Brawn Over Brains
Hyundai was a company mainly known for humdrum but affordable vehicles. Nowadays, Hyundai has the brand panache and the cars to match any of its rivals from Japan, Europe, and the United States. It’s the first South Korean automaker to have an established identity in the global market. The Hyundai Tucson is one such car that helped the brand become a major player. It’s a compact crossover that has made a name for itself in the Philippine market, due to its refined and powerful CRDI engine, which also happens to be one of Go Flat Out’s most favorite diesel engines. The thing is, the competitors are constantly taking notes. One such rival that has made a 180-degree change is the Honda CR-V. For the first time ever for Honda in the ASEAN region, the CR-V can now be had with an i-DTEC diesel engine. What was once a unique selling point of the Tucson is now something that even the competition has taken note of. How does the Tucson stack-up in a very competitive compact crossover SUV segment? Let’s find out.
On the outside, the Tucson looks very stylish, packing with it some European flair. Not surprising, considering that the well-known Peter Schreyer is the man tasked in designing Hyundai’s line-up. How good is the guy? Always remember that he was the man behind the first generation Audi TT. The Tucson’s fascia packs Hyundai’s signature hexagonal grille, flanked by projector halogen headlamps with LED clearance lamps. Refined, flowing surfaces highlight the Tucson’s sleek side profile, with the steeply raked roofline giving it a dynamic silhouette, and as you’ll see later on, the sloping roofline does not affect trunk space. A snazzy set of 18-inch alloy wheels work perfectly to complement the Tucson’s dynamic and stylish design. There isn’t a proportion that looks off in the Tucson’s sheetmetal. As a whole, the Tucson is definitely up there with its many of its competitors in terms of style and presence.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said with the interior. Whereas the outside has these sets of flowing lines, creases, and surfaces, the interior is very conservative. The quality can’t be faulted though, as the dashboard is made of soft touch materials, and the doors give a very solid thud. I particularly like the knurled finish on the engine start/stop button. The black on black interior color scheme is a good starting point, as it keeps the interior looking clean most of the time. Ergonomics are also excellent in the Tucson, with all buttons and switches naturally falling into place as you use the interior. As you use these buttons, you will also notice how well built and solid the interior is, with not a single squeak or rattle to hear from. If there’s one thing that I appreciate from the Hyundai-Kia partnership, that would be its consistent use of typefaces. Hyundai and Kia are the only manufacturers that happen to use the same, consistent front in the gauges, buttons, and screens, something that I always wonder why other manufacturers fail to do. It’s a small detail, but one that’s appreciated. Overall, it’s a very nice interior to use and be cocooned in, but is somewhat lacking in excitement.
Space and Practicality
The Hyundai Tucson is roomy for all of its occupants. Front passengers will appreciate the airy feeling that the dashboard design offers, while the rear passengers will find that there is more than enough head, leg, and shoulder room for three adults seated abreast. Combined with the almost completely flat floor, and the rear aircon vents, the Hyundai Tucson’s interior is a great place to sit in for long distance travel.
The Tucson also has plenty of storage nook and crannies for all occupants. The front and rear doors feature a large pocket that can fit a large bottle, as well as a large glove box that neatly features cooling from the car’s air conditioning. Hyundai has also cleverly fitted two coat hooks at the Tucson’s B-pillars, like you would get in a business class airplane seat. Meanwhile, at the front, there are more storage solutions in the center console, though I am somewhat disturbed by the tiny slot located aft of the gear selector. It’s a constant reminder that this particular variant isn’t fitted with an electronic parking brake.
As you open the trunk, it’s quite a generous size, offering 513 liters of space with all the rear seats up. With the seats folded, 1,503 liters of space is at your disposal, which is impressive for this class of car. I also give huge props to Hyundai for still being able to fit a full-size spare alloy wheel under the trunk.
Features, Safety, and Infotainment
On paper, the Hyundai Tucson doesn’t seem to offer quite a lot, but as you curiously poke around the car, you’ll find out that it packs a few surprises. Passive entry with push button start comes as standard in this GLS variant, but what the brochure doesn’t tell you is that, as you approach the car with the smart key in possession, the side mirrors automatically unfold as if it was greeting you with a hello. The front door handles are then lit-up by white LEDs, just like what one would find in a luxury sedan. Pretty neat touches from Hyundai, and these are design details that I appreciate from the Korean brand that make a car more human centric than others.
Once inside, drivers will appreciate the 6-way electronically adjustable front seats, which work well together with the tilt and telescopic steering wheel to give the driver a wide range of adjustments. Also, the Hyundai Tucson features an integrated multimedia system that features USB, AUX, CD, as well as Bluetooth telephone and audio streaming. Disappointingly, it doesn’t feature a touch screen, but this is redeemed by the fact that the system is very easy and logical to use, a far cry from the horrid touch screen infotainment system from a certain local manufacturer/supplier.
