Remember the first Hyundai Tucson? You probably won’t. It went away as quietly as it came and in the five years it was around, Hyundai managed to sell only a piffling 1,810 units. The Tucson was one of Hyundai’s rare flops, not because most people struggled to pronounce the name right (it’s not ‘Tuck-son’ but ‘Too-sawn’ after the city in Arizona) but because it was the right product at the wrong time and possibly at the wrong price. The Tucson, the only diesel soft-roader when it was launched in 2005, had a lot going for it, but it was up against the marginally cheaper Honda CR-V. That was also an age when customers thought it silly to pay Honda-money for a Hyundai, even if it had a diesel advantage. And back then, with petrol at Rs 40-45 litre, diesel wasn’t such a big deal.
Disheartened by the Tucson’s failure, Hyundai didn’t bother to bring in its successor, the second-generation Tucson also known as the ix35 in many markets. But now, after skipping a generation, Hyundai is all set to bring the Tucson back to India. Why the change of heart? It’s more like a change of times. A bold, confident and aggressive Hyundai is no longer on the back foot and is, in fact, making deep inroads into the upper reaches of the market which once eluded it. The timing of the Tucson’s launch is also perfect. The runaway success of the Creta and the skew in demand for the more expensive variants have proved there’s an appetite for premium SUVs and the Tucson is well placed to catch the spillover of customers looking for something even more premium. The Tucson also neatly fills the gap between the Santa Fe and the Creta to complete Hyundai’s SUV portfolio and further cash in on the SUV craze, which is showing no signs of cooling off. And, the fantastic response at the Auto Expo was the last bit of validation Hyundai needed, to give the Tucson a green light. So, will it be second-time lucky?
No doubt, it’s a much more competitive landscape now with everyone and their uncle swarming in with SUVs. But interestingly, the Tucson has found a sliver of the SUV market, the Rs 17-22 lakh band, all to itself. True, SUVs like the Endeavour and Fortuner are formidable rivals but none of them are soft-roaders or as urban-centric as the Tucson and this makes it unique. The Tucson’s first true direct rival will be the VW Tiguan but that’s not coming until mid-2017. So, can the Tucson make the most of this free run?
On the face of it
Compared to the first Tucson, it’s hard to believe that the all-new model, launched internationally in 2015, comes from the same planet, let alone the same car company. They may be just two life cycles apart but the difference feels like light years and is a solid example of Hyundai’s meteoric progress, especially in the area of design.
The Tucson is unmistakably a Hyundai and wears with confidence the latest evolution of the company’s ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ design language. It’s a flowing shape full of curves and strong design elements like the massive three-slat grille, stretched headlights, strong shoulder line and big wheel arches. The rear end is also very rounded and the small, sharply raked rear glass makes it look more crossover than pure SUV. The slim and long tail-lights which stretch into the tailgate look superb and typically Hyundai too. In fact, the family resemblance to both the Creta and Santa Fe is clearly there and in terms of length, it sits almost equidistant between the two. However, the Tucson looks much more like a shrunken Santa Fe than a grown-up Creta. It shares more design cues with its larger siblings, like the rising window line which sharply kinks upwards with the rear quarter glass. Getting a car’s proportions spot on is possibly the most difficult thing for a designer and Hyundai has once again nailed it with the Tucson which, sitting on 17-inch alloys, looks so well balanced.
The interior design feels rather subdued after the Tucson’s flashy exterior and it’s obvious that Hyundai has prioritised function over form and there’s a sense of blandness in the cabin. In fact, the dashboard, in this instance, looks closer to the Creta than the Santa Fe. There’s a familiar two-tone design with a distinct separation between the infotainment and air-con control units. The touchscreen sits high up and is closely flanked by wing-shaped air vents – all Hyundai cues. Below the pod for the air-con unit below sit all the power sockets (two 12V, one USB, one aux) and under that is a spacious cubby hole – it’s the same logical layout you have in the Creta. The instruments too are simple and easy to read with a small screen in between. The four-spoke steering is again familiar with buttons that are shared with the Creta.
The quality of materials is a clear step up from the Creta with the extensive use of soft-touch plastics. The double-stitched leather seats too feel premium and like most Hyundais, the Tucson too is well equipped. Our test car in the UK came with all the bells and whistles including electrically adjustable seats, autonomous emergency braking and six airbags. The features list for the India-spec Tucson is still not confirmed, but going by Hyundai’s track record, it will be fully loaded.
Passenger room is quite generous in the Tucson and again, the space on offer is closer to the Santa Fe’s. But unlike the Santa Fe, there’s no third row in the Tucson, which allows second row seating to be optimised. What this means is that there is more than enough width, legroom and headroom for five average-sized adults to get genuinely comfortable. All the seats are high set and the visibility out of the cabin, except in the rear three-quarter area, is pretty good. Boot space, again, is very generous and the seats can be flipped down to accommodate more.
The Hyundai’s 2.0-litre diesel puts out 136hp and 373Nm of torque. These are pretty modest figures, which translate to adequate performance at best. The engine is pretty refined and delivers a smooth power delivery. There’s not much turbo lag and the Tucson pulls quite cleanly and strongly from low revs but what you miss is the sudden rush of power you expect in the mid-range. This lack of punch is a bit disappointing and I found myself working the smooth-shifting six-speed gearbox excessively to extract the most out of the engine on empty English country roads. The good thing is that gear ratios are intelligently spaced out and each upshift lands the tacho needle bang in the meat of the power band for you to make the most of what the engine delivers. The clutch is quite progressive and light by SUV standards, which took the sting out of driving in London’s daunting rush-hour traffic. For the Indian market, in addition to the six-speed manual, the Tucson will also come with an automatic, and this could be a six-speed unit. Unlike the Creta, the Tucson also gets a four-wheel-drive option but it’s unlikely Hyundai will bring this version initially as Indian customers wouldn’t want to pay extra for 4x4 hardware.
The Tucson is a superb motorway cruiser, loping along effortlessly in sixth gear at the 110kph speed limit, with enough grunt for gentle overtakes. On Indian single-lane highways, I suspect a bit more overtaking power would come in handy to dodge oncoming cars.
The Tucson is built on a brand-new chassis with a high level of rigidity. Overall body control is pretty good, despite the suspension set up on the softer side. The supple ride easily dealt with the odd bits of broken tarmac or sharp edges I experienced and in fact, ride comfort is one of the Tucson’s biggest strengths. Even on undulating country roads, the ride is fairly flat thanks to well-judged damping, which keeps oscillations in check, especially on the suspension rebound.
Show the Tucson a set of corners and it’s clear that this isn’t an SUV that likes to be hustled. Body roll is pretty well contained but the Tucson isn’t eager to switch direction and steering feel too, is a bit numb. The Flex Steer system, which alters the steering weight makes the steering heavier at speed but doesn’t improve the feel. Also, there’s a bit of a wooly, dead zone around the straight-ahead position, which is typically Hyundai and this robs the steering feel of consistency.
The Tucson is clearly not a car for the keener driver and it doesn’t have the dynamic verve of say, the CR-V. But what it does offer is a good level of luxury, refinement and feel-good factor. That a Hyundai could deliver on these fronts was unheard of when the first Tucson was launched. It’s obviously a bit more expensive this time round too. The Tucson will come to India this October at an estimate price between Rs 17 lakh and Rs 22 lakh, the Tucson is clearly for those who want a bit more than the Creta and are ready to spend for it.