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

Sixteen years ago, 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 Tucson of 2004 felt not-for-us, with heavy plastic cladding, which its replacement, the iX35, traded for weirdness.

The third-gen model 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.

First drives