Lately, the offerings from Hyundai have left us a tad underwhelmed. In October last year, we sampled the revised Santa Fe. Though we deemed it reasonably fine, its hefty price would force you in the direction of more accomplished players. The turbocharged version of its quirky Veloster arrived last year too. But it does not hold a candle to players like the Ford Focus ST and Volkswagen Golf GTI. Then a fortnight ago, the i20 N-Sport arrived for an evaluation. It garnered criticism from staffers for its cut-price interior, asthmatic performance and cheap-looking go-faster bits. You would have to be nuts to take this over a Suzuki Swift Sport.
But the latest Tucson is a product that leaves a far sweeter taste in the mouth. Hyundai has ditched the ix35 moniker, replacing it with a nameplate that has history among local buyers. We cannot forget that the first Tucson was one of the vehicles that spearheaded Hyundai’s rise to the top. It proved that the Korean carmaker had the potential to compete with the best of them. Total sales of the first-generation Tucson and the ix35 successor come to 56 408 units. And this latest one is certainly good enough to ruffle a few feathers in the burgeoning medium-sized SUV segment.
You feel charmed before even getting to the door handle of the new Tucson. It looks properly upscale — very nearly in the realm of more premium Asian brands like Infiniti. The front end is bold, austere and purposeful. And unlike the old ix35, its body is attractively taut and toned. Peter Schreyer, head of design at Hyundai, has managed a stellar job in giving the vehicle a dynamic appearance. Inside, intelligent use of space has resulted in a cabin that is far roomier than the exterior suggests. Rear legroom and shoulder space in particular are impressive. At the unveiling, I witnessed how it accommodated three big guys from Hyundai’s head office with ease.
The front seats offer superb lateral support — and they look smart. Needless to say, quality is of a fairly high standard. While it may not be in the league of something like a Mazda CX-5, it does instill more confidence than a Ford Kuga would. Hyundai threw its 1.6 T-GDI mill into the mix, available with either a six-speed manual transmission or a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. The latter combination is a treat and best suits the car’s persona as a leisurely cruiser in town and on the freeway. Shifts are dispatched smoothly and the dual-clutch setup makes good use of the 130kW and 265Nm offered by this engine. A normally aspirated 2.0 unit is available too, but the turbocharged engine seems to be more flattering to the Tucson. Our market is likely to receive the 1.7 D derivative at some point in the near future.
We spent most of our time behind the wheel of the top-grade Elite model. As you would expect from Hyundai, this boasts all the nice-to- haves as standard. And the safety systems are plentiful too. A blind-spot detector with an audible chime is part of the package, in addition to rear-cross traffic alert, which is handy when reversing out of a parking bay. When chosen with the 1.6 T-GDI engine, the Elite version also gains all-wheel drive. Hyundai seems quite proud about the fact that this car was “tested on European roads” — which is a silly bragging point if you ask me, given how different local road conditions are.
But assuredly, the Tucson is happy to tackle all surfaces. We had the opportunity to assess the car over the gravel roads of the Western Cape. I was pleasantly surprised at how adept the car’s dampers were at taking the bite out of undulations and ripples. There were no rattles to speak of either. And vibration through the steering wheel was minimal. The gains that came as a result of the Tucson’s stiffer structure and liberal use of sound-deadening materials can be felt. Overall, it feels like a rather well-sorted machine, markedly more sure-footed than the vehicle it replaces.
So in conclusion, the Tucson is a rather polished piece of kit indeed. And I think the deal-sealer for many will be the standard seven-year/200 000km drivetrain warranty. This is a bold show of confidence in the engineering integrity of its products. Hyundai’s pricing is not what is used to be. Whether it is ready to demand a premium over competitors is up for debate, no matter how good the new Tucson may be. We also need to consider things like brand equity and perceived badge value. Things range between R359 900 and R499 900. Virtually all its competitors undercut the Tucson in price. The Ford Kuga kicks off at R339 900, the Toyota RAV4 goes for R334 300 and getting into a Mazda CX-5 will cost you R324 900.