The best way to stick to a diet is to keep your kitchen free of all the junk food you would mindlessly gorge on just because it’s there. Similarly, the best way to not drive like a lunatic to Mahabaleshwar, is to take a car that isn’t exactly fun to drive.
The original plan was to take our new long-termer, the Punto Abarth, to the hills over the New Year and Republic Day weekends, but after Mrs S warned me that our cargo would include bags, potted plants, iceboxes of food, and a passenger with a tendency to throw up if you cornered anything harder than 0.1Gs, I quietly swapped the Abarth key for something that wouldn’t tempt me to go ballistic up the Ambenali ghat. And that something was the all-new Hyundai Tucson that has just joined our long-term fleet.
For me, the most exciting bit of the Tucson is the styling, which Hyundai seems to get just so right. You feel good walking up to a car that, well, looks good, and I suspect that is the main reason why half of the Tucson customers bought one. The other half would have probably bought it for its practicality and the way the Tucson packs in five people and their belongings quite easily. I was impressed with the way the large and efficiently shaped boot accommodated an assortment of luggage.
Assorted luggage and paraphernalia fit neatly in the large and well-shaped boot.
The cabin too is equally spacious and the rear seat with an adjustable backrest, in particular, is large enough to keep three adults cosy and not cramped. However, the Tucson, like most Hyundais, trades a high seating position for a sleeker roofline and as a result, you don’t get a sense of sitting in an SUV, especially at the back. The high window line and low seat base don’t give you that perched feeling and those sitting at the back do miss that extra bit of visibility you expect in an SUV.
Whilst I was taken care of with a 10-way, powered driver’s seat, my co-passenger next to me didn’t have it so good. A manually adjustable front passenger seat is acceptable but no height adjust for the low-set seat is a serious omission, especially if you’re a short person. Hyundai should offer a periscope as an accessory to peer over the high-set dash!
A 5.30am departure got us smoothly out of a sleeping Mumbai and onto the busy Mumbai-Pune Expressway, where truck traffic was pretty thick. It’s here that the Tucson’s punchy 185hp 2.0-litre diesel played its part by serving up a thick slug of torque to slingshot past slow-moving vehicles. The Tucson is also a happy cruiser, the tall sixth gear equating a relaxed 1,800rpm at 100kph. However, the auto gearbox isn’t as responsive as the one in the Elantra and there’s a slight delay before it kicks down. Also, it’s best to select the Sport mode which holds on to a gear more tenaciously than the ‘Normal’ mode where the transmission has an irritating tendency to shift up a bit too eagerly, in the interest of fuel economy. Speaking of which, the Tucson delivered a very acceptable 11.4kpl over the 250km drive to Mahabaleshwar, which involved a fair bit of hard overtaking on the single-lane NH17 and a twisty 40km ghat.
Strong mid-range is a potent tool for highway use.
Branching off the expressway, onto SH92 to Pali, is a shortcut to NH17 that not many are aware of. As a result, there’s hardly any traffic, which lets you enjoy this delightfully windy and undulating 40km stretch that cuts through reserved forest land. But the Tucson is a bit of a dampener. It’s too softly sprung, especially at the rear, and it pitches uncomfortably over crests and dips. Some of the badly rutted and potholed sections on the drive exposed another of the Tucson’s weaknesses – a lack of sufficient wheel travel which the soft suspension often used up to hit the bump stops with a thud.
The Tucson isn’t a great car to corner hard either. The steering, though well-weighted and accurate, isn’t very quick or responsive, but the real killjoy is the way the nose-heavy Tucson understeers. It was best to drive in ‘family mode’ and ease the Tucson around the hairpins rather than barrel through them, which kept everyone in the car, except me, happy.
The return journey was on the longer but more relaxed (and boring) NH4 via Pune. It was also the Tucson’s natural habitat – the dual carriageway, long straights and smooth roads that play to this comfortable soft-roader’s strengths. It’s just that it’s a little too soft for me.