HALFMOON BAY, British Columbia – Hyundai is sitting in a slightly awkward position. Why?
Because despite its excellent push towards creating excellent vehicles, its lineup is very car-centric. And the SUVs it does offer are equally popular, but hard to find because the existing plants are running full steam and can't fill demand.
To fix it, Hyundai is shifting the product mix at several plants, which should translate to more examples on the ground at the dealerships.
On the product side, with customers very pleased with both sizes of Santa Fe, Hyundai now turns its attention to the smaller Tucson. The 2016 is the third generation and as clean a replacement as you'll find in this day and age.
Quite the looker
And what a looker Hyundai has created. It shares similar themes with the Santa Fe, although with much tighter execution. There are LED running lights in the front that flank a tapered grille, while a strong shoulder line and taught kink in the C-pillar give it an aggressive impression. The taillights are LED too, although they look more like they belong on a Kia than a Hyundai. There are also twin tailpipes on upper trims, and those enormous ninja-star wheels fill the arches very nicely.
Compared with the 2015 model, this new Tucson is 75 mm longer and 30 mm wider, but 10 mm lower. There has also been a 30-mm increase in wheelbase, which not only improves its proportions but also the available space inside.
Family traits inside
The 2016 model offers a cabin whose theme mimics the latest Sonata and the Tucson's dash and gauges are dead ringers for those from the sedan. It also refreshingly embraces things like buttons and knobs where they should be. HVAC dials are chunky and satisfying, as are those for the radio functions. The optional eight-inch touchscreen with navigation is simple enough to use, and quick to respond to swipes and pokes.
Second row seats haven't been forgotten either, with more available legroom and backs that can recline farther than before. There is 875 litres of total cargo space and the trunk floor can be lowered by five centimetres to accommodate awkwardly shaped items.
Under the skin, the unibody chassis has been made stiffer with a much higher percentage of high strength steel, and some structural adhesives too. And Hyundai replied to criticism by working diligently on reducing noise and vibrations coming through to the cabin, with added sound deadening and other measures.
On the go, those efforts are greatly appreciated where the Tucson's cabin is nicely hushed, with only a little wind noise around the ginormous panoramic moonroof.
Engines remain four-cylinder only, with the base 2.0-litre carrying over with around 164 horsepower and 151 pounds-feet of torque. It is mated exclusively to a six-speed automatic transmission. Unfortunately for those who prefer shifting gears themselves, there are no three-pedal versions coming to Canada.
The larger 2.4-litre now becomes a turbocharged 1.6-litre with direct injection. However, here it has been retuned to produce around 175 horsepower rather than the 200-plus version in the Veloster and other applications. More important is the 195 pounds-feet of torque it produces from a low 1,800 rpm.
The turbo engine also gets Hyundai's first seven-speed DCT, which is the company's own design and a first in the compact SUV segment. It isn't related to the six-speed DCT found in the base Veloster, as that is sourced elsewhere.
On the road
Hyundai made both versions available during the launch event on BC's Sunshine Coast, and we found them quite different in character. Starting the day in a 1.6T, I find it for the most part well executed. The engine is reasonably quiet, even when pushing higher into the rev range, and its extra torque is easily exploited on the move.
However, from a dead stop and at lower in-town speeds, the DCT and off-boost engine can get caught out. There is a noticeable delay between pressing on the gas and that demand finally translating into action.
Driving it later in the day, the 2.0 has none of those traits. Its traditional automatic doesn't hunt for gears and shifts very smoothly. And the engine's relative lack of torque became obvious only on the steepest grades.
Thankfully both engines use regular-grade fuel, happily with no loss of power in turbo, and are very similar when it comes to fuel consumption: the front-drive 2.0 is rated at 10.1 L/100 km in the city and 7.6 on the highway, or 11.0 city and 9.0 highway with all-wheel drive. The AWD-only 1.6T is 9.9 L/100 km city and 8.4 highway, which Hyundai says is a 13 percent improvement over the old 2.4-litre.
Handling the weight increase
In either version, despite a 100-kg increase for 2016, the new Tucson is a real winner to drive. The MacPherson front and multi-link rear suspension are much more compliant than before, displaying an excellent ride over different surfaces. Thankfully, that doesn't translate to increased lean and float. Steering is more polished now too, although there is a definite difference between the 2.0 on 17-inch wheels and the 1.6T on 19-inch ones. Hyundai isn't pitching the Tucson as a dynamic rival to the Mazda CX-5, but it’s a nicely balanced mainstream player.
Because of the ideal and dry conditions, there wasn't an opportunity to really feel the AWD system making a big difference on handling. The Tucson now uses the same Magna-sourced front-biased AWD system found on the larger Santa Fe. The package is "more advanced" than a slip-n-grip, and uses the brakes to simulate a real torque-vectoring differential on the road. Should the conditions merit, it can be “locked” into delivering an equal 50:50 front-rear slip, but only at speeds up to 30 km/h.
As is expected from Hyundai now, the Tucson has a generous amount of standard equipment, including air conditioning, heated front seats, power-operated driver's seat and a rear-view camera on base models. Also, heated rear seats and steering wheel, blind-spot warning with cross-traffic alert, lane-change assist, rear parking sensors and lane departure warning are standard on all but the base trim. Luxury features like cooled front seats, a 400-watt audio system, leather seats, a camera-based auto-emergency braking system, a hands-free proximity-sensing automatic liftgate, active HID headlights and an enormous panoramic sunroof are available at different steps up the model ladder.
There are seven trims in total starting at $24,399 for a base front-drive 2.0 GLS, which is a $400 increase from the 2015 Tucson. At the top, the 1.6T Ultimate is only $400 shy of $40,000.
To sum up
Competition here will be hot and heavy, with the compact SUV segment being the industry's fiercest. Heavy hitters from Ford, Honda, Toyota and Nissan, along with the aforementioned Mazda will not give up any ground. Hyundai has accomplished part of its job here with the polish displayed by the 2.0. But it hasn't hit that same target on the 1.6T.
The Tucson is rolling out to dealers now; here's hoping that later models will get some updated programming to fix the rough spots.
Model: 2016 Hyundai Tucson
Engines: 2.0-litre 4-cyl., 164-horsepower, 151 lb-ft of torque
1.6-litre turbocharged 4-cyl., 175 horsepower, 195 lb-ft of torque
Transmissions: 2.0 – 6-speed automatic; 1.6T – 7-speed DCT
Drivetrains: front-wheel drive (2.0); all-wheel-drive (1.6T; opt. 2.0)
Length: 4,475 mm
Width: 1,850 mm
Wheelbase: 2,670 mm
Mass: 1,508-1,683 kg