The compact SUV segment has come a long way since the Tucson first arrived on the scene in 2004. Back then there were only a few competitors vying for segment dominance but the past several years have seen a number of quality competitors enter the fray. The all-new Tucson has a lot to live up to – especially in South Africa where its predecessor (badged ix35) sold over 32000 units and spent most of its lifecycle at the top of the sales charts. In fact it was only recently usurped by the Ford Kuga so the new Tucson has a lot to live up to if it’s to regain its place at the top of the segment. Hyundai SA will be well aware the issue reverting to the Tucson badge poses but according to James Kim, vice president/head of Africa and Middle East, it’s all part of the plan. ‘The renaming of this model will be beneficial as it will give people a fresh thinking. We want one simple single message to give to customers and now the name is the same all over the world.’ Regardless of any initial local consumer confusion, having a globally unified approach is probably quite astute in terms of future marketing spend.With its subtropical climate, massive changes in elevation, pristine mountain passes and rocky terrain it’s easy to see why the island of Gran Canaria was chosen as the venue for the global test drive. Since arriving the mercury hasn’t dropped below 36 degrees and the 60 per cent humidity isn’t doing much to help me adapt from the cold Cape Town winter I’ve left behind. You’d expect such a small island (1560 square kilometres) to be somewhat underdeveloped but it’s quite the antithesis: Gran Canaria is home to nearly one million people and the road network and infrastructure is up there with the very best of Europe.
The Tucson Iooks out of place amid the eclectic architecture that peppers the Maspalomas region, a direct result of the Castilian Conquests and other multicultural influences owing to its history as a popular trade port. The Tucson too has progressed in terms of its design and influences. In a short space of time the visual language has evolved quite significantly moving from bland and generic to a more exclusive and evocative facade. The Tucson you see here uses the updated riffs of fluidic sculpture 2.0. The new design blueprint builds on the company’s recent push at distinguishing itself from rivals – as such the Tucson makes use of sculptural surfacing, pressed crease lines and striking contours. It does look pretty aggressive especially in profile, the new, rearward-raking arches and 19-inch wheels injecting its appearance with purpose and dynamism. Other classy touches include the new chrome hexagonal grille, chrome strip that underlines the glasshouse as well as front and rear skid plates and chrome exhaust tips.Like the previous generation three trim levels will be available: Premium, Executive and Elite – each of which is differentiated by a step up in trim and specification. One of the big talking points surrounding the new model is that of the LED head- and tail-lamps. While a luxury in their own right these features are unfortunately pricey and will in all likelihood not make it to our shores. Neither will the Smart Power tailgate as it’s a linked option with the LED package. This is a real pity as both are superb added-value options but their absence should translate into a better buying price.
The most notable area of change is undoubtedly that of the cabin. The progression in terms of quality is immediately evident upon entry where the surfaces and trim options are of a very high standard. While it’s not quite in the same league as the VW Tiguan, the fit and finish is very impressive if anything lacking a touch in visual drama. Soft-touch cladding features on the dashboard, the instrumentation is clearly laid out and the switchgear arrangement is intuitive and grouped by function. Of course a little more range in the colour palette would do wonders to lift the cabin and layer it with more energy but we shouldn’t forget the Tucson is focused more on functionality than outright luxury. That said there is some luxury to be had – take for example the rear reclining seats that offer a 34-degree adjustment. Add to that the ventilated front seats, a full-length panoramic sunroof, front and rear parking sensors, a 5-inch colour LCD display, a rear-view camera, blind-spot detection, satnav and an 8-speaker sound system and the experience is nothing short of comprehensive. The airiness of the cabin is something of a luxury, too. A 65mm increase in overall length and a 35mm-longer wheelbase has freed up a notable amount of space inside so there’s added comfort for both front and rear occupants, not to mention better cargo volume (513/1502-litres).A