Firstly, I would like to acknowledge CarAdvice for creating a great initiative for car aficionados and car owners alike to share their experiences, positive and negative.
The model in review is a 2015 Hyundai Tucson Active X. For eagle-eyed readers, they would note that this is one of the four-star rated Tucsons. This has not been of any concern to me, as a four-star vehicle today is still safer than a four-star vehicle from, for example, 2005.
People may ask why a 22-year-old single male still living at home would buy an SUV as his first car. Why wouldn't I purchase something like an i30, CLA250 or (my dream car) an SS V Redline? Well, here's my story and review.
I had just secured a full-time job and had been there for a few months when my daily ride, an E36, started to expire. We have an Accent at home, so I considered Hyundai but nothing stood out at the time. Luckily, I knew some friends in the auto industry, so they invited me to drive the Tucson when it first came out.
To say I was impressed (and still am) is an understatement. Much has been made of Hyundai's progress as a maker of cars, but you really do have to experience it yourself to fully understand the scale of its achievements.
Let's start with the overall package and features. You get automatic headlights with LED running lights, reverse camera and sensors, leatherette seats and steering wheel, automatically folding exterior mirrors plus Apple CarPlay/Android Auto capability. An impressive amount of kit for 2015, but not so impressive in 2017.
Having driven a few company cars, the advent of smart keys has been really convenient and handy. Bags of shopping anyone? At least Hyundai compensates with a standard alarm on all Tucsons.
There's also that classic scenario of parking at Westfields next to the concrete pillar, head first. Reverse Cross Traffic Alert would be really handy when getting out.
However, for a first car the standard features exceed most needs and probably add even more nice little touches. Things like a digital speedometer, configuration for the auto locking and unlocking, and reclining rear seats. But the coolest one is that the instruments dim automatically depending on the ambient light. How cool is that?!
In terms of maintenance and after-sales, servicing is capped at a very affordable $279 per annual/15,000km visit. And insurance for under 25s won't break the bank either, which a lot of first-timers tend to overlook.
Now to the nuts and bolts.
Even two years later, the chassis remains the highlight of the Tucson. It handles with the fluency that reminds me of RWD cars such as the E36 and the Commodore. It inspires a lot of confidence with its handling, and can make even amateurs feel comfortable pushing the limits. In a FWD SUV!
You can feel all four corners working together, and you can quickly and safely ramp up the pace on a set of twisty back roads without ever feeling like you're out of control. The seat-of-the-pants feel is almost intimate, without sacrificing the suppleness of the ride quality. There is an almost Germanic feel to the chassis, yet there is also a distinct Aussie flavour as a result of the local tuning. Riding on 18s, you'd expect a firm edge to the ride, and while the car feels very planted, it's like it just wafts over the road. It's a pleasantly engaging yet cosseting experience.
Likewise the steering. Sharp, accurate and you can feel exactly how much you're turning the wheel without ever feeling artificial and gluggy. Some dislike the strong self-centering action, but I reckon it makes it feel more natural. I wish the same could be said for its brake feel. Not very linear but still very feelsome nonetheless. Folks, this is a Hyundai!
The drivetrain isn't as impressive however. It's very quick for its figures, and the economy we have been getting has been impressive. The combined ADR figure is 7.9L/100km. We have been recording mid 8s – our worst-ever figure was 9.7L/100km.
The gearshifts are almost DSG-quick, very smooth and intuitive. It's like it knows how I drive! (And I drive like a nanna) However, it lacks low-end torque, meaning stop-start traffic creates monster gaps when taking off. At least the Drive Mode options do as they say. You can feel the difference in braking, accelerating and steering. Not often do these gimmicky modes actually do what they say on the tin.
The exterior design still draws positive looks to this day, and why shouldn't it? The ladies also seem to appreciate it, so I guess it's not a bad option after all.
The interior, on the other hand, is understated but still classy. The blue lighting lifts the ambience and the artificial leather is hard-wearing and easy to clean. Fit and finish are superb for a $35K vehicle, as are the tactility and user-friendliness of the controls and interfaces. Some premium brands (Euro and Japanese) surprisingly fail to match this standard. One car even had unstitched coverings for its sunroof!
The lack of sat-nav is not a real negative as Apple CarPlay has proven to be exceptional. Once Hey Siri is calibrated, you won't even need to use the touchscreen anymore. The speakers are lacking in bass a bit, but turn up the volume and you won't notice.
It is also a very quiet place to be. On a trip to Jindabyne, the only noticeable noise was wind noise, which even then was barely perceptible at 110 clicks. The doors also close with a very solid yet soft thud. The refinement is unbelievable.
This is a car you can keep for 5–10 years. The reclining rear seats also fold flat to reveal a flat cargo area (with luggage net) and a full-sized spare wheel underneath.
Things to change? Maybe some of the fancier tech as standard, but that's just really being picky. LED tail-lights and headlights as an option would have been nice. But critically speaking, the car needs rear air vents standard on all models, not just the upper-spec variants.
All in all, the Tucson Active X has proven to be a smart buy. Not only is it practical, cheap to run and well equipped, it also offers a level of driving engagement that even some normal passenger cars cannot match.
In simple terms, it is reliable, cheap to run, fun to drive, practical, has some of the latest tech and looks good. So really, wouldn't that make it an ideal first car?