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Has this thoroughly overhauled SUV got the dynamism to match its bold new looks?

Sixteen years before the launch of this new Hyundai Tucson, our correspondents sat in a press conference at the launch of the then new Kia Rio while execs announced Hyundai’s and Kia’s combined ambition to be one of the world’s top- five car makers. Easy enough to scoff at the time. One magazine’s headline ran: ‘Her name is Rio, and she’s crap.’

A decade and a half on, the Hyundai Motor Group is the fourth- biggest manufacturer in the world on numbers of cars sold between its Hyundai, Kia and Genesis brands and, of all the top 10 best-selling car manufacturers, suffered the least worst sales hit from 2020’s pandemic.

The Tucson’s lighting signature is probably going to be one of its more divisive design features, owing to the fact that the parametric grille is already quite busy when it isn’t lit up.

The past two decades have seen both Hyundai and Kia shake off their old images but it’s not just recent driver’s machines, like the Kia Stinger and Hyundai i30 N hot hatchback, nor Hyundai’s World Rally Championship entries, that have been largely responsible.

Instead, it has been good old- fashioned product improvement, making better and better vehicles in their conventional everyday line-up, that has done the job, plus identifying growing market segments such as compact SUVs and crossovers and pitching cars into them with not just aggressive pricing but also genuine quality and ability. Only Skoda has managed a similar improvement in perception. As insiders there say: “We’ve changed the brand from hell into one hell of a brand.” Hyundai has done it with two of them.

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This, then, is the latest car from Hyundai, but even by its dynamic standards, it arrives looking way more striking than its predecessor. The first-generation Hyundai Tucson of 2004 felt not-for-us, with heavy plastic cladding, which its replacement, the Hyundai iX35, traded for weirdness.

The third-gen Hyundai Tucson of 2015 started to get the groove both outside and inside, with European-friendly styling and a competitive driving experience, and it’s now that Hyundai has grown into itself and become not just inoffensively stylish, but also outwardly confident. Here’s how the new model gets on.

The Tucson line-up at a glance

All of the new Tucson’s powertrains are based around Hyundai’s turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, with varying degrees of electrical assistance. For now, the 227bhp hybrid tested here is the flagship offering. However, a 261bhp plug-in model arrives this spring with a claimed electric range of 31 miles on the WLTP cycle.

For now, most Tucsons are front driven, but the 48V MHEV variant can be had with all-wheel drive.

The three trim levels are SE Connect, Premium and Ultimate.

Hyundai Tucson design & styling

In a world where a new mid-sized SUV or crossover is launched seemingly every week, the latest Tucson’s striking looks will do it no harm. Its brassily bold nose might not be to everybody’s tastes but we think this is one of those occasions when it’s deftly judged. The nub of good design: not so outlandish that it will wilfully put people off, yet distinctive and attractive enough for others to want little else.

The new Tucson sits between the compact Hyundai Hyundai Kona and full- sized Hyundai Santa Fe in the Hyundai line-up and is a little larger than the car it replaces – although, at 4.5m long and 1.85m wide, it’s still compact enough that it should remain manoeuvrable and simple to park.

The Tucson’s petrol and petrol-electric powertrain options are still broadening from launch. As of right now, you can configure a basic 148bhp petrol 1.6-litre, with or without 48V mild-hybrid technology, a 178bhp 1.6 mild hybrid or a 1.6 full hybrid with 227bhp, like the car tested here. Some have six-speed manual gearboxes but there’s also a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission option or a six-speed automatic as on this full hybrid. Most are two-wheel drive, and if you want four-wheel drive in the UK, you’ll have to specify the 178bhp mild hybrid with the DCT.

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As a full rather than mild hybrid, this Tucson gets a 1.49kWh battery mounted beneath the boot floor, while there’s a 59bhp electric motor between the engine and gearbox to get the car up to its total 227bhp output. The 1.49kWh pack is bigger than a Toyota RAV4 hybrid’s 1.1kWh battery, and when you remember that an 18kWh PHEV battery will get you up to 30 miles or so of pure-electric range, it’s clear to see how useful a pack of even just 1.49kWh could be.

Our test car came in Premium trim. If you choose Ultimate trim, there’s the option of a Tech Pack, which brings with it electronically controlled dampers on the MacPherson strut front and multi- link rear suspension. There are selectable drive modes with that, with Sport providing red dials, too. On our test car were optional 19in alloy wheels, the biggest wheel size available, and 235/50 Michelin Primacy tyres, instead of the standard 18in rims and tyres.

12 Hyundai Tucson 2021 road test review cabin

The first of several good things about the Tucson’s interior is that it is as admirably designed and striking as the exterior, with a large swathe running from one door, across the dashboard, to the other door, broken by a swoop into the centre console. The air vents are cleverly hidden within it, too.

There are two digital displays. The 10.25in instrument cluster looks like a large smartphone has been propped up behind the steering wheel, but in a world where unfathomable and over- complex displays have become so tempting for manufacturers, because they can, Hyundai has instead stuck with the eminently sensible choice of two large round dials – with warnings appearing over one of them if needed.

