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SUV sales are going nuts in Australia. Everybody wants to get into an SUV, but which one should you go for? It can be pretty confusing.

If you don’t have stacks of money to spend, but equally you don’t want to be stuck with a base model, we’ve lined up two cars you should consider if you’re after a mid-sized SUV.

The Hyundai Tucson is one of the best sellers in the segment, with a range that offers everything from cut-price all the way through to luxury.

Honda’s CR-V, on the other hand, has recently received a massive refresh and Honda has now bumped up the warranty to a Hyundai-matching five years, making it a decent option for buyers in this segment.

So, Japanese or Korean? Which one should you go for? We hit the road to find out.


Pricing and specifications

Kicking off from $30,690 (plus on-road costs) for the two-wheel-drive Honda CR-V VTi, the CR-V is well equipped across its entire range, with the range topping out with the $44,290 (plus on-road costs) all-wheel-drive VTi-LX. The range is also only offered with an automatic transmission and only with a turbocharged petrol engine.

The front-wheel-drive VTi-S being tested here sits one above the base model and costs $33,290 (plus on-road costs). While most of the range is five-seat only, there is a seven-seat option available for $38,990 (plus on-road costs), which is the VTi-L.

Standard kit in the VTi-S includes:

  • Keyless entry with push-button start
  • Active noise control
  • Dual-zone climate control
  • Rear-view camera
  • 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, inbuilt satellite navigation and eight speakers
  • AUX/USB/HDMI audio/video input
  • Electric park brake
  • LED daytime-running lights
  • Front fog-lights
  • Cruise control
  • 18-inch alloy wheels with a full-size alloy spare wheel
  • Driver-attention monitor
  • Tyre pressure monitor
  • Trailer-stability assist
  • Electric tailgate
  • Front and rear parking sensors, and LaneWatch mirror-mounted camera technology

While the equpment list is impressive, there is a noticeable lack of advanced safety technology like Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), which is only available on the top-specification model that costs north of $40,000.

Key dimensions:

  • Length: 4596mm
  • Width: 1855mm
  • Height: 1679mm
  • Wheelbase: 2660mm
  • Weight: 1540kg
  • Cargo: 522 litres
  • Towing: 1500kg (braked), 600kg (unbraked)

Hyundai’s offering, on the other hand, is equally as impressive, with the Tucson range starting from $28,590 (plus on-road costs) for the six-speed manual Tucson Active and going all the way through to $47,450 (plus on-road costs) for the all-wheel-drive diesel Highlander.

The model we’re testing here is the Tucson Active X, which starts from $31,150 (plus on-road costs) in two-wheel drive, six-speed manual form, with the six-speed automatic costing an additional $2500 at $33,650 (plus on-road costs). Unlike the CR-V range, the Tucson range can only be had with five seats.

Standard kit is good, but falls short of the CR-V offering:

  • Rear-view camera with dynamic guidelines
  • Rear parking sensors
  • LED daytime running lights
  • Projector beam headlights with escort and welcome function
  • Automatic dusk-sensing headlights
  • 7.0-inch touchscreen, six speakers and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility
  • AUX/USB audio input
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • Cruise control with steering-wheel mounted controls
  • Leather-appointed seats
  • 18-inch alloy wheels
  • Electric folding side mirrors
  • Heated side mirrors
  • Illuminated glovebox compartment

Just like the CR-V, there’s a lack of standard AEB in the Tucson range. You need to purchase the $40,000-plus top-specification version to be offered the technology. This is in stark contrast to Mazda, which offers AEB across the entire CX-5 range.

Key dimensions:

  • Length: 4475mm
  • Width: 1850mm
  • Height: 1660mm
  • Wheelbase: 2670mm
  • Weight: 1584kg
  • Cargo: 488 litres
  • Towing: 1600kg (braked), 750kg (unbraked)


Interior

If you’re spending a big chunk of your day in and out of the car, you want the interior to be a nice place to be seated. And, while soft-touch materials and nice dash plastics may seem like an obsessive motoring writer’s obsession, there is an added layer of ‘premiumness’ to the package when you’re in this price bracket.

Honda’s approach here is interesting. Unlike some manufacturers, it offers the same infotainment system and general layout across the CR-V range, as opposed to the lower models being lumped with smaller screens and less ‘premiumness’.

