There's a lot to like about a front-wheel-drive Tucson with luxury levels of kit and a relatively reasonable price tag. But the naturally aspirated petrol engine with its six-speed auto transmission, well, that's another matter entirely.
The mid-size SUV segment under $60K has been firing on all fours for years as the most competitive automotive segment in Australia, with no less than 22 different models vying for the top spot on the sales podium.
Hyundai with its Tucson is one of the main contenders, and frankly, it’s not hard to see why given its package of good looks, plenty of standard features, and a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Sales are running at about 1700 unit sales per month this year, but if last month is anything to go by, the competition between the main players is as fierce as ever with high-volume stars like the Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5, Subaru Forester, Honda CR-V and Kia Sportage all selling in large volumes.
All up, there are 23 different models on offer and countless variants of those to choose from, so finding the sweet spot in the range that best suits your needs and desires can be a difficult exercise.
In the end, it comes down to the choice between powertrains and trims as well as safety kit and warranty terms, both of which can greatly determine the final outcome and choice.
You can get a Hyundai Tucson for as little as $28,000 plus on-roads, but you wouldn’t want it unless you particularly want a six-speed manual transmission, 17-inch steel wheels, front-wheel drive – and not much else. But, it’s relatively cheap and weighs in at a suitably light 1527kg, which means decent fuel economy can be expected.
Okay, perhaps I was being a bit harsh, because you’ll also get six airbags, rear-view camera, auto headlights, LED daytime running lights, front and rear fog lights, 7.0-inch multimedia system, and even Apple CarPlay/Android Auto is there as part of the entry-level package.
Far more appealing, though, is our $37,850 Elite 2.0 petrol 2WD tester if you can stretch the family budget. Particularly if suburbia is where your family chariot will spend the bulk of its time performing school pick-ups and ferrying kids around to weekend sporting events.
It’s an interesting choice because it marries the least powerful drivetrain with a relatively premium trim level that packages up a host of goodies including leather-appointed seats, 8.0-inch satellite navigation system with DAB digital radio and Infinity eight-speaker sound system, along with a full suite of the latest active safety kit.
Other standard-fit kit includes 18-inch alloy wheels, powered driver’s seat, smart key with push-button start, auto wipers, privacy glass and luggage net among others.
Make no mistake, the Tucson is a handsome design, particularly dressed in this colour and shod with stock 18-inch alloys that really do make this vehicle pop against its main rivals.
Climb aboard for the first time and there’s an immediate sense of quality, with a blend of premium materials and switchgear, and plenty of up-to-date tech and creature comforts you may struggle to find in more expensively branded models like those listed above.
That’s not all – almost every surface is soft-touch (at least from knee height and above), and those that aren’t still look and feel like a quality alternative and don’t look out of place alongside the softer stuff. There are also plenty of metal accents around the cockpit to make it feel a little bit special.
It’s a well-thought-out cabin too, with plenty of useful spaces and USB ports for both seat rows. The tablet-style touchscreen is a good size and positioned front and centre. In fact, the centre stack design is one of simplicity and clarity, making it easy to get a handle of, even for first-time users.
Up front, there’s good width and elbow space, while out back the leg and head room are pretty good for those of average height – slightly less so for those over 180cm, but even then you couldn’t call it tight.
Boot space is excellent, with over 513L behind the second row and more than 1500L when folded dead flat. Just don’t expect that operation to be as easy as flicking a lever. You’ll need both hands to do that, and even then some proper muscle to raise and lower the seat.
All good, so far, until you hit the start/stop button and fire up the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four. It might have direct injection going for it, but armed with just 122kW and 205Nm of torque, you’re not going anywhere with any degree of urgency, especially up Awaba Street in Sydney’s picturesque beachside suburb of Balmoral.
Not only is it slow going, but it’s also painfully noisy if you need to punch it in the hope of making more spectacular forward progress. Not only is there complete lack of torque almost anywhere across the rev range, the six-speed auto is just as problematic – constantly on the hunt for a lower gear ratio in response to a light-to-moderate prod of the throttle.
That action produces a totally unrefined mechanical racket that seems completely at odds with the rest of the Tucson, not to mention the annoyance factor of such a frequent habit. In the end, I reverted to using the manual shift mode in order to prevent the constant hunt for a lower gear ratio.
I’m not sure I could live with this drivetrain as a daily driver. You're far better off stretching a little further ($3000) and choosing the 1.6-litre turbo-four making a far more versatile 130kW and 265Nm from 1500–4500rpm via a seven-speed dual-clutch tranny. It’s infinitely more satisfying
Another option is the $41,250 Elite CRDi with a torque-rich 400Nm and even more power (136kW) using an eight-speed auto, though doing so lands you a 100kg weight penalty over the 1.6 petrol.
I’ve always thought the Kia Sportage offered a more pleasant ride than the Tucson, but that’s no longer the case with the 2019 version that boasts redesigned front strut tops and rear assist arms and bushes.
There are also thicker rear forward locating arms with redesigned bushes and a sharper steering ratio with just 2.51 turns to lock (previously 2.71), and you can definitely feel those improvements from the moment you hit the first decent bump. It simply feels more composed and the steering less artificial on the 2019 version.
Like all Hyundai vehicles sold here, the Tucson benefits from locally tuned suspension and steering, along with the new hardware. German engineering firm ZF Sachs that supplies the dampers also worked with Hyundai’s chassis development and product planning teams to further hone the ride comfort and dynamics.
In fact, 14 front and 35 rear damper builds were undertaken over thousands of kilometres, on a variety of different surfaces, to get the balance right. And we’d have to agree it’s a job well done, because ride comfort and chassis composure are excellent, especially over fairly ordinary roads around the city.
It might not be the quickest thing on the road, but safety remains a high priority with the Tucson Elite adding forward collision-avoidance assist, blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert to the suite of safety kit in the SmartSense pack, which includes lane-keeping assist, driver-attention warning, high-beam assist and smart cruise control.
While it’s a slow-going approach to family motoring, the least powerful Hyundai Tucson does have a thing or two going for it. Service costs are the lowest across the Tucson range at just $275 per visit every 12 months, except at the 60-month interval that jumps to $405.
It’s also relatively well priced, though we still reckon the sweet spot (at least as far as engines go) is the 1.6 T-GDi for its all-round versatility and general fun factor over its demonstrably slower naturally aspirated sibling.