We’d prefer a proper lever (which you can just reach for) rather than individual buttons (which require looking at) for the gear selection.

Centrally, there’s a touchscreen of the same 10.25in size, with a bunch of buttons beneath it and, thankfully, separate controls for the climate control and then, lower still, even more clearly marked buttons for the likes of heated seats and steering wheel and parking sensors. It suggests some thought has gone into it: the higher the controls, and therefore the closer to your natural eyeline on the road, the more ‘touchscreeny’ they become. Real, physical buttons, evidently the easiest way to find and operate something, are still the choice for hard-to-see places. Which is worth noting for manufacturers who insist on burying everything within touchscreen menus.

The front seats are broad and comfortable, fabric-fronted on our test car and none the worse for it, being attractively stitched. Rear passengers do just as well, with decent head and leg room and, although the width of the centre passenger’s perch is restricted in any car, there’s a broad armrest when there are just two aboard, or the entire centre section can fold. The seat doesn’t just split and fold 40/20/40, but it also has various stages of recline, handy if your youngsters want to doze off.

Behind all of that is a competitively sized, 616-litre boot with a broad opening and largely plastic, durable- looking sides, although a few extra hooks and catches wouldn’t hurt.

Hyundai Tucson infotainment and sat-nav

As so many manufacturers have, Hyundai has put its infotainment system within a touchscreen but it isn’t too troubling to use by global standards. The system is pretty straightforward to navigate, the graphics are clear and, if it’s all a bit much, there’s Android Auto and Apple CarPlay so you can fall back on phone mirroring.

Front and rear occupants get USB sockets and satellite navigation is standard, as is Hyundai’s Bluelink connected system, which has real-time traffic, parking and fuelling (and for EVs, charging) information. Drivers link it to an app on their phone for info when they’re not in the car.

All of the above are standard across the Tucson’s three trim levels. This mid-line Premium trim and range-topping Ultimate models gain a boot-mounted subwoofer and a wireless phone charging pad. (The big differences between Premium and Ultimate are seat types and driving assistance programmes.)

21 Hyundai Tucson 2021 road test review engine

The front-driven Tucson shines something of a light on the typically inverse relationship between weight and efficient, effortless drivability. It effectively shares its 1.6-litre 227bhp hybrid powertrain with the four- wheel-drive Kia Sorento we road tested in January, but with 400kg less mass to lug around, the Hyundai makes a much more persuasive go of being a family SUV with heightened green credentials.

Whereas the seven-seat Sorento never really felt like more than a jumped-up mild hybrid – and struggled to put serious daylight between itself and conventionally powered rivals in terms of fuel consumption – the lighter Tucson fares considerably better. This is primarily down to the supplementary electric motor having greater scope to take over proceedings, and being better able to run for longer periods without being interrupted by the petrol engine.

I found I ended up leaving the paddle shifters alone during quicker driving. They’re just a bit too slow. It seems this is a feature aimed more at those with things to tow, which is fine.

That said, there is still a need to make a conscious effort to drive in a manner that doesn’t overwhelm the smaller motor. With sufficient charge in the drive battery, it’s possible to move away from a standstill on electric power alone – provided you’re gentle with your throttle inputs. Similarly, you will often need to lift off the throttle entirely to access EV mode when up and running, and again adopt a lighter touch in order to continue running as such.

Employ this more mindful approach, however, and it’s possible to see the sorts of fuel consumption figures you’d typically expect from a hybrid – particularly in stop/start urban environments. On shorter trips around town, our testers were able to get close to 50mpg from the Tucson.

Performance is punchy without being exciting. The six-speed automatic ’box can be a bit slow on the uptake but the electric motor’s instantly available torque nonetheless makes for fairly effortless roll-on acceleration. The Tucson is reasonably swift off the line, too, but can succumb to fairly violent axle tramp on greasy surfaces if you’re apish with your inputs. Exercise a bit of restraint, though, and it’s possible to extract a more than respectable 0-60mph time: we recorded 7.6sec on Millbrook’s damp mile straight.

The brakes provide decent stopping power and pedal feel, with the Tucson needing 54.1m to come to a standstill from 70mph. A Volkswagen Tiguan TDI, meanwhile, required 55m, also in the damp.

22 Hyundai Tucson 2021 road test review on road front

By family SUV standards, the Tucson has its head on straight when it comes to handling balance.

The steering is accurate, light in its set-up and suitably swift in its responses without feeling overtly athletic or rewarding. Resistance builds in a readable fashion as you wind on lock and load up the chassis, allowing you to gently guide the Tucson through corners confidently. This lighter-touch approach seems to be a key point of difference between Hyundai and Kia: the Tucson lacks the cloying, false-feeling sense of weight you so often find in cars from Hyundai’s sibling brand, where it is arguably employed to achieve a more sporting sense of feel.

Good steering helps engender confidence in the Tucson’s ability to corner in a nimble, stable and competent manner, with decent grip and controlled transfer of weight.

