2016 Hyundai Tucson review, road test

31st Jan 2017 7:00 am

Hyundai focuses on style, refinement and comfort for its third-generation Tucson.

  • Make : Hyundai
  • Model : Tucson

A crucial gap in Hyundai’s vast model range, between the hugely popular Creta and the flagship Santa Fe, was plugged with the launch of the Tucson. It also marked the return of the model to India after a gap of six years. Back in 2005, Hyundai introduced the first-generation Tucson, but it failed to find success, despite being the only diesel soft-roader around. Probably smarting from that failure, Hyundai didn’t bring in the second-generation model. Back then, the Tucson was costlier than the CR-V, and the Hyundai badge didn’t carry the same weight as a Honda. However, times have changed now, and how. The Hyundai brand is stronger than it’s ever been and SUVs are all the rage in our market. Also, with the success of the Creta, Hyundai is seen as a credible SUV manufacturer. So, there couldn’t have been a better time to bring back the Tucson. But will Hyundai’s mid-size premium SUV get traction this time around? 

The Tucson infotainment system is similar to the Elantra unit. The 8.0-inch touchscreen is quite responsive to touch and also has buttons and dials for many of its functions. The unit has navigation functionality and boasts impressive connectivity options like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with Bluetooth, USB and Aux-in. The Arkamys Sound Mood software is capable of simulating certain listening environments as well. There are four speakers and two tweeters but they aren’t the best sounding units and a few owners may feel the need to upgrade. Overall, however, the Tucson’s AVN system is one of the better units we have seen.

The Tucson sports the company’s Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 design and is embellished with a number of family design elements. The front is dominated by the now-familiar large hexagonal grille flanked by the high-set, narrow headlamp units. Below the grille is a prominent horizontal line running across the width of the car, splitting the fog lamps and the daytime-running lights. On to the side, there’s the window line that sharply rises towards the rear as seen on other Hyundais. This familiar design treatment prevails at the back too, with horizontal tail-lamp units split across the tailgate and rear fender.

The Tucson shares its platform with the Elantra, the international i30 and the Kia Sportage, so you know it’s made for a wide variety of global markets. With each successive generation Hyundai has made large improvements and this holds true for the third-gen Tucson too. The monocoque now uses 51 percent advanced high-strength steel compared to the previous generation’s 18 percent; there is also a large use of structural adhesives at high-stress points. All of this makes the body a lot more rigid and that improves the crash worthiness and refinement levels, and also allows the suspension to work better. The Tucson uses McPherson struts at the front and a multi-link coil sprung at the rear. The platform has both a two-wheel-drive and a four-wheel-drive layout. India, however, will have to make do with the two-wheel drive for now.

The slick, Santa Fe-like exterior of the Tucson raises your expectations about the cabin. But instead, what you step into is a cabin that’s a lot similar to the Creta’s. This is a tad disappointing because those upgrading from a Creta (and there will be quite a few) would have expected the interior to be different.

The two-tone, black-and-beige dashboard is clean and functional with plastic quality that’s just about average for a car at this price. Taking centre stage is a large 8.0-inch touchscreen (similar to the Elantra) that’s responsive to touch and quite a delight to use. Another plus is the presence of physical knobs and dials for a few frequently used functions; so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road when using the screen. The unit has a navigation system too, but most users will simply opt to use Google Maps instead, thanks to Android Auto compatibility. The unit also works nicely with Apple CarPlay and has all the expected connectivity options of Bluetooth, Aux-in and USB. The six-speaker sound system is really impressive and the Arkamys Sound Mood software has some neat sound modes like Live, Lounge, Club and Natural; only audiophiles would consider a speaker upgrade. The instrumentation consists of neat twin dials flanking a 4.2-inch colour screen that displays the trip computer and other information. Below the controls for the dual-zone HVAC system sit two power sockets and one USB port, but we think it would have been better the other way around. When it comes to USB slots in today’s times, the more the merrier. Interestingly, the top-spec diesel GLS variant gets a handy electric parking brake which frees up space on the floor console for an extra cubbyhole and a larger centre console box. The diesel GLS also gets an Auto Hold function; there’s a green light on the instrument cluster to tell you when it’s active.  

The Tucson’s interior is very comfortable. Leather wraps the multi-function steering wheel, the transmission knob and the armrests, and on the two top-spec cars, the seats too. The front seats are wide and the cushioning feels plush with generous side and under-thigh bolstering. The driver’s seat gets a 10-way power-adjustable function, but misses out on the cooling function. It also loses out on a crucial feature and that’s a sunroof – something buyers in this segment seem to really want. Hyundai, however, is aware of this and will offer this as an option in the AWD variant due for launch in April.

Legroom is very impressive, especially at the rear. The rear seats also recline a fair amount making this quite a comfy place to be in. The only issue here is the rather low-set seats that limit your view outside, thanks to the rising window line, and make you feel a bit cooped up. But giving you respite is the light colour used in the cabin, which lends a feeling of airiness.
The boot is spacious at 513 litres and the rear seats can split 60:40 in case you need to carry more luggage. The removable parcel tray position can be adjusted to suit the recline angle of the seats. However, the automatic tailgate-opening function, like on the Elantra, is the Tucson’s best party trick. Stand close to the boot with the key fob on you and the tailgate pops open automatically; very useful when you have your hands full. We did try this out and while it did work well, there were a few times the tailgate didn’t quite rise to the occasion, and we waited patiently looking a bit silly! There is also a button to limit the opening height of the tailgate, which is helpful when you have a low-ceiling garage.

