
It’s fine pulling away from standstill and cycling through the lower gears, lively even, thanks to its twin-scroll turbocharger, but it’s often too slow to respond to initial throttle tip-in in third, where it can often linger, before deciding to drop down a gear and accelerate away.
So, none of the usual benefits of a quick-shifting, dual-clutch transmission we’re so used to, which begs the question, would it not be a more refined driving experience with a traditional automatic in this application?
There are no such quirks once you’re cruising along on the motorway, though, with a steady stream of torque on tap for effortless high-speed passing and sustained hill climbing. We also like the way the Tucson steers, light and easy for suburban duties and tight parking spaces, but enough on-centre weighting for solid composure on longer journeys. Just don’t expect a lot of feedback, though. It’s all a bit numb in that department.
That liveliness we mentioned earlier, is also evident when cornering, too. The body feels stiff and well screwed together, as there are no squeaks or moans as we negotiate the endless roundabouts in my home suburb. No body roll, either, that’s all very well contained by the MacPherson strut up front and multilink rear suspension system, though it comes at a price.
Ride comfort is indeed a mixed bag. Right from the outset, we felt an underlying firmness to the damping. Larger bump absorption is pretty good, but over busted-up, coarse chip surfaces, it can become a little too busy, as though there’s more of a skew towards upright composure through the bends, rather than a well-cushioned ride.
I suppose, we could point the finger at the larger wheel and tyre package, given the Highlander rides on standard 19-inch alloys (18s on the Elite) shod with lower profile Michelin rubber (245/45 Vs 225/55 series), but then again, others might prefer the sportier setup to a comfier ride – but not this tester. Not for a family SUV.
We’ve got a couple more gripes, too. The leather appointed seats, while supportive, are firmer than we’d expect of a top-spec model (we’d like more seat cushioning) and while all the major touchpoints are soft to the feel, there are plenty of cheap-looking hard plastics around the cabin that only serve to downgrade the Highlander’s premium positioning within the model range.
However, there’s also a strong case for the overall Tucson package. There’s good all-round vision, despite its relatively high-waisted beltline. Plenty of space to spread out, too – front and back – and that’s head, leg and elbowroom for five adults.
It’s quiet, too. Well insulated from the chaos of the peak-hour shuffle. Even the engine noise is subdued, unless its revving beyond 5000rpm; then you’ll hear a rather unpleasant mechanical racket, but that was a rarity during our week-long test period.
Storage space around the cabin is plentiful, too, with heaps of spots for phones, wallets and water bottles. Connector ports up front include two 12V sockets, 3.5-inch auxiliary jack, but oddly enough, only one USB port up front, and none that I could find for second-row passengers. There’s a bit more space in the glovebox, as well as being both illuminated and cooled.
Boot space, is not only huge, but it also offers a wide aperture and a great load-in height – making it easy to slide in even heavy boxes and goods. Better still, there’s a full-size spare wheel under the floor along with a couple of small storage boxes for hiding valuables. There’s a cargo net supplied, too, along with four tie-down hooks – a must for keeping all your groceries bags intact.
It’s choc-a-block full of kit, too – an endless list of features and creature comforts including a new satellite navigation head unit that now allows Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (previously available only on lower grade variants) with hands-free messaging and dictation, front and rear parking sensors with rear-view camera and guidelines, heated and cooled electrically-operated front seats, and panoramic glass sunroof.
And that’s just a sample, but it also borrows all the good stuff from the well-equipped Elite variant, including LED headlights, auto-dimming mirror, proximity key with push-button start, power tailgate, puddle lights and electronic park brake to name a few more.
There’s a lot to like about the Hyundai Tucson, particularly in this top-shelf guise. It still looks great from almost any angle, drives well and comes with more kit (including the latest safety systems) than you could ever want.
But we’re not convinced the Highlander trim offers the best bang for buck in the Tucson range. We’d suggest the Elite does a better job of that, while saving just over six grand. The popular choice, though, is the Active X auto, which still gets plenty of luxury features for six grand less than the Elite – and the smaller size wheels would undoubtedly provide a more comfortable ride.
There's also plenty of competition in what is fast becoming one of the world's most popular segments, not least, from Hyundai's sister brand Kia, which has the similarly-packaged Sportage that some would even say, does a better job of styling. And there's also Kia's seven-year warranty to consider. That's a big plus compared with Hyundai's five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
But, there's also the Ford Escape, Holden Captiva, Haval H6 (the Chinese offering, and its not bad) Honda CRV, Jeep Cherokee, Mazda CX-5, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan X-Trail, Renault Koleos, Skoda Octavia Scout (more a jacked-up wagon), Ssangyong Rexton, Subaru Forester, Suzuki Grand Vitara, Toyota RAV4 and Volkswagen Tiguan.
That's quite a choice.
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