While the CR-V does miss out on leather seats, the interior looks and feels well thought out. There is stacks of storage in the centre console and within the doors.

The central dashboard section is logically laid out and aims to reduce the number of buttons strewn across the centre section of the car. The end result is an incredible amount of storage and great connectivity, including USB, auxiliary and HDMI ports.

In all photo sets: Honda CR-V (top), Hyundai Tucson (bottom). 

Visibility out the front, sides and rear is excellent and aided by the fact it’s equipped with a system called Lane Watch. When the left-hand indicator is activated, a camera mounted to the wing mirror activates and gives you vision of the blind spot. It’s especially handy when driving around the city. There are also front and rear parking sensors.

Second-row occupants will love the leg and head room. When you look at the key dimensions of both vehicles, it’s not surprising that the CR-V offers extra room. It’s longer and wider, which means extra space in the boot and second row.

There are even rear air vents and two USB charging points for your second-row passengers. Again, while rear air vents may seem like an item we regularly obsess over, they’re handy for hot summer days when it can be stifling in the second row.

The seats fold in a 60/40 split-folding configuration with ISOFIX available on the two outboard seats. There’s also ample storage in the door pockets and a centre armrest with two cupholders.

On the infotainment front, the 7.0-inch colour touchscreen is easy to use and comes with a volume control knob – a pet peeve of mine is having to press a screen a thousand times to lower the volume in a hurry. It’s aided by a clever touch-sensitive function on the volume control on the steering wheel that responds to both pushes and swipes along the volume button.

The inbuilt satellite-navigation system works well and there’s also voice-control functionality that’s backed up by the ability to push voice commands to your phone’s voice-control system. There’s also dual-zone climate control.

Finally, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto round off the infotainment’s excellent feature set. The eight-speaker sound system is great and offers plenty of punch on both AM/FM/DAB+ bands and connected audio devices.

Cargo space is very good with 522 litres on offer. It’s a big space that makes use of a low load floor and deep storage cavity.

Hyundai’s offering is also spacious, but the Active X suffers a bit from feeling like a base model. Hard plastics feature throughout the cabin and it lacks the premium look and feel of the Honda offering.

But, this aside, there’s great visibility out the front, sides and rear. The rear-view camera is good and comes with a set of rear parking sensors.

Storage here isn’t as good as the Honda, with a smaller centre console and smaller door pockets. You also miss out on keyless entry and start (instead using a key and key barrel), along with dual-zone or even automatic climate control.

On the upside, there are leather seats that give the interior a more premium feel. The infotainment is easy to use with a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen and it comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but it misses out on inbuilt satellite navigation.

Connectivity comes in the form of USB, auxiliary, plus 12V charging options. The six-speaker sound system is good, but lacks bass in comparison to the CR-V and can sound a little tinny when streaming audio through a connected Bluetooth device. There’s also no DAB+ digital radio.

Another bugbear with the system is that the voice-control button doesn’t do anything unless a phone is paired with smartphone mirroring. It may not seem like a big deal, but it means you can’t issue call commands over Bluetooth without the phone being physically connected to the car.

Jump into the second row and there’s less leg room, plus a lack of both air vents and USB charging ports for your passengers or kids. The seats fold in a 60/40 split-folding configuration with ISOFIX on the outboard seats, plus a centre armrest with two cupholders.

Cargo volume is down on the CR-V, but it’s still a very usable and functional space. It misses out on an electric tailgate, but both vehicles have a full-size spare tyre beneath the cargo floor.

Of the two, the CR-V trumps the Hyundai on the interior front. While there are no leather seats, the rest of the added features, plus extra room, well and truly make up for it.


On the road

Honda has taken a slightly different approach with its engine offering. Unlike most other manufacturers in this segment that offer a mix of engines throughout the range, along with a number of drivetrains, Honda has stuck with a single engine and dual drivetrain options.

We are talking about a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 140kW of power and 240Nm of torque, with a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) sending torque to the front axle. The engine uses a combined 7.3 litres of fuel per 100km.

Sometimes a CVT can be clumsy with a turbocharged engine, but in the case of the CR-V it works incredibly well. Peak torque comes in from 2000rpm and the CVT uses its operating characteristics to ensure it’s always within its torque band for maximum throttle response.

The only downside to the CVT is that it can get a little noisy inside the cabin when the engine comes on boost.

