On the Road Review: Hyundai Tucson Limited

You might not be able to see them yet, but you will soon. I’m talking about the bruises on Jeep, Nissan, Honda, Mazda and other automakers as this latest Hyundai Tucson elbows its way into a larger slice of the compact crossover market. Abandon everything you know, or knew, about the previous Tucson; this is one very impressive new vehicle.

Practically everything has been changed. The chassis is longer, wider and wears new components that work better. The steering is stiffer, more ingrained into the car’s behavior. The body is longer, over 3 inches, so the interior offers more passenger and cargo space. One of the available engines is all new. The premium transmission — a new dual-clutch seven-speed automatic, a segment first — is all new. There is more safety gear, more creature comforts, plus greater fuel efficiency. In addition, the styling is totally revised. You could say that this car is really, finally, an all-new model top to bottom.

Now almost exactly the same size as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, as well as the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Lexus NX, the latest Tucson comes in four flavors — SE, Eco, Sport and Limited. Front drive remains standard, while an enhanced AWD system with a console locking button for continuous 4WD traction and downhill descent control is available. Our Limited sample was so equipped.

A 2.0-liter 164-hp four powers base SE models, teamed with a 6-speed automatic. Our Limited featured the new 1.6-liter Gamma-series Turbocharged four-cylinder engine that spins out 175 hp and a robust 195 pound/feet of peak torque. This motor comes only with the sweet seven-speed dual clutch DCT transmission. It works superbly and gives the Tucson driving flair unimaginable in the CR-V, RAV4 or Forester.

In fact, this latest Tucson doesn’t feel like a Hyundai at all. This latest crossover often made me think I was driving a crossover from Germany, not Korea. The direct driving feel, the composed ride dynamics and the fluid handling all shout “German.” Add the dual-clutch providing swift, seamless gear changes, plus the stout performance of the turbo-engine — never downshifting on long grades with cruise control engaged, never — well, it left me thinking this is the crossover VW needs but does not build.

That point is truly relevant, about the highway downshifting. Recent samples of many vehicles cannot maintain a selected highway pace without consistent and often obnoxious series of transmission downshifts when cruise control is employed. Next week’s review vehicle is a large offender; equipped with double the engine size, the Toyota Tacoma cannot hold high gear and makes, often, multiple downshifts to conquer the slightest grade. No matter how well executed, this is an annoying trait.

The only offset to this is that buyers will find a slight hesitation on the seven-speed’s initial take-off reaction. This is evident in VW and Mercedes versions, too, and more noticeable when the vehicle is cold, when you first start out in the morning. After that, the DCT works perfectly, snapping off crisp shifts and helping the Tucson deliver impressive mid-range punch whenever requested.

The engine changes not only improve the Tucson’s driving dynamics, markedly, but also increase fuel economy. Our realized mileage reached 27.7-mpg for a high-mileage week — just a tick below the EPA’s highway rating of 28 mpg. Overall, the AWD 1.6T Tucson earns 24/28/26-mpg ratings; front-drive models of this engine reach 31-mpg, while the base 2.0-liter motor earns 33-mpg numbers.

When I first saw samples of the new Tucson, the new styling proved to be alluring — and a big departure from the relatively staid look of the previous wagon. Borrowing the same Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 design theme used on the Genesis premium sedan, the third generation Tucson appears more like a 4/5ths scale Santa Fe — with better proportions. New paint choices, new wheels, and distinctive lines all over create a handsome new crossover that has real design flair — a presence that it previously lacked. Augmented with LED lighting all around, (optional HID headlamps look around corners when you turn the steering wheel) the Tucson really does have a decidedly Euro-look to it.

That is no accident; Hyundai will be marketing this breakthrough crossover in Europe as well as here. This Tucson is positioned to take sales from many competitors. Of course, that may not be necessary, as crossover sales continue to expand at an elevated pace.

South of Denmark, in Maine, Route 117 dips, turns and swings back and forth like a coiling snake and invites drivers to press the pace. Like other western Maine roads, 219 and 140 are similar, the rural surroundings and peaceful scenery encourages a certain exuberance. The Tucson no longer shies away from this pursuit, as Hyundai’s engineers might have stopped short of making a sport crossover, but they certainly gave this newer model more competence, and composure, than the outgoing Tucson.

