The Tucson has been a big hit for Hyundai, but will a small change be enough for it to stay a sales success? Paul Maric finds out.
Blink once and you may miss the styling changes on the 2019 Hyundai Tucson. That's not such a bad thing, though, given this model has always been a bit of a looker.
But, it was time for a mid-life update and Hyundai has chosen to go easy on the design tweaks and focus more on the package and value for money.
The new Hyundai Tucson range kicks off from $28,150 (plus on-road costs) for the entry-level Go and runs all the way through to $48,800 (plus on-road costs) for the top-specification diesel Highlander variant.
You can read more about the exact pricing and specifications breakdown here, but the headline disappointment with the sharp pricing is a lack of Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) on the two entry-level models – despite a big portion of the segment moving to include this potentially life-saving technology across their entire ranges.
While the engine offerings remain virtually the same, there have been a few tweaks here and there.
At the entry level, the exclusively front-wheel-drive 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated petrol engine comes with the option of a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic ($2500 option) transmission. The engine produces 122kW of power and 205Nm of torque, consuming 7.8 litres of fuel per 100km on the combined cycle (7.9L/100km for the six-speed automatic).
Hyundai has worked to improve engine efficiency and managed to push peak torque down from 4700rpm to 4000rpm – still not great if you don't want the engine screaming through to redline when hunting for torque, but better than previously.
Stepping up to the other petrol option in the range, the 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine is mated exclusively to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. It pumps out an unchanged 130kW of power and 265Nm of torque, consuming a combined 7.7L/100km on the combined cycle.
Finally, the only diesel engine picks up a new eight-speed automatic gearbox. The 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine produces 136kW of power and 400Nm of torque, consuming 6.4L/100km, sending its torque exclusively through an all-wheel drive system.
In terms of product split, the front-wheel-drive petrol is available with Go and Active X models, while the 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol can be had on the Elite and Highlander, and the diesel can be optioned across the entire range.
Styling changes coming in the form of a new set of headlights and daytime running lights, along with a new cascading grille with a splash of chrome. The back end is now a little neater with reshaped lights and a set of redesigned exhaust tips that help neutralise the rear end design.
New 17-, 18- and 19-inch wheels are spread across the range, while the entry-level Go model gets retro steel wheels with hubcaps. The entire range comes with a full-size spare wheel.
It's inside the cabin that Hyundai has really hit the makeover for six, focusing on the areas that needed improvement the most – infotainment and quality of materials.
Hyundai has transplanted the dashboard-mounted infotainment system from the i30 into the Tucson, which affords a space beneath it to clad in a stitched faux-leather material, improving cabin ambience.
It's joined by the availability of a wireless phone charging system and an eight-speaker Infinity sound system with subwoofer.
Also new to the cabin is a USB port in the second row (Active X and up), heated steering wheel on Highlander and an awesome new iPhone application that allows remote connectivity to the car and then steps it up a notch at Highlander level with the ability to start/stop/lock/unlock and even pre-warm the vehicle.
The two systems are called Hyundai Auto Link and Hyundai Auto Link Premium, both debuting on the new Santa Fe. The Premium version requires SIM connectivity, but Hyundai includes this free of charge when the vehicle is serviced through a Hyundai dealership.
Hyundai is one of the first manufacturers outside of premium European brands to innovate with technology like this, which is great to see. We're looking forward to having a proper play with the system when we get Tucson and Santa Fe through the garage.
Key to the infotainment change is the inclusion of a 7.0-inch touchscreen display that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but no integrated satellite navigation. This system is standard on entry-level Go models.
Stepping up beyond Go brings a larger, high-resolution 8.0-inch display that also includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and bundles inbuilt satellite navigation with 10 years of Suna traffic management. Both systems feature USB and auxillary connectivity for external audio devices.
Frustratingly, the voice-recognition button on the steering wheel doesn't do anything unless your phone is paired via cable with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Most other manufacturers allow voice commands to be passed to the telephone's voice recognition system via Bluetooth, where this system just presents a message requesting that a device is connected via cable first.
