A good crossover nowadays needs more than just the basics. It should ride better, perform better, and provide more utility than its competition to stand out in a market flooded with CUVs.
On paper, the 2016 Hyundai Tucson appears to do just that. The third-generation crossover arrives in America longer, wider, and lower, with a new powertrain and more technology that mostly works seamlessly inside the quiet cabin. It’s a solid alternative to much more mainstream choices such as the Honda CR-V and the Ford Escape.
Frankly, this small crossover segment has turned into the midsize car segment. It’s becoming just as cutthroat and just as boring. These are the minivan substitutes without the utility of a minivan or the third row of bigger vehicles. Hyundai has at least tried to make the new Tucson palatable for people who need a family hauler but still want to feel like they have not surrendered their automotive souls.
The all-new exterior does a nice job of riding the fence between utilitarian and sporty. The new Tucson arrives 3.0 inches longer, 1.1 inches wider, and 0.4 inch shorter than the outgoing model. All three changes give it a stronger stance and enhance its performance.
The new face of the Tucson, which is also the new face of Hyundai, includes a hard-cut hexagonal-shaped grille, LED twin-projector headlamps, and LED daytime running lights. The front end certainly creates a more aggressive face meant to fill everyone else’s rearview mirror. It doesn’t shout, but the growl is welcome.
The rest of the Tucson’s design follows similar lines. As part of Hyundai’s fluidic 2.0 design scheme—first seen last year on the Genesis—the sheetmetal creases are sharp but not overdone. For this generation, the windows are smaller and the metal bigger, which Hyundai says translates into a sportier profile. But really, that sportiness comes from the asymmetrical wheel housing and optional 19-inch wheels. The Tucson’s stance leans forward, a big cat ready to pounce.
The 1.6-liter, turbocharged engine provides plenty of pouncing power. The four-cylinder engine produces 175-horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque, which, frankly, I thought would leave the Tucson sluggish off the line and wheezing on the highway. During a day of test-driving in Minnesota, I was pleasantly surprised that even the 3,800-pound AWD Limited had plenty of power for both passing and off-the-line acceleration. It’s certainly not going to set a land-speed record, but it felt like it could outperform any minivan and hold its own against more nimble midsize sedans. The 1.6-liter engine also comes with a new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that was extremely smooth and very intelligent, knowing when to hold a gear and when to shift.
I did not get to test the 2.0-liter base engine in the Tucson but find its 164 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque border on the low side of performance. It will likely keep the sled moving but without nearly the gusto of the turbocharged engine. It does, however, help deliver strong fuel economy numbers that range for both engines from 21 to 26 mpg in city driving and 26 to 33 mpg on the highway depending upon the Tucson’s configuration.
For the next-generation Tucson, Hyundai adds a driver mode select switch, allowing for three different modes: Normal, Eco, and Sport. The switch changes throttle and transmission mapping as well as electronic steering feel. In Normal and especially Eco modes, the throttle mapping discourages heavy acceleration, creating a slight delay between stomping the accelerator and feeling the vehicle surge forward. This was annoying. The solution was to switch to Sport mode, where the acceleration felt more direct and linear.
The steering does tighten up in Sport mode and felt well-weighted in all of the modes. There’s solid road feel and a nice return to center that makes the Tucson agile. Even though it is a crossover with the higher driving position, the Tucson handled much like the Sonata that make up its underpinnings. The longer wheelbase provides a stable and smooth ride, and all of the work Hyundai did to dampen noise kept everything quiet. A parent would not even need to raise his or her voice to get their kid’s attention in the second row.
Hyundai also threw as much technology as it had available into the Tucson, which uses cameras and sensors surrounding the vehicle. There is lane departure warning, blind-spot detection, pedestrian detection, and a standard backup camera that shows the image on the standard 5-inch LCD screen or optional 8-inch screen.
Both are easy to use, and Hyundai’s telematics system incorporates its Blue Link app, which now includes remote start, lock/unlock doors, stolen vehicle recovery, and a free year of Hyundai’s Connected Car, Remote, and Guidance service. That includes emergency services such as automatic collision notification and assistance, vehicle maintenance reports, and monitoring features. To that, add geo-fencing to monitor the vehicle’s location, alarm notification, and destination services powered by Google.
Of course, the Tucson can also belt out all the music on your smartphone (or use apps such as Pandora) with its 405-watt premium stereo system that provides crisp, clean sound everywhere in the vehicle.
Overall, the interior is well put together and an improvement over the outgoing model. From the heated and ventilated font seats, the driver can easily reach every control and operate the Tucson with ease. The gauges are crisp, the center stack intuitive, and the center console well laid out. Lots of little details such as stitching on the steering wheel and dash are unexpected for a crossover that has a starting price around $23,000. Some compact cars cost more.
The Tucson also has a lot of room inside. I was just as comfortable in the second row—which includes heated seats—as I was in the front. Additionally, the second row, which offers a 60/40 split to fold, can be adjusted to lean back.
Although the Tucson is aimed at young families, this crossover seems ideal for families with young teenagers, as well. Little features, such as the power liftgate that opens automatically when you approach the Tucson and have the key in your pocket , reward the owner. This is one step better than Ford’s system that requires the owner to shake a leg under the bumper in something that resembles a sobriety test. Behind that liftgate is a cargo area with 31 cubic feet of storage with the second row up. Fold that down, and the Tucson has more than 60 cubic feet of space.
Like the exterior, the interior offers lots of little rewards in a bespoke fashion that make the Tucson feel like a steal instead of just another crossover thrown into the mix. There’s a sense that you get a lot for your money in a tradition that Hyundai has fostered for years. That might be why so many Hyundai owners love to show off their vehicles to strangers and tell them how much they paid. Who doesn’t love a good deal?
The Tucson will keep letting them do just that. This vehicle doesn’t just look good on paper. It rides well and looks sharp on the road, too.