Over time, Hyundai has made great strides in producing competitive small and tall wagons, but the latest Tucson could be the automaker’s breakthrough model in this class.
In a field dominated by the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue, Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4 and Chevrolet Equinox, buyers certainly aren’t lacking choice. With each successive effort, the Tucson has closed the gap with its pack peers to a point where it would be foolish not to include it on your to-be-considered list.
For 2016, the argument in the Tucson’s favor gains more traction. Stylistically, the junior Hyundai has a shape that mimics the larger Santa Fe. In the process, the look and feel matures a bit while adding a new level of sophistication. In particular, the trapezoidal grille sets a classier tone for the vehicle that carries through to more clearly defined wheel openings and an equally appealing liftgate/taillight design. Hyundai refers to the Tucson’s shape as a continuation of its “Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 design theme,” but whatever you call it, it’s impressive.
The Tucson gains three inches in overall length while the front and rear wheels are set one inch farther apart. It’s also one inch wider.
The rear access portal is larger for easier loading and unloading cargo, while the interior volume with the split-folding rear seat in place has increased by an impressive 20 percent. It still falls short of the league-leading Honda CR-V, however.
Where the Tucson doesn’t fall short is the redesigned interior. The rear seat now reclines 37 degrees (previously 28) and the dash and control panel is now cleaner and more business-like.
The Tucson’s motivational capabilities depend on your chosen trim. The base SE gets you a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 164 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. It carries over from the 2015 model.
The Eco, Sport and Limited versions come with a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder that kicks out 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. This powerplant replaces the previously optional non-turbo 2.4-liter four-cylinder rated at 182/177. A six-speed automatic transmission connects to the 2.0, while a segment-exclusive seven-speed paddle-shift automatic transmission is mated to the turbo 1.6.
Along with a bit more power, the turbo’s best mpg estimates (front-wheel-drive Eco model) is 26 in the city and 31 on the highway, compared with 23/31 for the base 2.0. That’s the same highway rating, although you would expect the smaller turbo engine with the seven-speed transmission to outdo the 2.0 by a healthy margin. Of note, though, 26/31 is much better than the outgoing 2.4’s 21/28 rating (FWD), which is the engine that the new 1.6 replaces.
All-wheel-drive can be specified with either engine. The new system comes with an AWD lock control switch that allows you to “hold” the torque split equally between the front and rear wheels, which is intended for maximum traction on rough terrain. In addition the AWD can direct extra torque to the outside rear wheel when the Tucson is turning, while at the same time applying light braking to the inside rear wheel. This “torque vectoring” makes for more stable cornering.
For improved ride comfort and control, Hyundai has stiffened the front and rear suspension attachment points, improved the engine mounts and bushings and increased the amount of sound insulation.
All Tucsons (the SE starts at $23,600, including destination charges) arrive with the usual power-operated features plus air conditioning. Along with the turbo engine, the Eco adds exterior roof rails plus an eight-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support.
Sport buyers get heated front seats, pushbutton start, the latest collision-mitigating/avoidance tech, and19-inch wheels (17-inchers are standard).
The top-end Limited includes dual-zone climate control, leather-covered seats, LED headlights and taillights and a combination premium sound/navigation system.
Among the few options are a panoramic sunroof and ventilated front seats.
Elegant styling, upgraded content and larger proportions are givens when it comes to the evolution of any brand, but the new Tucson surprises us just as much as the previous version did when it arrived. The result? More love from more people.