On the safety front, ABS and EBD are standard on all cars, while the top trim further gets electronic aids like electronic stability control, hill start and brake assist along with downhill brake control. The automatic variants get six airbags, while the manual gets just two. A rear parking camera and sensors are offered too, with the top two trims getting the addition of front sensors.

The Tucson, which is based on the same platform as the Elantra, shares the same powertrains with its sedan sibling. The 1,999cc ‘NU’ petrol engine comes with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. However, the power output of 155hp at 6,200rpm is a marginal 3hp more than the sedan’s, but this doesn’t translate into better performance and is, in fact, quite the opposite. Weighing 1,514kg, the Tucson’s performance is blunted, compared to the very responsive and quicker Elantra which is 176kg lighter. A more appropriate comparison would be with the only other petrol SUV in this segment – the Honda CR-V, for which the Tucson is no match when it comes to power and performance.

The petrol Tucson is quite refined and feels adequately powered for everyday driving but the torque converter-driven automatic transmission does keep shifting to keep the momentum going. This engine is reasonably responsive when moving from a standstill, but press down further and you’ll discover a pretty gutless mid-range. It’s only past 3,000rpm that the engine really wakes up. Sport mode livens things up and the transmission holds onto revs, unlike in Eco mode where it’s quick to upshift. Downshifts, however, are pretty instantaneous, irrespective of the mode.

To squeeze the most out of this engine you will have to visit the 6,500rpm redline frequently – that isn’t much fun as the engine feels strained at high revs. Performance isn’t effortless, and if you’re in a hurry you end up using Sport mode most of the time and tend to rev the engine quite a bit. But this, of course, kills fuel efficiency. Flat-out performance is decent, with the dash to 100kph coming up in 11.57sec. It’s just that on part throttle or in real-world driving conditions the flat power delivery leaves you wanting more. 

From the engine options, the diesel engine is the one to go for – not just for the lighter fuel bills but also for the superior performance on offer. In our tests, the diesel AT breached the 100kph mark from 0 in a brisk 9.48sec; that’s over 2 seconds quicker than the petrol AT. The diesel is a new unit in Hyundai’s line-up and the ‘R’ 1,995cc engine makes 185hp at 4,000rpm. Torque too, is a healthy 400Nm at 1,750-2,750rpm, which is more than twice of what the petrol unit generates. This engine has a wide power band and is fairly rev happy for a diesel, but what really stands out is its punchy mid-range. Riding the tall wave of torque, overtaking is effortless and that makes the Tucson a superb highway muncher. The tall gearing allows for easy cruising and the engine has enough grunt to step up the pace without the need for constant downshifting.

The transmission offers smooth and quick shifts but it does hesitate at times, and coupled with the slightly peaky nature of the engine power delivery is more spikey than progressive. You also miss having paddle shifters, especially on a hill road when you want to be in the right gear at the right time. Sport mode, however, does sort this out to some extent, but this transmission never lets you feel fully in control. Though pretty refined for a diesel, it does get gruff at high revs.

The finely judged balance between ride and handling is a black art which Hyundai hasn’t quite mastered yet. But to give credit where it’s due, the carmaker has made great strides in this area. Driving dynamics are no longer a weakness but there’s still some way to go before a Hyundai can be called ‘fun-to-drive.’ As for the Tucson, we can at best term it ‘easy-to-drive.’ The steering is quite light in Eco and the tight turning circle makes the Tucson city-friendly. It’s a softly sprung car, so compliance is pretty good. It doesn’t thud over bumps and potholes and isolates passengers fairly well, but the low-speed ride is a bit fidgety, especially on the heavier diesel and there’s constant movement felt on uneven roads. At highway speeds, the Tucson is pretty stable and inspires confidence.

The steering is fairly quick and feels nicely connected to the road. This is a step up from earlier Hyundais that felt a bit too disconnected, and there’s a bit of extra weight too. It’s just that the slight vagueness when pointing straight ahead is still there and it doesn’t weigh up consistently either.

Also, the Tucson’s soft setup means that on an uneven surface it pitches up and down a fair bit. Push the nose-heavy Tucson hard and it will understeer strongly, although body roll is quite controlled, and it feels more like a tall hatchback than an SUV.

However, the hunkered-down stance of the Tucson has compromised its off-road credentials. It’s not the absence of 4x4, but rather the poor angle of the approach (the protruding chin can get perilously close to the ground whilst off-roading) and the limited wheel travel that makes it easy to hit the bump stops with a jarring thud on a dirt trail.

The brakes, however, are superb with a very progressive feel and immense stopping power.

It’s no surprise that the petrol Tucson has poor fuel efficiency. The weight does have an impact and it returned a figure of just 7kpl in the city and 11.8kpl on the highway. The petrol engine’s efficiency is sensitive to driving styles and if you ‘light-foot’ it, you can squeeze out a few more kpl. The diesel Tucson is expectedly the more efficient of the two, returning 10.35kpl in the city and 12.7kpl on the highway. Both cars were tested in Eco mode. 

The Tucson infotainment system is similar to the Elantra unit. The 8.0-inch touchscreen is quite responsive to touch and also has buttons and dials for many of its functions. The unit has navigation functionality and boasts impressive connectivity options like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with Bluetooth, USB and Aux-in. The Arkamys Sound Mood software is capable of simulating certain listening environments as well. There are four speakers and two tweeters but they aren’t the best sounding units and a few owners may feel the need to upgrade. Overall, however, the Tucson’s AVN system is one of the better units we have seen.

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