Steering feel, chassis dynamics and the overall feel of the Tucson is markedly improved. It may be a crossover wagon, but the new Tucson won’t make you think that you are driving a tall sedan — the improved view, the security of AWD, and the higher stance just make it appear that way. Sometimes you can recognize “good feel” but can’t put your finger on it, or adequately describe it. The latest Tucson has that “feel.”

This enviable trait is also apparent inside, as the Limited trim exposes buyers to a premium cabin that would do Audi proud — which really isn’t a stretch, because Hyundai/Kia design chief Peter Schreyer used to work at Audi. New soft-touch surfaces and fluid motion dials, buttons, levers and controls all leave positive impressions. Heated and cooled leather seating up front: premium. Heated leather rear seats: unexpected. Pandora, Yelp, and Apple’s Siri Eyes Free integration in your larger, clearer navigation screen: a bonus. These little details abound in the Tucson and demonstrate a larger effort to make this car standout in a crowded field.

Limited trim also brings a keyless ignition system, a massive dual-panel Panoramic sunroof, plus a larger dual-level cargo space that has retention hooks, a sliding shade, plus a larger liftgate that can operate automatically when it senses the presence of the owner with his/her keyfob waiting for an entrance.

We all expect driving aids in today’s latest cars, and the Tucson doesn’t disappoint. Automatic forward braking, lane departure warning, blind-spot detection, rear parking assist and more all assist the driver. Never once were any of these systems as intrusive as on our recent Subaru or Volvo vehicles so equipped, proving that there is some special sauce programming to make these systems driving aids, not electronic take-over-the-car-like-a-robot nuisances.

Packed with four hikers, everyone had plenty of space. The Tucson still handled well and the rear seat heaters drew universal praise. Just because you have to ride in back, should not mean that you are somehow second-class. Some of the Tucson’s premium class rivals do not yet get that point.

Great street presence, capable handling and ride dynamics, plus an overwhelming feel of quality and superiority in a package that barely costs $32,000 is a winner in anyone’s book. Yes, $32,320 for a fully loaded Hyundai Tucson that bests Jeep Cherokee, Honda CR-V and competes with Audi and BMW.

It is probably evident: the new Tucson is an impressive vehicle that earned accolades every time it was driven. I became a fan. The new Hyundai earns two thumbs-up.

Sidebar: Florida-bound in a 2014 Tucson

 After 1,700 miles over four days recently in the previous generation Tucson, from Auburn, Maine, to North Carolina and Florida, and almost 1,300 miles in the new Tucson, comparisons are going to emerge.

The “older” Tucson uses a 2.0-liter four that carries over for base SE models now. That engine makes a useful 164 hp that doesn’t stunt your need for an elevated pace on long distance drives, like going to Florida over miles and miles of crowded interstate highway.

The new 1.6-liter turbo engine replaces the larger 2.4-liter motor in the lineup and produces 175 with 195 pound/feet of peak torque that makes the Tucson much quicker. In fact, this engine makes the compact Tucson among the quickest small crossovers, period. Teamed with that dual-clutch automatic, the newer Tucson’s 1.6T powertrain is the class leader in “feel” and performance.

While my parents’ Tucson is a base model, the 2016 Tucson sampled proved how a trim upgrade could bring more comfort, and convenience. Their base SE is a fine driving companion: I had no complaints during my hurried trip south. Yet, the newer Tucson’s heated and cooled power seats proved more supportive, and comfortable, plus the new instrument panel and controls are a notable upgrade in feel and effort — lending a decidedly more premium feel to the cabin. Limited trim also adds conveniences like keyless ignition and access, a power liftgate, that huge sunroof and an auto-dimming rear view mirror.

The 1.6T engine did not result in any fuel penalty either, despite the larger horsepower rating. Key has to be the new seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, a refinement level device that makes some of the competition’s CVT transmissions look like, well, rubber bands. Not everyone does CVTs well; some are better than others. The Germans do dual-clutch well, and now Hyundai has a dual-clutch multispeed transmission that makes other automatics seem dated. The 1.6T engine’s realized output of 27.7-mpg easily beat my parents’ cars fuel efficiency of 26 mpg.

Finally, the newer Tucson’s larger cargo hold, up five cubic feet to 31, with the rear seats upright, plus the larger second row seating space, just pad the advantage that the new model brings. The previous Tucson is a competent small crossover, working well and exhibiting no shortcomings.

However, the new Tucson has to be regarded as a benchmark crossover offering power, performance, economy, and premium features for the usual Hyundai thriftiness. It just “feels” right. Great value in both cars; outstanding value and competence in the new 2016 Tucson.


Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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