Hyundai Tucson: First Drive Review
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Words by Ajit Menon | Photography by Eshan Shetty
Car Tested: Hyundai Tucson Diesel
Engine: 2.0-litre Diesel Automatic | 185PS/400Nm
Of late, Hyundai has been treading a rather unconventional path when it comes to rolling out new cars in India. It launched the new Elantra at a time when all other car makers have been shying away from the segment citing low sales. That gambit appears to have paid off with Elantras being shipped out of showrooms at a rather brisk pace. But barely three months into the Elantra’s launch, Hyundai has executed a similar move by introducing the Tucson – an SUV that sits bang in between the soft-roader pack that is lead by the Creta on one side and the Santa Fe on the other. It’s a space that has been left to Honda’s petrol-only CR-V. Is that down to a lack of interest in the segment or has it been underserved? And is the Tucson good enough to revive it? Also, the challenge is tougher still for the urban Tucson as it sits in a price range that will have it rubbing shoulders with the butch and rugged Ford Endeavour and Toyota Fortuner. So, is this 5-seater SUV really all that impressive for buyers to take the bait?
Design & Styling
Of course, the first thing any car needs to succeed is to look good. Frankly, Hyundai never really got this vital part correct with the first-generation Tucson launched in 2005. The second gen Tucson introduced in 2009 did get the styling right with its Fluidic design but that one never made it to India. With the new Tucson, though, Hyundai designers have come up with possibly the best looking iteration of the model thus far. The styling may draw parallels to the Santa Fe and the Creta with all three SUVs sporting the Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 Design philosophy. But then those sleek-looking sweptback headlamps on the Tucson are a clear giveaway. The dual barrel LED units you get with the top-of-the-line GLS variant is complemented well by a pair of fog lamps with daytime running lamps. From the rear, it looks like a taller version of the Elite i20 owing to the familiar looking LED taillights but the twin chrome exhausts are a nice touch.
Interior & Features
The cabin, just like the exterior, is modern with top-notch levels of quality and fit and finish. The dashboard has soft-touch plastics, the leather-wrapped seats are soft and cushiony, and the steering is both rake and reach-adjustable and offers plenty of grip. A lot of thought has gone into the ergonomics with controls thoughtfully laid out and easy to reach so you aren’t left groping for them while driving. You also don’t have to worry where to store coins, knickknacks, your mobile phone, sunglass, etc, with dedicated storage spaces created for all. The glovebox is also illuminated and cooled so you can pop open a Red Bull or cola on the go.
This is a much larger car than the Creta so there’s plenty of legroom and headroom for all passengers. The seats are soft, cushy and offer decent amount of lateral support as well. At the back all three seats get a headrest and the centre seat folds down as an armrest with cupholders but the seat contouring is slightly uneven which could cause some uneasiness for the passenger seated in the middle during long drives. On the plus side, there is a roof-mounted retractable seatbelt for the middle passenger in place of a conventional 2-point seatbelt which is reassuring.
Hyundai has packed the SUV with tonnes of smart tech and comfort features. Some may call it gimmickry but Hyundai has been known to pander to Indian tastes with gusto. Let’s start with the Welcome function – walk up to the Tucson with the keys in your pocket and the doors unlock automatically and the wing mirrors fold open on their own in an embracing style. There’s also a hands-free powered tailgate that opens the gate on its own upon detecting your presence. The anti-pinch feature ensures it doesn’t accidentally close in on you while you are loading luggage in the 513-litre boot. What’s more, you can even preset it open to a preferred height! There’s an abundance of connectivity options with three 12v power sockets (2 up front and 1 in the boot) aside from USB, AUX ports and an 8-inch HD audio-video navigation system with support for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The best part is that even the base variant comes packed with the essentials but does swap some of the extras - such as dual barrel LED headlamps for projector units, sports cloth upholstery instead of leather, 17-inch alloys in place of 18-inch ones aside from some of the smart tech features mentioned above. What is unfathomable, though, is how rear AC vents, which is standard even in the Creta, is missed out on!
Performance, Ride & Handling
There are two 2-litre engines to choose from. The petrol unit is the same as on the Elantra but puts out 155PS of power – 3PS more than the Elantra. The diesel mill, on the other hand, is all new and develops 185PS and 400Nm of torque. Both engines come paired to a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic but we drove the one that is likely to be more popular – the diesel automatic.
The revs build up rather quickly, acceleration is linear and there is enough zest available through the rev range so that you don’t have to stomp the pedal harder in a bid to go faster. What is quite clear though is that the key to enjoying this car is to keep a gentle foot on the pedal for it pick up pace. Part of the relaxed drive can also be attributed to the 6-speed automatic gearbox which shifts gears quickly and smoothly, often without you being able to tell the transition. There are two drive modes to select from – Eco and Sport; while in Sport Mode, the transmission holds the gears longer for a bit more engaging drive though the differences aren’t stark enough save for a harsher engine note. On most occasions, the Eco mode will be the one to stay on, especially if you don’t want to see those bars in the fuel gauge dropping rapidly. Hyundai claims a mileage of 16.38kmpl for the diesel automatic but if fuel efficiency is of prime importance, then the manual will eke out even more at 18.42kmpl.
The thing you’d probably enjoy the most is the ride quality. It’s very well judged for our roads, its suppleness and 172mm of ground making light work of craters and bumps on our route. Ride at the rear does feel a bit stiff but that helps in keeping body roll within acceptable levels. But regardless of all the drama outside, it’s always nice and quiet inside the cabin. Hyundai has employed numerous measures such as enhanced sound deadening materials and strengthened body stiffness to ensure noise from engine and road stays muted.
The steering feels light but unlike the Creta, weighs up enough at higher speeds to impart a greater sense of confidence. On corners though, you do wish the steering offered more feedback. We were a bit let down by the brake feel, which despite all four discs, feels blunted and we often found ourselves timing our brakes much in advance to avoid any surprises. On the whole, the Tucson despite its size feels like a supremely easy “car” to drive all day long.
Let’s wind up this review with the Tucson’s weaknesses and some of the points raised may appear as sheer nit-picking. For example, while the Tucson’s cabin is a nice place to be in, we wish it was richer still and fitting of a car this price. Also, the middle row seat could have been more comfortable. The more discerning may also point out that the Tucson should have gotten a sunroof and paddle shifts at least in the top-end variant.
Despite all of this, the Tucson makes a delightful case for itself as an overall package – it looks dapper, is laden with convenience and safety features (the top-end model gets 6 airbags, electronic stability programme and vehicle stability control), is a perfectly amicable machine to drive on all seven days and to any destination, however far or fancy that might crop up. Yes, there’s no all-wheel-drive option available just yet but Hyundai tells us there’s one coming mid next year so you could indulge in light mud-plugging then. For now the Tucson’s price of Rs 18.99-24.99 lakh sets it up to be an urban SUV that is aspirational, but just shy of being pricey. While the Tucson’s price is sure to make it pop up on the radar of the Endeavour and Fortuner buyers and vice versa, the sophisticated, car-like experience and five-seat configuration mark it out as a completely different proposition. Hyundai has taken up a challenge, but the Tucson looks set to recreate the Creta’s success in the segment above.