While key safety features are optional on Go and Active X models (as part of a $2200 SmartSense package), Elite and Highlander models come standard with the package, which includes AEB (low and high speed, with pedestrian and cyclist detection), blind spot collision warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane keeping assistant, high beam assistant, radar cruise control and a driver attention warning.
Leg and headroom in the second row hasn't changed, but that's not a bad thing. Even with the driver's seat pushed quite far back, I (at 185cm) can easily fit in the second row with ample toe, knee and headroom (even with the optional panoramic sunroof). There's also a centre armrest with two cup holders that folds out.
Cargo capacity comes in at 488 litres with the second row in place and expands to 1478 litres when the second row is folded – folding in a 60/40 split-folding configuration.
Hyundai used this mid-life update opportunity to also refine the ride and handling based on customer feedback and comments. The local engineering team set out to install redesigned front strut tops, new rear assist arms and bushes, thicker rear forward locating arms with redesigned bushes and made changes to the steering ratio – adjusting it from 2.71 turns lock-to-lock to a quicker 2.51. Part of testing including rotating through 14 front and 35 rear damper builds to find the sweet spot.
The net goal with the adjustments was to improve urban ride, along with improvements in Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH). This has worked a charm, even in the Highlander model, which sits on 19-inch alloy wheels.
Our drive included a mix of city, highway, country and gravel roads with a spirited mountain run included for good measure. It's not hard to tell just how much better this car feels with the local ride and handling tune.
I've driven a Tucson before in Europe and Korea (without the Australian ride and handling tune) and the difference is remarkable. Those tunes are quite floaty and softly sprung, where the Australian tune is firmer (but not overly firm) and responds well to direction changes and stability at our highway speeds.
The only element I could criticise with the ride and handling package is the brakes. The pedal feels quite firm, which results in a lack of confidence when you need to push the pedal harder – it goes from being progressive to hitting a firm wall quite quickly.
What about the engines? We had the chance to sample both the 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol and the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel.
The 1.6-litre provides plenty of punch and while the 265Nm of torque it produces may not sound like much, it's enough to get the Tucson moving in a hurry. Once it's moving, the gearbox is quite good and responds well to throttle inputs.
Where it falls down is at low speeds. It can be quite indecisive and in some instances very laggy if you ask for a boot of throttle after coming off the brake pedal as it shifts down through gears. The concept of a dual-clutch gearbox is to improve shift speeds and fuel efficiency, but in this instance it detracts from what is otherwise a great package.
Thankfully, the diesel saves the day and is a real surprise package with the new eight-speed automatic gearbox. The gearbox gels perfectly with the rest of the drivetrain and that 400Nm of torque really shoves you into the seatback nicely when you have a proper crack at the throttle.
Both the 1.6-litre petrol and 2.0-litre diesel use an all-wheel drive system called HTrac. It uses an electronically controlled central clutch pack that can vary torque split depending on the drive mode.
As the driver moves from Normal or Eco to Sport, it can actively offer more torque to the rear axle and then use a brake-biased torque vectoring technology to tuck the car in when applying throttle out of corners.
It works really well and even the diesel can be surprisingly fun to drive in Sport mode with slabs of torque available with small throttle applications. There's also a four-wheel drive lock mode that allows torque to be evenly split between the front and rear axles.
Overall the changes to Hyundai's Tucson have been well received. The interior feels better assembled and more premium than it did before, especially with a big screen central to the infotainment experience.
But, the lack of safety equipment at the two entry levels leaves a sour taste in our mouths. Especially when you consider Ford, Mazda and Kia offer at least five years' of warranty and in Ford's case a far superior entry-level engine.
It makes us wonder why you'd give the Tucson a second thought when there are options out there with safety features a family SUV should really have (without needing to spend an additional $2200).
Outside of the two entry-level models, the Tucson is a great purchase in this segment. We'd steer away from the petrol and go for the diesel – it has a better gearbox and offers plenty of punch and excellent fuel efficiency.