few hundred meters is all you need to realise how comfortably the Tucson rides, this despite the 19-inch wheels. Hyundai has worked hard on improving the ride compliance and NVH levels. That said I’d suggest going with either the 17- or 18-inch wheel option as the higher tyre profile while supply better protection and pliancy on some of SA’s questionable roads. Here in the Canaries on the other hand the Tucson rides like a dream – the infrastructure in and around Maspalomas is world-class with smooth asphalt snaking through the mountainous terrain. The changes in elevation are truly amazing. These islands were formed by volcanoes thousands of years ago which is evident in the rock formations that comprise the surrounding escarpments. Major work has gone into getting the handling and damping balance just right, a result no doubt owing to the reworked suspension arrangement that comprises a MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear. It feels just as good on dirt, too, as I discovered on a gravel road detour to the GC-60 mountain pass which cuts through the village of Fataga. While there’s no genuine differential lock it does come with an electronic 4wd system which sends up to 50 per cent of the torque to the rear wheels depending on the conditions, reverting to front-wheel drive when traction returns to the fronts. Another helpful aid is the Lock Mode which splits torque 50/50 at speeds up to 40kph. It’s on the pristine mountain roads where the Tucson really shows its mettle, weaving through the narrow meandering roads with the composure of a hatchback. And that’s precisely the feeling you get when seated behind the wheel. It feels a lot like you’re driving a tall hatchback. The steering is good – while not as precise as a Qashqai it needs little correction, the result of which is a confident steer.
There’s a variety of engine options available, two of which have already done duty in the ix35. These include a naturally aspirated 115kW/196Nm 2.0-litre and an 85kW/280Nm 1.7-litre turbodiesel while a detuned 130kW/265Nm 1.6-litre turbo GDI as employed by the Veloster makes its first appearance in SUV format. My pick of the range is the turbodiesel linked with a six-speed manual transmission. There’s plenty of lowdown torque available to effortlessly pull it up inclines and the straight-line performance is nothing to be scoffed at either. The only real downside comes in the form of a numb and somewhat delayed throttle response which cannot be cured even with the sportiest of driving mode selected. That said it offers a great mix of grunt and efficiency registering a combined-cycle figure of 5.3/100km.The new Tucson is a well-rounded response to a segment flooded with quality contenders. This model has always been a big seller for Hyundai and it looks certain to continue in this vain – especially when considering the dynamic design, better build quality, improved creature comforts as well as the return of the Tucson badge. Yes, the interior lacks the visual punch of some of its Euro and Japanese rivals – the Tiguan and Qashqai have this area licked, but it’s still a great and airy space for passengers. While the top-spec model we sampled is unlikely to be the biggest seller in the range it’s clear the basic fundamentals of a quality SUV are all present and this should interest both brand loyalists and new buyers alike. Pricing is going to be the chief indicator as to whether it will continue in its predecessor’s sales path but considering the strides made in terms of refinement and quality the third-generation Tucson is sure to attract. The Tucson is set for its local debut in January 2016 with pricing starting from around R380k. While this makes it one of the pricier options in the segment the high residual values linked to a loyal customer base will surely help it regain its spot at the top of the sales charts.Hyundai Tucson 1.7CRDiPRICE Not yet ENGINE 1685cc turbodiesel, 85kW @ 4000rpm, 260Nm @ 1250-2750rpm TRANSMISSION six-speed manual, front-wheel drive SUSPENSION MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear LENGTH/WIDTH/HEIGHT 4475mm / 1850mm / 1645mm WEIGHT 1425kg PERFORMANCE 12.9sec 0-100kph, 176kph top speed, 5.3L/100km, 119g/km CO2 ON SALE January 2016South Africa Pricing:The pricing of the five derivatives in the South African line-up is as follows:Hyundai Tucson 2.0 Nu Premium (manual) R359 900Hyundai Tucson 2.0 Nu Premium (automatic) R379 900Hyundai Tucson 2.0 Nu Elite (automatic) R439 900Hyundai Tucson 1.6 TGDi Executive (manual) R419 900Hyundai Tucson 1.6 TGDi Elite DCT AWD R499 9005-year/150 000 km manufacturer’s warranty, a 7-years/200 000 km drivetrain warranty, comes standard. As does a 5-year/90 000 km service plan.