When Hyundai arrived in the United States some 30 years ago, Americans had to learn the pronunciation (rhymes with Sunday). Its first car stateside, the Excel, rode on borrowed Mitsubishi mechanicals. Car and Driver’s assessment? “The Excel won’t make your heart soar.”
The Korean conglomerate is now a force to be reckoned with, designing its own transmissions and engines and building them from steel out of its own foundries. The design staff is led by those who drew for Audi, Bentley and Lamborghini.
That brings us to the newest-generation Tucson, which competes with heavy hitters like the Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, and America’s most popular crossover, the Honda CR-V. These are top-notch products throwing fisticuffs in the most competitive segment in the industry.
Put simply, Tucson is worthy of attention in this class. Its balanced, muscular sheet metal is handsome. Overall driving dynamics are refined. A quieter cabin means occupants can converse, not shout.
Slightly larger now, the Tucson begins at $23,595 with front-wheel drive. The tested all-wheel-drive Limited model with Ultimate Package rises to $34,945. Shocked? Don’t be. It includes a giant glass roof, vented leather seats and a Volvo-like auto-braking system that detects pedestrians.
All but the base model run with a 1.6-liter turbo 4-cylinder that delivers 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque to your right foot. Shifts from the 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox are nearly undetectable. Lockable all-wheel drive features hill-descent control.
With good linear response, the 1.6-liter engine has precious little turbo lag. Don’t expect a rocket; going from 0 to 60 miles an hour takes about 8.5 seconds. Body movements are well managed during cornering, though Hyundai has yet to discover the concept of meaningful road feel.
With all-wheel drive, the Tucson Eco model is rated by the government to average 27 miles per gallon. Limited versions knock one m.p.g. off that. Base models with Hyundai’s normally aspirated 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine drop to 23 m.p.g.
Tucson’s cabin appearance is par for the course in this class, with a mixture of basic and premium-looking trims. The touch-screen interface requires no fuss or muss. There are many places to stash, or misplace, small things. Tucson is so loaded with features (keyless ignition, blind spot detection and lane departure warning), it’s disappointing there is no heated steering wheel. Perhaps I expect too much.
Two adults fit fine in Tucson’s back seat, with heated seats at this trim level. Two gripes here — no rear power port for phone charging, and dropping the 60/40 split seat backs means opening the back door for a lever near the floor. Trunk-mounted levers are MIA.
Honda’s CR-V is the segment’s cargo champ, but Tucson’s hatch can be more helpful. Simply stand next to it with the proximity key in pocket or purse and it automatically opens. The cargo floor adjusts to create space to hide valuables like laptop computers. Measuring with bundles of warehouse bath tissue, Tucson’s trunk holds nine packs, equal to most in this class. The Honda holds a freakish 12.
People still pronounce the brand’s name in different ways, but Hyundai switched from fire-sale pricing to more of a bang-for-the-buck proposition a number of years ago. I’ll guess the people at corporate are less concerned with pronunciation than whether you buy one. Tucson gives crossover buyers a good reason to do just that. The next 30 years should be interesting.