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What was the ix35 is now the 2016 Hyundai Tucson, a mid-sized SUV that is larger, more versatile and – arguably – considerably better looking than the vehicle it replaces.
Okay, so we don’t score cars on their appearance, but if you think the ix35 is even close to this we’d have to quote that line from that advert about prescription glasses.
Still, the styling is important, because – at least on the road or in the showroom – it’s the clearest differentiator between the old car and the new Tucson, which has the South Korean company’s Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 design language.
The changes aren’t confined to the metalwork, which has been stretched in comparison to the old ix35. The Tucson spans 4475 millimetres in length (65mm longer than before) and 1850mm in width (30mm wider), while it stands 1645mm tall and rides on a longer 2670mm wheelbase (30mm longer).
Indeed, the underpinnings have been rethought, the engines have been tweaked and the interior has been thoroughly updated. Further, there’s a new model line-up, including the version you see here, the second-tier-up Active X.
It kicks off at $30,490 plus on-road costs for the six-speed manual, and $32,990 for the six-speed-automatic version we had. Read the full 2016 Hyundai Tucson pricing and specifications story.
It comes comprehensively equipped for the price, with items such 18-inch wheels, a 7.0-inch touchscreen media system with reverse-view camera display including dynamic guidelines, rear parking sensors, leather trimmed seats, auto headlights and wipers, heated side mirrors with electric fold-in function, and roof rails.
The list is only really missing satellite navigation, but the new touchscreen media system will – from September 2015 – be offered with Apple CarPlay, but our early production vehicle didn’t quite make the cut (and Android users will have to wait until next year for a compatible system).
It’s a shame in this instance, because the CarPlay system itself – which Trent sampled earlier this year in the Tucson – is excellent, and allows you to use your phone’s mapping software, which negates the need for a ‘proper’ satellite navigation system.
That’s not to say the standard media unit is disappointing. The menus are logical, the screen is clear and it’s fast to load, too. The sound from the six-speaker sound system is pretty good, too.
Interior presentation is clean, uncluttered and well thought out, even if in this Active X model there are manual air-conditioning control dials that look at bit early 2000s.
There is some soft-touch plastic across the top of the dash and on the door elbow pads, but the door trims themselves have about half-a-dozen different textures, all in slightly different shades of black. It could do with a different hue to break the monotony up a bit.
The seats are comfortable up front, and vision from the driver’s seat is good apart from the thick rear pillar that obscures rear over-shoulder vision (thank goodness for the standard camera/sensors combo).
Storage, however, is top-notch. There are twin cupholders up front, along with bottle-holders in the doors, a reasonably capacious glovebox and a covered centre stowage box. The storage bin in front of the gear shifter could do with a cover/blind to hide devices that may be left connected via USB, but it’s a fairly minor qualm.
The rear seat is good for storage (two seat-back mesh map pockets, bottle-holders in the door pockets, cupholders in the drop-down arm-rest) and excellent for space. There is good head, leg and toe room, arguably better than many rivals in the class, and definitely better than the class-leading Mazda CX-5.
Disappointingly, Hyundai has reserved ventilation for rear-seat occupants for higher-spec models only, so Korean-sourced versions such as the Active X miss out. Kids won't like that. Parents, though, will like the ISOFIX anchor points.
The boot is generous – Hyundai claims 488 litres of cargo capacity with the rear seats in place (which is 85L more than the ix35) and 1478L of capacity with the 60/40 split back seats folded down. They don’t fold all the way flat, and there are no release triggers in the boot – you have you to adjust them from the seat base, which could be annoying if you use them a lot.
That said, that lever allows for backrest recline adjustment, though there’s no sliding function for the second-row chairs. The boot also houses a full-size spare wheel, where some others have space-saver spares.
The boot lip is a little higher than some rivals, but the aperture is wide and the door is light, making for easy hands-full loading.
In terms of the drive experience, the Tucson is among the best in class.
The company claims that it has tuned every different variant in the Tucson range, but with the aim of offering a “common feel” no matter which engine is chosen. They go as far as claiming that the common feel extends to other models, including the Sonata, which is said to have a “similar character” to the Tucson, “smooth, calm and comfortable”.
And the team behind the suspension is, dare we say it, bang on.
We praised the Sonata for its ride and handling, and the Tucson is the SUV embodiment of that praise.
The suspension is hard to find fault with. It rides over bumpy surfaces such as country back roads well and dispenses with pockmarks and potholes with ease. However, we noted it could be a little jiggly over sharp-edged speedhumps.
Our petrol-powered Active X featured a 2.0-litre direct-injection four-cylinder petrol engine that is carried over from the previous model, but has been tweaked for more efficiency and better refinement.
The new engine produces 121kW of power at 6200rpm, and 203Nm of torque at a high 4700rpm, while using a claimed 7.8 litres per 100km for the manual version and 7.9L/100km for the auto. For some context, the smaller, lighter ix35 used 8.2L as a manual and 8.4L as an auto, but also produced a little more power (122kW at 6200rpm/205Nm at 4000rpm).
The engine definitely feels more refined than the version used in the ix35, despite its wont to rev harder for longer to achieve its peak power.
You will end up pushing the throttle harder than in some more-effortless rival models, such as the Subaru Forester which has a 2.5-litre boxer engine, and even the high-revving Honda CR-V with its 2.4-litre four.
Thankfully, though, the six-speed-automatic transmission is up to the workload. It relies on dropping back a ratio rather than using the engine’s torque to maintain momentum, and it does so smoothly and quickly. And where the ix35 verged on thrashy in terms of revving it hard, the Tucson is more muted and the power delivery comes across as more linear.
To top it off, we managed to get very close to the claimed fuel use over a mix of different driving scenarios: 8.2L/100km.
The Tucson is quieter than the ix35 was, and by some measure. On the freeway and over coarse-chip surfaces there’s a hint of road noise entering the cabin, but it’s never unbearable. The engine is quieter when revving hard, too (which it does fairly regularly) and there’s barely any noticeable wind noise.
Around town the electric steering is light and allows easy manoeuvrability, while at higher speeds it is more darting and direct than you may perhaps expect. Through twisty stuff – if you so feel the urge in a family SUV – you’ll be duly rewarded with decent cornering grip and nice balance.
In the wet, however, the front-drive Tucson takes a bit of careful throttle modulation, as the front tyres can scramble for purchase on slippery surfaces.
In terms of safety, the Tucson is offered with six airbags including dual front, front-side and full-length curtain airbags, as well as electronic stability control. Unlike rival offerings such as the Mazda CX-5, buyers of lower-spec Tucson variants can’t option technology such as blind-spot monitoring or lane-keeping assistance, though those systems are available in the top-spec Highlander model.
Ownership is well catered for as well, with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty offered on all Hyundai passenger cars. There’s also a “lifetime service plan” that sees the vehicle covered for maintenance every 12 months or 15,000km, with costs averaging $295 per visit over the first five years. Hyundai also gives owners who service their car at the brand’s designated workshops 10 years of roadside assistance.
It all stacks up to a formidable combination of quality, comfort and value. The 2016 Hyundai Tucson is destined to be a sales star, and this Active X model could be the pick of the range.
Click the Photos tab above for more images by Christian Barbeitos.