The updated Hyundai Tucson Highlander is not only in its third generation but it's also a very polished contender in what is one of the most hotly-contested segments on the planet.
It’s hard to believe the popular Hyundai Tucson has already celebrated its fourth birthday, at least as a fourth-generation model. But, maybe I’m just getting old, because it doesn’t seem all that long ago I was attending the iX35 launch.
That nameplate was eventually dropped in 2015 in favour of a return to its more globally recognised Tucson badge, as well as a significantly more contemporary design, in order to compete with a raft of stellar rivals all fighting for a share of what has become one of the most hotly contested segments on the planet – the mid-sized SUV market.
And, if it was a smart looking thing back then, and it surely was, the latest update only serves to enhance what has become nothing short of a semi-premium offering in the big-selling SUV segment that also includes the equally popular Mazda CX-5 – probably the Tucson’s closest rival, though, I’d argue the Hyundai feels more spacious inside.
That update included a new cascade-style grille complete with chrome-look vanes and a new LED headlight design up front, along with a slightly fresher tailgate treatment and new-look wheels for what is a sharp-looking SUV that still makes it one of the top picks the category.
But what really separates the Tucson from the rest of the pack is a new-look cabin treatment which really elevates the Tucson towards a semi-premium space more than anything else, especially if you go for the full fruit basket and choose the range-topping Highlander variant like that tested here.
It’s not hard to tell either, particularly with its super-soft beige leather seats you tend to sink into like your favourite armchair compared with firmer pews from other makes.
They’re incredibly comfortable on longer hauls, but equally so for general suburban duties, and in this case, heated and cooled for those extreme temps we get Down Under.
Rear-seat passengers won’t be disappointed either, with similarly cushioned seats and decent bolstering to boot. There’s oodles of knee and foot room along with enough headroom even for those talls on the basketball team.
And, importantly, but sometimes forgotten, there are rear air vents and a USB charger back there, but only one.
Further back in the boot you’ve got a full-size spare wheel under the floor, as well as 488 litres of stowage on top with the second row in place. Folded forward (not quite flat), and it opens up cargo space to 1478 litres.
And, if you need to hide away some valuables, there’s decent space inside the spare wheel itself.
One of the hallmarks of the Tucson and indeed Hyundai in general over the years has always been the level of kit included as standard equipment – and in the case of the Highlander – that’s everything and the kitchen sink. The good stuff, too, like wireless phone charging and a large Euro-style touchscreen infotainment tablet with free live traffic updates for 10 years.
Other treats like 19-inch alloys, Bi-function LED headlights that bend with the steering wheel, power tailgate, auto-dimming rear vision mirror, heated steering wheel, Panoramic glass sunroof (that opens really wide) and front and rear parking sensors are all part of the standard packaging. It’s all there and then some.
While some hard plastics are unavoidable in the Tucson they’re mostly below decks, but we do like the liberal use of metallic accents throughout the cabin – particularly on the touchscreen. It simply reinforces that semi-premium status of this top-shelf variant.
The Tucson also gets the latest in active safety, at least in both Elite and Highlander trim levels with standard inclusion of Hyundai’s SmartSense pack ($2200 option on lower-level Tucson Go and Active X variants), with technologies like high-beam assist, and Smart Cruise Control with Stop and Go.
You also get Forward Collision Avoidance Assist, which can detect a possible collision with another vehicle or pedestrian and automatically apply the brakes from 70-80km/h for a partial or complete stop as well as things like Blind Spot Warning and Rear Cross-traffic Collision warning.
Still, the real party trick is Hyundai’s new Autolink Premium App that allows you to control some key functions of the car remotely from your smartphone like start and stop the engine or lock and unlock the vehicle.
You can even pre-cool or heat the car before you get in. And, for those embarrassing moments when can’t find your car – the app will provide directions to it. Cool stuff, especially for this class of vehicle. Watch our video to see how it goes.
On top of that, you can use the app to find the cheapest fuel closest to you or even share the location of the vehicle if required. And, to avoid those nasty parking fines, this app will also track how long you’ve been parked.
Okay, so it looks good on the outside, has a premium look and feel on the inside and offers loads of space for the whole family, but what’s it like to drive?
You’ve got the choice between a 1.6-litre turbo-petrol version for $46,500 plus on-roads like our tester here, or you can have the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel which attracts a $2300 premium, taking the price to $48,800.
Unless you’re going to be racking up lots of kays each week, the petrol option is going to make the most sense given there’s not a lot in it when it comes to fuel economy – 7.7L/km for the petrol and 6.4L/100km for the diesel, which is going to cost you a little more at the bowser.
That four-cylinder turbo makes 130kW and 265Nm (136kW & 400Nm for the diesel) and believe you me, that’s more than enough poke for to get you where you want to go without being a backmarker – especially if you select Sport mode.
It’s also surprisingly quiet under light to medium throttle, only ever becoming raucous under full throttle.
There’s also bit of turbo lag if you jump on the accelerator with too much enthusiasm, so best to feed in the power progressively with the Tucson if you want to get the most out of the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, as distinct from the eight-speed auto with the diesel.
Overall, ride comfort from the updated and locally-tuned suspension is very good – only broken roads with sharp edges can affect compliance, but things like speed bumps are simply ironed out. This is noticeably better than the previous version.
The steering is more direct, too, while body control is kept in check thanks to German damper supplier ZF Sachs, though, some body roll is unavoidable if you carry too much speed into a corner.
This latest update ensures the Tucson has the goods to battle its toughest rivals in what is surely the most competitive auto segment on the planet.
Add a five-year unlimited-kay warranty, good looks, loads of features and space for the whole family and you’d be hard pressed not to make this a must on anyone’s shortlist in this segment.