Vertical body control is perhaps slightly more tightly controlled than is the norm for the class, but a small degree of easy-going body roll is still evident through faster, tighter bends. This marginally firmer set-up can occasionally lead to a bit of side-to- side jostling over rougher surfaces, but there’s almost always enough give in the suspension to see off mid-corner impacts with little fuss. Meanwhile, outright mechanical grip is easily abundant enough for the vast majority of driving environments that typical Tucson buyers might be exposed to, but you don’t have to try too hard to unearth an unsporting amount of understeer.

In short, then, while it’s usefully nimble and dynamically trustworthy, there isn’t too much here for keener drivers to really get excited about. That’s not to say the Tucson is a completely unenjoyable car to point down a challenging stretch of B-road, but secure, stable and sensible ease of use is higher up its list of priorities than outright driver engagement. And given the tasks and duties cars such as this are primarily required to fulfil, that’s as it should be really.

Being a taller, heavier SUV, the Tucson is never going to be the sort of car you’d relish piloting around a fast, technical track such as Millbrook’s Hill Route. And yet, for the most part, it composes itself very tidily indeed.

Body roll is present, and while you can feel its weight shifting around through successive directional changes, the rate of transfer never feels alarming. Grip is largely good, and its electronic stability systems don’t feel overly intrusive when you do start testing the Tucson’s adhesive limits. Of course, push too hard through particularly tight corners and the Hyundai’s nose will plough on in a straight line – and it will do so quite suddenly if you’re really not careful – but such transgressions are easily corrected.

Although the gearbox can be a bit slow to kick down, the torque fill provided by the electric motor helps to mask any accelerative lull that results. There’s plenty of punch on tap here to push the car up even the steepest inclines at a reasonable lick.

Comfort and isolation

Credit to Hyundai: it has near as dammit nailed the Tucson’s driving position. The front chairs err on the firmer side of things but provide good support for your thighs and torso, while excellent adjustability in the seat base and steering column allows you to position yourself close to the wheel without leaving you hunched over the pedals. With a taller hip point, visibility is good enough for trundling around town or sitting on the motorway, although the fairly steeply raked A-pillars that lend the Tucson its swept-back looks can slightly obscure your line of sight during cornering.

At a cruise, the cabin is generally pretty isolated, save for some wind whistle around the large door mirrors, and although road roar is present, it’s far from grating. We recorded 67dB of cabin noise at 70mph, a figure that stacks up well against 68dB readings taken in 2.0 TDI versions of the Audi Q5 and Volkswagen Tiguan a few years back.

Ride comfort is generally good, save for the aforementioned jostling on more lumpen, unevenly surfaced stretches of asphalt. At town speeds, the Tucson can come across as a touch firm by family SUV standards, but it still manages to smooth over most secondary impacts with little fuss. With greater pace, that sense of low-speed tension morphs into a welcome level of pliancy on more uniformly undulating roads. This makes the Tucson a comfortable car to pedal over distance, if not one that’s quite as accomplished as Honda’s Honda CR-V.

1 Hyundai Tucson 2021 road test review hero front

As with all competitive market sectors, pricing is close between the Tucson and its immediate rivals, although it is well equipped and feels grander and more premium inside than its badge, a brand built on affordability, would suggest.

Ditto when it comes to depreciation, with the Tucson set to retain 40% of its value after four years and 48,000 miles, a percentage point above some Japanese rivals from Toyota and Honda – which means there’s very little in it new or used.

Hyundai is the cheaper than both the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, but after four years will be worth 40% of its original value (its two rivals 39%).

We were fairly impressed, though, with the Tucson’s fuel consumption. This is, after all, a petrol-engined family-sized SUV that has to generate its own electric power for its hybrid (Hyundai resists Toyota’s ‘self- charging’ tag that has upset quite a lot of people) yet it returned a solid 40mpg in our hands, including a morning of performance testing. On our touring test route, we saw 48mpg, keeping up with national-speed-limit traffic on a cruise, suggesting 50mpg is to be had with even more care. Not so long ago, you’d have done well to return that from a diesel in a car of this size, weight and capability.


24 Hyundai Tucson 2021 road test review static

The arrival of the fourth-generation Tucson feels like a significant milestone in the Hyundai story. Its bold, unapologetically dashing exterior is a vivid departure from those of its handsome but bland predecessors. Meanwhile, the firm’s typically sturdy, functional approach to interior layout now finds itself complemented by a heightened focus on material richness and design flair. Hyundai has long been pushing itself upmarket, and if this car is any guide, it may finally have arrived.

The Tucson’s appeal is developed further by a hybrid powertrain that’s both powerful and potentially very frugal in city running, a mature ride and handling balance that feels well matched to British roads, and competitive interior space.

New Tucson shows that Hyundai can do both style and substance

Of course, it isn’t perfect. The gearbox can be slow-witted and driver engagement isn’t the order of the day. Its styling might be a bit too jazzy for some, too. Ultimately, though, these are small complaints about what is otherwise a very sensible and recommendable family SUV. It seems that strong equipment, attractive pricing and a cast-iron warranty may no longer be the primary reasons you’d pick a Tucson over one of its European rivals.


Hyundai Tucson First drives