WHILE many car makers scramble to make underperforming and ageing models appealing, Hyundai is faced with the opposite problem when it comes to the Tucson.
Even though the mid-sized SUV was introduced three years ago, its popularity has defied almost all new model trends and continues to attract 1500 new customers each month.
A ‘mid-life’ update is probably a little late if the model is locked onto the company’s typical five-year lifecycle, but any changes must be carefully planned to avoid knocking the strong performer out of its orbit as one of Australia’s favourite cars.
WHAT IS IT?
A mildly updated version of the popular Hyundai Tucson with a light exterior and interior refresh. Overall pricing has crept upwards but the extra cash brings a revised chassis tune, upgraded interior features and a new eight-speed auto for the diesel.
From launch, the mid-range Active X was only available with petrol power but it too now has a diesel offering, while a renaming of the entry-level Active to Go is the only other significant range reshuffle.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
Hyundai appears to have nailed the mid-sized SUV recipe if the Tucson’s local reception is any gauge so our focus will be on the relatively small changes for this 2019 update.
An upgraded information and entertainment system, revised chassis and new transmission need to boost perceived value without upsetting the apple cart, if strong sales are to continue for another two or more years.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
REALISTICALLY, Hyundai didn’t need to do a lot to maintain the Tucson’s momentum. That’s not to say there is a single car brand that can afford to be complacent in Australia’s fearsomely competitive market, but the SUV has aged well over three years and showed no signs of losing attention.
However, a little slap and tech appears to suggest Hyundai is not resting on its laurels.
The entry-level Go model is probably the version that fleet managers and government agencies will buy for someone else to drive. While the excellent turbo petrol, seven-speed Tucson is still easy to recommend, the addition of an eight-speed auto has elevated the diesel variant to the top of the pack if you can stretch the budget.
PLUS: Sweet turbo engines; superb eight-speed auto; cabin space and finish
MINUS: Wheezy atmo petrol; safety is extra for entry variants; no navigation for Go is ironic
THE WHEELS REVIEW
IT WAS a dark day when the Carlton United Brewery lowered the strength of Victoria Bitter to a measly 4.6 percent and I’m not embarrassed to admit that, for a few months in 2012, my fridge was stocked with something brewed in Adelaide. But I was not the only disgruntled stomach-guided liquid-bread enthusiast and after sales of the iconic brew dropped off a cliff, the company bowed to consumer pressure and reinstated the original hearty octane rating of 4.9 percent.
Thankfully though, no one had to paraphrase a well-known adage and inform Hyundai that, if something isn’t broken, it’s usually a bad idea to try and fix it – precisely the reason the 2019 Tucson mid-sized SUV update has been kept deliberately mild. It might have launched three years ago, but sales have hardly faltered after a strong start, with a very healthy 11,770 registrations to the end of July, ranking it as the fourth most popular vehicle in its class this year.
On the outside, a front-end nip-and-tuck has introduced the company’s ‘cascading grille’ to the model, flanked by redesigned headlights and it’s a similar treatment at the tail with a more lozenge-like light lenses. Re-sculpted tailgate and side graphics are blink-and-you’ll-miss-it changes.
You won’t fail to notice a new central ‘tablet’ type touchscreen however, which highlights an interior update and maintains linearity with the all-new Santa Fe big SUV sister. Even the smallest 7.0-inch unit gives the dash a real lift and brings some compelling features including smartphone mirroring, while the 8.0-inch version is the business with navigation among other extras. Both screens are fast and intuitive to navigate.
As you might expect, hubcaps, a plastic steering wheel and cloth seats in the entry version are reminders that you spent less, while a choice of leather upholstery colours with heating that extends to the steering wheel are calling cards of the top-end Highlander. In all cabins though, the Tucson is roomy, light and well screwed together.
But the big 2019 changes come in the form of a suspension retune in the name of better NVH and a new transmission bolted to diesel versions.
There’s still a bit of roar on coarse surfaces but the Tucson has a road manner that is easy to live with and a ride that recovers well over even punishing surfaces. The front driver is a little lacklustre in handling and performance when coupled to a six-speed auto and the 122kW/205Nm petrol. As before the unchanged 1.6-litre turbo is a livelier pick with 130kW/265Nm and a seven-speed dual-clutch and AWD, but the diesel is now the real star.
It gets a new eight-speed auto that is sophisticated and bunches the ratios tightly. The new box makes the very best of the smooth and quiet diesel for energetic acceleration coupled with all-wheel drive for confidence, even on cold and damp Victorian roads.
If the Tucson range was found in the fridge section of your local bottle shop, the entry-level Go would be sold by the slab; 24 cans of SUV at a price you won’t flinch at. Spend a little more however, and the Elite and Highlander versions represent something you’ll savour and enjoy.
As before, the more affordable Tucson variants continue to offer a benign package of value and practicality that will appeal to the budget or fleet buyer. But with the strong 1.6-litre turbo, the addition of the superb eight-speed auto with diesel combo, and a tech update, the more premium end of the line-up is very much a full strength proposition.
2019 HYUNDAI TUCSON CRDi ELITE SPECS
Model: Hyundai Tucson 2.0 CRDi Elite
Engine: 1995cc 4cyl, dohc,16v, turbo
Max power: 136kW @ 4000rpm
Max torque: 400Nm @1750-2750rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
On sale: Now
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