I’ve found my new favorite small crossover vehicle, the Hyundai Tucson.
I’ll admit to being surprised, but I’m not sure why. Hyundai and sister company Kia have become the styling leaders among Asian car makes and their performance is on par, or better than most of their competitors too. Hyundai designers in particular seems to have mastered the simple, elegant interior with logical controls and a high-quality look and feel.
This new Tucson has that, plus a smooth pleasantly rounded exterior that is simply eye pleasing.
I drove a “winter white” top-of-the-line Limited AWD model, so granted, I had the best Tucson that Hyundai has to offer. Even at that the Tucson started at $31,300 and only added the bare minimum of options, a cargo cover and carpeted floor mats. Total, including delivery fee, was $32,510. That’s just below the average price of a new vehicle sale these days.
But the Tucson feels and looks much more upscale, starting with this one’s brown over tan leather interior with gloss black trim on the center stack’s face and pewter-look trim around the video screen and air vents. Doors featured flat black trim on the armrest surfaces that house power window and other buttons. It felt and looked ritzy, but not ostentatious.
It’s rare too that I lead off a review with so much attention to the interior, but this dash simple is the best I’ve experienced in the past couple years. Simple, simple, simple, yet more elegant than anything you’ll find in cars costing twice as much and awash in a button orgy. The navigation/radio screen is large and simple to use, all buttons large and well laid out and labeled.
The thick leather steering wheel’s hub features eight buttons and four toggles, equally and logically arranged on each side of the hub. The push button start glows blue and all the buttons on the center stack glow blue, which is incredibly easy on the eyes at night. While I’d never want the government to dictate that blue MUST be used, I’m not sure why all car makers don’t default to mostly blue buttons.
Tucson’s center gauges are the usual tachometer, digital trip computer’info screen and speedometer layout, but again, extremely clean and easy to see and read. The nav/radio screen is split so you can see both functions, or you can switch it to full screen for either the map or radio. The Limited has dual climate controls with large knobs to adjust it, plus large buttons for other climate functions.
Tucson’s power seats are mildly contoured and comfortable and the driver’s seat has a power lumbar support. Knee room under the tilt/telescope steering wheel is a bit tight if, like me, you raise the seat up fairly high because you’re below average in stature. Tall folks will lower the seat and have no such concerns. I also wish the big A-pillar were thinner as they (along with the side mirrors) somewhat obscure visibility, a problem many newer vehicles have.
This being the top-level Tucson there were three-level heated and cooled front seats and two-level heated outboard rear seats. Naturally all the latest electronics are on this top-end crossover. There’s a rearview camera with cross-traffic alert, blind-spot warning system and the ever annoying lane-departure system, which thankfully can be turned off with the push of a button.
Overhead is a giant sunroof and visors that slide, while in back is a power hatch and rear seats that split and easily fold flat.
OK, OK, how’s it drive?
Great! The 1.6-liter I4 features a turbocharger that boosts horsepower of the small engine to 175 with 195 ft.-lbs. of torque, which makes the Tucson peppy and fun to drive. The only similarly priced small crossover with this much pep is Subaru’s Forester, and it does it without a turbo.
I thought the small turbo engine would get better gas mileage though. The EPA rates this at 24 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. I got just 23.7 mpg in about 70% city driving and mostly by myself. One factor may be that the test car had less than 2,500 miles on the odometer, and silly as it seems, experience tells me some cars’ gas mileage improves after they have a few more miles on them.
The Tucson also features what it calls an EcoShift dual-clutch 7-speed automatic transmission that shifts smoothly and helps deliver power evenly. There are three shift modes too with Sport giving it the most power while Normal is fine for city driving. Eco cuts the car’s power, but is designed to aid your gas mileage.
Making the Tucson more fun though is its sporty, responsive handling. This is borderline sport coupe handling, the steering being quick and the Tucson cornering well while feeling fairly light and lively. It weighs in at just 3,499 lbs.
Ride is a tad sporty too, but smoother than most small utes. The 105.1-inch wheelbase seems to tame our rough roads well and keep the crossover well controlled at all times. Tires are R19s from Kumho.
If you can’t afford AWD, or prefer front-drive, that’s available in all four Tucson trim levels. The base SE with FWD starts at $23,595, including delivery. That model comes with a 2.0-liter I4 that creates 164 horsepower and 151 ft.-lbs. of torque. With the lower power the EPA gas rating is slightly higher at 31 mpg for the highway, yet just 23 mpg in the city. The SE also weighs about 175 lbs. less than the Limited with AWD.
There are so many small sport-utes or crossovers these days that it’s hard for one to stand out, especially in the average to below-average price segments. But the Tucson is a definite standout.
FAST Stats: 2016 Hyundai Tucson Ltd. AWD
Hits: Peppy turbo I4 with sporty, responsive handling, AWD and good ride. Excellent simple yet elegant dash layout with blue buttons on center stack, plus heated/cooled seats, sunroof, blind-spot warning and power hatch. Cool wheels too!
Misses: Gas mileage a bit disappointing, large A-pillar and tight knee room under steering column for short drivers.
Made in: Ulsan, S. Korea
Engine: 1.6-liter, turbo, I4, 175 hp
Transmission: 7-speed EcoShift dual clutch automatic
Weight: 3,499 lbs.
Wheelbase: 105.1 in.
Length: 176.2 in.
Tow: 1,500 lbs.
Cargo: 61.9 cu.ft. (rear seats down)
MPG: 24/28 (EPA)
MPG: 23.7 (tested)
Base Price: $31,300
Dealer’s Price: $30,575 (includes delivery)
Carpeted floor mats, $125
Cargo cover, $190
Test vehicle: $32,510
Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage