The Hyundai Tucson arrives in Australia to replace the already successful ix35 as the right car at the right time, with mid-size SUVs – think Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Jeep Cherokee – now the second-largest segment in Australia.
WHAT IS IT
A bigger, wider, roomier and classier – both in looks and feel – smallish soft-roader from Hyundai, which sold loads of the previous ix35 despite it not being entirely wonderful. The Tucson is yet another solid step ahead for the big Korean, which is doing some great work in the area of perceived quality, as well as ride and handling thanks to a big investment in local tuning.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
It’s going to appeal to about 140,000 customers in Australia because that’s how many medium SUVs will be sold here this year alone, and we’re keen to see how much has changed, beyond the ‘new’ nameplate (a decision foisted on the local office by Korea, which wanted one name for the car globally).
Mazda’s CX-5 is the market leader and sets out its stall convincingly with stylish design and a quality-feeling interior, while the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Jeep Cherokee and even Subaru Forester will also be on buyers’ radars. The Tucson looks good enough to challenge them all.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
From the new, nicer-smelling, roomier interior to the way it feels in your hands and through your hips around corners, this is a better, more expensive-feeling soft-roader than the Hyundai ix35 it replaces. It’s no longer rough around the edges, although choosing the right engine and gearbox makes a difference to how impressed you’ll be (the new 1.6 turbo with the seven-speed DCT is the sweet spot). It’s also the first production Hyundai to have had Peter Schreyer’s hands on it from day one, so it looks sharp.
PLUS: Improved design; more cabin room; strong new 1.6 turbo; locally tuned ride and handling; better steering; improved quality feel.
MINUS: The base 2.0-litre feels asthmatic and outdated compared to other offerings in the range; no leather in Elite spec a strange choice.
THE WHEELS REVIEW
IF YOU were a big fan of Hyundai’s dinky ix35 soft-roader, and thousands of you were, then we’ve got some bad news; your car no longer exists.
Well, don’t rush outside looking for it; what we mean is the badge is gone, replaced by the global nameplate Tucson, and the new version has grown so much (65mm longer, 30mm wider, 5mm higher, with a 30mm longer wheelbase) it’s now classified as a medium-size rather than small SUV.
Hyundai has no plans for a new entry-level tall boy, so you just need to accept that it’s time to grow upwards, and outwards, just as our TV and mobile screens have.
Mid-size SUVs are what everyone wants to buy anyway, with the segment now the second-largest in Australia – behind i30-sized small cars – and on track to break 140,000 units in 2015.
The good news is that the Tucson is bigger and better inside, with a roof lining that’s more premium, better plastics, more legroom and shoulder room front and rear, and an ambience (and smell) that’s a good step up from the cheap Hyundais of old. The rear seats are genuinely comfortable enough for adults to undertake long distances, and they get their own air vents.
Boot size is up 42 litres and the Tucson boasts a Smart Power Tailgate that opens automatically when you approach it “with purpose” and with the Smart Key in your pocket. We weren’t Smart enough to make it work, sadly.
Hyundai also claims to have re-engineered the door mechanisms for a “deeper, more solid thunk”.
The exterior design is smoother, or more fluid as the company’s design guru Peter Schreyer would say – this is the first production Hyundai overseen entirely by the master crayon wielder of Audi TT fame – and its bigger proportions give it more presence as well.
That feeling of heft carries over into the way the Tucson steers, handles and rides. The local Hyundai boffins have gone to almost alarming lengths to tune the car for Australian conditions, flying in experts from France and building and testing 162 different dampers.
The result is a toddler (it’s not a baby any more) SUV that tracks well over rough roads and even badly broken bush tracks with ease and can also handle being thrown at a demanding corner on a winding country road. The steering, in particular, is a vast improvement from anaesthetised Korean efforts of old.
Choose the mid-range Elite ($38,240) and you get a 1.6-litre turbo from the Veloster SR, which replaces the ix35’s 2.4-litre unit and offers an entertaining 130kW and 265Nm through a smooth seven-speed DCT. It’s provides an effortless and quality feeling on winding back roads and may even take the fight to the market-leading Mazda CX-5.
The package that Hyundai believes more than a third of Tucson owners will choose, though, is the 2WD ActiveX, which costs $30,490 in manual or $32,990 for the six-speed automatic we drove. It’s a good package for the money with leather seats, an Apple CarPlay-compatible seven-inch screen and plenty of safety fruit, but has the bigger, older-tech 2.0-litre GDi. It makes 121kW and 203Nm, and both engine and gearbox feel and sound like they’re working much harder in this spec.
There are plenty more choices, though, with Hyundai offering a slightly baffling range of four engines, three transmissions and two drive combinations.
The base 2WD Active ($27,990) doesn’t arrive until September and will more often sell at $30,490 with a six-speed auto attached to its 2.0-litre MPi engine (no specs yet).
The range-topping AWD Highlander can cop the 1.6T ($43,490) or a 2.0-litre CRDi diesel with 136kW and 400Nm ($45,490).
Hyundai’s commendable focus on refinement and Japan-matching quality and driver involvement continues apace with the new Tucson, and it should sell even better than the hugely popular, and now defunct, ix35.
Model: Hyundai Tuscon 1.6 T-GD Elite
Engine: 1591cc in-line 4, dohc, 16v, turbocharged
Max power: 130kW @ 5500rpm
Max torque: 265Nm @ 1500-4500rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch
Fuel economy: 7.7L/100km
On sale: Now