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HYUNDAI has already hit the popularity jackpot with the striking Tucson. But with newly hatched sweeteners like a direct-injection heart transplant for 2017, what’s holding the medium SUV from Korea’s biggest brand back from challenging the class order?
That engine first. Ousting the old 114kW/192Nm 2.0-litre ‘MPI’ multi-point injection unit that still serves in the closely related Kia Sportage, the 121kW/203Nm direct-injection ‘GDI’ version’s incremental improvements translate to slightly stronger performance and significantly improved refinement in the upper rev band. The result is a robust slogger, supported by a well-tuned six-speed torque-converter auto.
So imagine our surprise when almost nothing separated the latest Tucson from its lesser-engined Sportage equivalent at the strip, with the Kia matching the Hyundai to 400 metres and actually pipping its cousin to 100km/h. The GDI’s advantage only becomes evident at higher speeds (and revs), though its half a litre fuel consumption saving would certainly be appreciated in the hip-pocket.
Tuned for Australian conditions, the Tucson’s chassis is defined by its neutral balance and confident control. Keener drivers will prefer more steering weight and crisper feel – something the rather numb Sport mode attempts to address – but the differences between the two settings aren’t that clear-cut.
A downside to Hyundai’s sporty tuning is a propensity for steering-rack rattle through bumpier corners, while the Active X’s standard 18-inch rubber results in a relatively firm (though still adequately absorbent) ride quality. You can hear more than feel the hardware beavering away down there, though, pleasingly, the engineers have managed to effectively contain road and tyre noise intrusion.
The interior, too, is largely successful in execution, with ample levels of passenger space in both rows, commendable forward vision and a simple dashboard that requires no mastery whatsoever.
As with the engine and dynamics, however, there is room for improvement. For starters, the fascia’s layout is probably too elementary in this day and age. There is very little that’s sophisticated or interesting inside the Tucson (bar the lovely and clear instruments). Time for a fresh design approach, Hyundai.
More pressingly, the driver’s cushion is a little low on support, and yet ironically the seat itself can’t be adjusted quite low enough for some folk.
Out back, you don’t have to be tall to realise that the rear seat’s entry and egress are hampered by the low roof line and coupe-like door cut-out (especially compared to the Sportage’s almost parallelogram-shaped aperture).
Yet once inside, most people will appreciate just how roomy and practical the Tucson is, with a cushion that’s nicely padded for optimum comfort, plenty of backrest angle adjustability, armrests sited exactly where they’re needed, and lots of room for feet underneath the front seats.
You’d never call the Active X meanly specified, with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, rear camera with sensors, and electric folding mirrors included. But, again, there are anomalies, especially compared to the Sportage – such as only one auto up/down window (driver’s side), absent rear air vents, no 12V or USB outlets in the back, and of course a five-year warranty (like the Mitsubishi) instead of Kia’s seven years.
Ultimately, the more complete Sportage showed up the Tucson by offering essentially the same medium SUV in a more persuasive, more sophisticated, and better-equipped package. So while the big-selling Tucson improves in a number of small ways for 2017, all-round completeness continues to elude it.
Model: 2018 Hyundai Tucson Active X
Engine: 1999cc 4cyl, sohc, 16v
Max Power: 121kW @ 6200rpm
Max Torque: 203Nm @ 4700rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 10.7L/100km (tested)
On sale: Now
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