Until Genesis offers a compact CUV...
How much are cute-ute buyers willing to pay? Hyundai aims to find out by offering the 2019 Tucson with a new unbadged (so discreet!) “Ultimate” trim level. As cute-ute money grabs go, Hyundai’s $2,650 USD premium relative to the Limited grade undercuts the $3,500 USD Subaru demands when upgrading from Limited to its new Touring trim on a Forester 2.5i. It’s also a considerably gentler bump than the $6,590 USD Mazda asks to upgrade a CX-5 Grand Touring to Signature spiffiness. Of course, the Mazda throws in the CX-9’s turbo engine while those other two leave the powertrains untouched.
OK, the Tucson Ultimate’s powertrain is definitely touched. Its newly offered 2.4-liter naturally aspirated engine and six-speed torque-converter automatic is billed as an “upgrade” from the 1.6-liter turbo and seven-speed twin-clutch automatic that powered the 2018 Value and Limited models, but it now powers the top four trim grades (SEL, Sport, Limited, and Ultimate). That “upgrade” notion is a tough sell.
Power increases by 6 hp, but torque drops by 20 lb-ft. Making matters worse, comparing all-wheel-drive test samples, this six-speed’s gearing is 13–26 percent taller in the first three gears—a leverage deficit that isn’t compensated for by the launch-torque multiplication the torque converter provides. This posh new Tucson hit 60 mph in 8.8 seconds—that’s between 0.5 and 0.9 second slower than our last three Tucson 1.6T test vehicles, one of which was also heavier. Quarter-mile and figure-eight times trail the quickest of the 1.6T Tucsons by about a half second. None of this is meant to imply that the new Tucson feels lethargic or winded, per se. And of course torque converters launch and creep the way Americans expect them to, unlike twin-clutch trannies.
The Tucson’s quarter-mile performance ranks it in the bottom quartile of 40 similar CUVs we’ve tested recently, but more than half of those utes weigh more than this one’s 3,633 pounds (1,648 kg). Its tidy dimensions and savvy chassis tuning stand it in better stead in our handling tests: It ranked in the top quartile in braking distance from 60 mph (118 feet) and figure-eight performance (27.6 seconds with an overall average lateral/longitudinal g-force vector of 0.60 g). Pure lateral grip is in the top 15 percent at 0.82 g. The news is considerably worse on the fuel economy front, however, where this Tucson’s EPA city/highway ratings of 21/26 mpg (11.2/9 L/100 km) rank in the bottom 15/5 percent of the class.
A few editors wished for slightly suppler damping, but many lauded the chassis’ ability to quickly take a set in a turn and hang on through the switchbacks with minimal tire squeal. And on a day that involved running several CUVs around our figure-eight course—including that Signature CX-5—road test editor Chris Walton praised the Tucson’s “excellent throttle response, responsive manual mode on the shift lever, good brake pedal feel, ease of transitioning from braking into cornering, and good balance on the skidpad with sharp steering. It might not be the quickest, but it sure feels good doing this.” (Meanwhile, that Mazda was stymied by an overeager and undefeatable stability control system.)
Still, the logbook notes suggest that most hearts won over by this Tucson were won by its deluxe interior, not its dynamics. Senior production editor Zach Gale noted, “Wow, this interior. Two-tone seats with contrasting piping and stitching and a two-tone dash? At this price?” Note that some of those beautiful parts feel a tad cheap to the touch, however. Features editor Scott Evans declared Hyundai “the leader in infotainment. Their touchscreen user interface is friendlier and cleaner than anyone else’s, and you still get all the redundant buttons you need. The addition of a higher resolution 360-degree camera system just put it over the top.” The heated back seats offer great thigh support, cushier padding than most, and a limolike 18 positions of seat back recline, adjustable via a convenient lever on the side of the seat cushion. Head- and shoulder room are class competitive, but rear-seat legroom is on the tight side. And accessing the rear thrones is a breeze through doors that open almost 90 degrees wide. One odd unique selling proposition: The 60/40 split-folding rear seat back has the wide side on the right.
So does the ultimate Tucson deliver $33,995 USD worth of value? Sure, so long as you’re not an mpg-obsessed hypermiler. We appreciate its upscale design inside and out, the super-long warranty (10 years/100,000 miles (161,000 km) on the powertrain!), and the all-inclusive nature of the price, which includes all the latest IIHS Top Safety Pick–earning safety gear, adaptive cruise, lane keep assist, pano roof, etc. You merely select among the nine (free!) color options and a few inexpensive dealer-installed things like floormats and cargo shades. All it needs to earn a Genesis badge is an upgrade in the interior materials quality and a powertrain that’ll rank it in the top quartile of a tougher peer group.
|2019 Hyundai Tucson HTRAC (Ultimate)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$34,120|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.4L/181-hp/175-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,633 lb (58/42%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||176.4 x 72.8 x 64.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.8 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.7 sec @ 84.1 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||118 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.82 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.6 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||21/26/23 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||160/130 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.84 lb/mile|