KIA Insider

Small changes add up for Tucson

Base price: $59,990.
Powertrain and performance: 1.6-litre turbo-petrol inline four, 130kW/265Nm, 7-speed dual clutch, AWD, Combined economy 7.7 litres per 100km.
Vital statistics: 4480mm long, 1660mm high, 2670mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 488 litres, 19-inch alloy wheels with 245/45 tyres.
We like: Massively improved DCT. Engine strong across the range. Nicely sorted ride and handling.
We don't like: Drab interior. Adaptive cruise is coarse. Standard low speed DCT annoyances.

The new "Series II" Tucson could easily be seen as Hyundai papering over the cracks, with the mid-size SUV looking drastically out of place following the appearance of the boldly styled and high-tech small Kona and large Santa Fe that bracket it. While the Tucson gets a new face that is tweaked to bring it closer to the new SUV family face, it is what Hyundai has done underneath that really counts.

So is it completely different under the metal then?

Ah, no. In fact, Hyundai has pretty much only tweaked the Tucson's transmission and AWD system, but the net effect of those tweaks has made a huge difference, particularly to the 1.6 turbo models.

* Why Hyundai is our Top Car Brand of 2018
* New Santa Fe most hi-tech SUV on the market, says Hyundai
* Hyundai Kona is a baby-SUV that's born to be mild

Up until now you could generally summarise all Hyundais available with a choice of either the 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol four/automatic transmission combo or the 1.6 turbo four/dual clutch transmission team the same way - the 2.0-litre/auto cars were great around town, but the engine was a bit breathless and the transmission sluggish out on the open road, while the turbo/DCT cars were brilliant out on the open road, but clunky and dull-witted around town, with an an indecisive transmission that could never find the engine's low speed sweet spot.

While we have yet to drive the 2.0-litre lower spec cars, Hyundai's tweaks to the turbo/DCT drivetrain have drastically shifted the equation, with that combo in the top spec Limited we drive here now being a massively more satisfying thing to drive around town.

The engine and transmission now work together beautifully well, with the seven-speed DCT being a brilliantly swift and smooth shifter at low speeds, while now also being far more able to make the most of the engine's impressive flexibility at lower speeds.

That's not to say it was perfect, however, and there were still the occasional juddery or indecisive reminders you were driving a DCT, particularly when backing up hill. Low speed manoeuvring was also slightly hindered by sluggishness, another common DCT bugbear, but nothing that is drastically worse then the competition, or particularly grating.

So what else have they done to it?

Most obviously there's that new (ish) face that gets the more sculpted "cascading" grille and new redesigned headlights (that are now LEDs on the top spec Limited), but aside from that the other changes have been to the AWD system and the interior.

The AWD system on the Tucson is now called HTRAC and the major changes from the previous system is, well, the HTRAC badge really - it is an improved version of the previous on-demand system, mainly done through software tweaks. It was always very good anyway, so the improvements are harder to notice here. The badge is nice though.

The inside looks pretty dull - are you sure they have changed much?

Well, the dash is actually totally new, with a bigger (8-inch in the Limited, 7 in the rest) infotainment touchscreen, which has been raised up to a floating unit mounted higher up on dash, bringing it more into the driver's line of sight (which some will hate, but it drastically improves its usability and reduces the time spent looking away from the road), while it also scores wireless phone charging as well.

The interior is beautifully made and sensibly laid out, with comfortable seats and an excellent driving position, but there is no getting away from the fact that it is inescapably drab, with only a few scant silvery highlights to break up a sea of black.

Enough of that - what's it like on the road?

As mentioned earlier, the Tucson with the 1.6 turbo and the seven-speed DCT was always a capable and satisfying thing on the open road, and the Series II revisions haven't messed with that in any way.

The big 19-inch wheels and low profile 245/45 tyres make things a little less eager and direct when turning in, but not to a degree that it particularly affects the Tuscon's generally pleasant and surprisingly eager on-road demeanour.

The nose still tips nicely into corners, with the rear tracking faithfully through, dealing with surface imperfections with an impressive serenity. In fact, it would be fair to say that the Hyundai Tucson offers levels of on-road capability and competency on par with the Mazda CX-5. Or maybe even a bit better.

The Tucson's ride is also impressive - never soggy or unruly, yet never overly firm and intrusive, it strikes a nicely judged balance between comfort and control that makes it a deeply satisfying and comfortable open road cruiser.

Any other cars I should consider?

The obvious one is the Mazda CX-5 mentioned above. Exceptionally capable, well equipped and handsome, the CX-5 does have a nicer interior, but the Hyundai has a far better infotainment system. Depends on your priorities, really.

Then there is the inevitable Toyota RAV4, which is pricey, but the safe choice, while the Kia Sportage offers a related, but not quite as good Korean option to the Tucson.

Then there are the others; Nissan X-Trail and Qashai, Ford Escape, Holden Equinox, Honda CR-V, the larger, yet cheaper Mitsubishi Outlander and the rest. There's nothing that is truly terrible in this segment (although the Captiva is still hanging around - but it is cheap as hell and on runout), so most choices are good ones, depending on your needs. The Tucson is just now one of the better good choices.