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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.

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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.

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.

Hyundai Tucson First drives