Honda has done a great job with the ride. The tune is soft enough to be compliant over bumps, but doesn’t overextend the suspension over speed humps and potholes. Feel through the steering wheel is good, but it feels a bit heavier than the Tucson. It’s not an issue when you’re on the move, but it can make things like parking slightly harder due to the added weight in the steering.

The engine has plenty of punch for overtaking, but you will notice a drop-off in torque delivery as you load the cabin with passengers and things. Its 240Nm of torque is nothing to scoff at, but the 1540kg kerb weight becomes much larger with four passengers and a full boot.

There’s a 1500kg braked towing capacity, but we wouldn’t be rushing out to tow with a front-wheel-drive SUV like this.

Parking is easy thanks to a great rear-view camera and both front and rear parking sensors. Big wing mirrors also make parking a breeze when stopping up against kerbs.

Expect to sit around 8–9L/100km on the combined cycle. The engine can be a bit thirsty around town with constant stop/start traffic.

Overall, the CR-V’s handling dynamics are great and it offers a confidence-inspiring feel behind the wheel. You won’t hop into this car after stepping up from a hatchback and feel overwhelmed with its size or the way it drives.

The Tucson, on the other hand, had a great chunk of its ride and handling tune engineered locally, and it shows behind the wheel.

Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine that produces 121kW of power and 203Nm of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox, and consuming 7.9L/100km.

Given the extra 48kg of kerb weight and less power and torque, the Tucson feels sluggish in comparison to the CR-V. It produces peak torque at 4700rpm, which means you’ll need to really get up it to feel like you’re getting anywhere.

That’s amplified as soon as you cram passengers and luggage into the car. It doesn’t feel as confident when overtaking or getting out of intersections in a hurry because everything happens at the top end of the rev band, as opposed to the CR-V, which produces peak torque from 2000rpm to 5000rpm.

But, it’s all redeemed when you find yourself a dodgy road or start finding potholes and speed humps around town. The steering is nicely weighted and the ride feels spot-on for Australian conditions.

On country roads, it glides over imperfections and corrugated sections and doesn’t track to the edge of country roads around bends, which can happen with some poorly tuned SUVs.

Around town, you’ll notice a comfortable ride that rounds off bumps and handles speed humps and cobblestones with ease. The steering is lighter than the CR-V, and as a result it’s easier to manoeuvre in and around the city. The rear-view camera is good, but the Tucson lacks front parking sensors.

As a result of the engine feeling a little underpowered in this configuration, fuel economy will tend to sit closer to 10L/100km because you are constantly needing to stay on the throttle.

The gearbox is calibrated nicely for the car, but even so, it needs to dive back through gears on occasion to keep up with the flow of traffic.

We noticed in both cars that there’s a fair bit of road noise from the tyres. It isn’t overwhelming, but it’s certainly noticeable when you’re travelling at highway speeds and more so on coarse-chip roads. It can be helped by using some brands of low-noise tyres, but it’s something you’ll need to make sure you’re happy with after a test drive before committing to a purchase.


Ownership

Honda’s recent introduction of a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty is a big step forward for the brand and signals confidence in the product. Honda offers capped-price servicing, with servicing intervals every 12 months or 10,000km. Over a five-year period, the CR-V will cost $1475 with each service coming in at $295.

Hyundai’s well known five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty remains and is one of the big selling points for the brand. Like Honda, Hyundai offers a capped-price servicing program with servicing occurring every 12 months or 15,000km. Over a five-year period, the Tucson will set you back $1505 with a pre-paid service plan.


VERDICT

At this end of the SUV spectrum, it’s all about sharp pricing and value for money.

The Honda CR-V hits the nail on the head on both fronts. While both cars lack critical safety features such as AEB, the CR-V delivers on practicality, size and value for money.

The CR-V also outperforms the Tucson around town and on the open road. It’s also cheaper to service over a five-year period and is now offered with a Hyundai-matching five-year warranty.

That’s why the CR-V VTi-S has resoundingly taken out the win in this comparison – it’s an absolute steal at this price, and with a bit of luck, Honda will complete the package with AEB later this year when the CR-V benefits from a model-year update.

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HONDA CR-V BREAKDOWN

2018 Honda CR-V VTi-S v Hyundai Tucson Active X comparison
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HYUNDAI TUCSON BREAKDOWN

2018 Honda CR-V VTi-S v Hyundai Tucson Active X comparison
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