On the safety front, the Tucson is decently equipped, but nothing spectacular. It has two airbags, hill start assist, hill descent control, rear parking sensors, and thankfully, a traction control system, which we at Go Flat Out believes should be standard on all cars, regardless of class and price.
The Hyundai Tucson is powered by the brand’s excellent R series 2.0-liter inline-4 CRDI e-VGT diesel engine, which produces a very healthy 182 hp @ 4,000 rpm and 400 Nm of torque @ 1,750 – 2,750 rpm. Power is sent to the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission.
How It Drives
Upon pressing the start button, one thing that I’ve always loved about Hyundai’s R series engine is its supreme refinement. It’s a far cry from the diesel engines equipped in most, if not all PPVs. Especially inside, barely a rattle nor a clatter pierces through the cabin. This diesel engine is certainly up there with the diesel engines from Volkswagen Group and Peugeot in terms of refinement, which is why I am always excited whenever I’m handed over to the keys of a diesel SUV from Hyundai.
There’s more good news, too. As you go into the city, the diesel engine performs admirably. With its peak torque in the low RPM ranges, it’s very easy to dart in and out of traffic, without revving the engine too hard. The 6-speed automatic also does a good job of slushing gears to keep the engine in its sweet spot. As a result, fuel economy is excellent, managing 8.4 km/l in gridlock traffic around Makati.
As the roads clear up upon entering SLEX, the potent R-eVGT diesel engine delivers power like a locomotive. It simply feels like spanking you in the butt when you put the pedal to the metal. There’s a hint of turbo lag as you bury the throttle, but once the boost is there, there’s simply no stopping this machine from pulling ahead. It makes highway merging so much fun as I enjoy seeing slower vehicles and trucks merely become a speck in my rear view. The 6-speed automatic doesn’t have paddle shifters, but it doesn’t need to, as it shifts into the correct gear most of the time. Even if it doesn’t shift into the right gear, the Tucson still manages to overtake excellently, since the engine has so much torque anyway in such a low RPM range. Even under hard acceleration, the engine barely creates a ruckus inside, and even in the high RPM ranges, the engine doesn’t feel or sound coarse like many other diesel engines. This 2.0-liter R series CRDI engine is clearly one of my most favorite diesel engines, ever.
Even at high speeds, the Tucson remains quiet and refined. This crossover is one of the most rigid and solidly built crossovers I’ve driven. There’s very little, if any, road and wind noise that comes into the cabin. Combined with its plush suspension, the Tucson is one of the nicest crossovers to drive long distances. It also helps that the seats are supportive and reduce driver fatigue even after driving for hours.
Putting things into Sport mode makes the Tucson feel like handling a horse with sriracha sauce stuck into its butt. It certainly makes things exciting, but it isn’t necessarily needed, as it makes the throttle and automatic transmission a bit poky in normal driving situations. What I find surprisingly Sporty though is its handling. I’m genuinely surprised by how well the suspension keeps the Tucson’s body movements flat throughout the corners, without any sacrifice in ride comfort. Darting in and out of corners is further made fun by its potent diesel engine, though its powerful torque also means that the Tucson is very prone to torque steer. You know, that tugging sensation you feel in the steering when you bury the throttle while it’s turned. Though the steering is devoid of any feedback, and can be initially slow to react, its accuracy and heftier feel compared to rivals is something I appreciate.
On The Downside
The Hyundai Tucson is a very excellent compact crossover SUV, with an potent diesel engine, supremely good driving dynamics, and solid handling, but if there’s something that lets the Tucson down, it would be its dwindling list of standard features. Remember the small bin I mentioned just aft of the gear shifter? In 2016, when the Tucson GLS came out, it came with an electronic parking brake that was supposed to be there, as well as LED headlamps, LED tail lights, panoramic sunroof, leather interior, reverse camera, and a powered tailgate. Even with the Tucson being decontented, it came with a P60,000 price hike come 2017.
Still, some may argue that the Hyundai Tucson’s brawny diesel engine is worth the high asking price. Unfortunately, the excise tax has taken a further toll on this Tucson GLS CRDI. Its SRP is now at P1,715,000. Equipment-wise, the Tucson has less features than even the entry-level V variant of the Honda CR-V i-DTEC, but the Tucson fights back with a more potent diesel engine (120 hp and 300 Nm vs. 182 hp and 400 Nm). Whether the powerful diesel engine is enough of a justification for its price premium over the CR-V depends on your priorities as a consumer. Would you buy a compact crossover SUV based on how nicely it feels to drive, or on how much feature content does it pack?
Exterior Design: ★★★★☆
Interior Design: ★★★★☆
Space and Practicality: ★★★★★
Fuel Efficiency: ★★★★★
Value For Money: ★★★☆☆
Overall: 4 out of 5