A lot can happen in 15 years, particularly in the car world. Take Hyundai, for example, which in 2006 had a range of exceptionally bland and budget models, which certainly did little to inspire, that’s for sure.
But the years following that have all been change – first with the South Korean car maker moving successfully into the mainstream (against firms like Ford and Vauxhall) and now pivoting into more premium territory with the arrival of core models like the fourth-generation Tucson, which is now Hyundai’s best-selling car in the UK. But is it really ready to enter a more upmarket place in the market? Let’s find out.
If Hyundai’s quest was to make sure the new Tucson is unrecognisable to its predecessor, it’s certainly succeeded. Most striking is the fantastic new design, which is an enormous shift. We’ll explore more of this later, but it features Hyundai’s latest design language and is headed up by its new ‘Parametric Hidden Lights’ – essentially a grille that lights up.
It’s also underpinned by a range of new electrified powertrains, and gains all manner of new technology – a particular highlight being a ‘Smart Key’ that lets you drive the car using just the key fob. It certainly feels like something more out of a James Bond film than it does being fitted to a family SUV.
Hyundai was well ahead of the opposition when it comes to electrification, so it’s no surprise that these kinds of powertrains feature heavily with the Tucson. There’s no longer a diesel option, with all powertrains now centred around a turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine. You can choose a 148bhp with or without mild-hybrid tech, while a mild-hybrid 178bhp version brings all-wheel-drive.
Our test car is the regular Hybrid model, which produces 227bhp and 350Nm of torque thanks to its petrol-electric setup. Power is also delivered to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission.
With a 0-60mph time of 7.8 seconds, it’s the quickest Tucson available, while also relatively efficient for a car of this size – Hyundai claims 49.6mpg, with CO2 emissions of 131g/km. An upcoming plug-in hybrid will improve further on those running costs thanks to its 31-mile electric range.
For a manufacturer so well-versed with hybrid powertrains, it’s no surprise that the Tucson’s is a good one. It’s smooth, refined and punchy when required (if not quite as startling in performance as some of the figures might suggest), while it can run as an ‘EV’ for more time than is customary for a ‘self-charging’ hybrid model.
Behind the wheel, it’s largely safe and sensible as opposed to fun, with light steering clearly being aimed at urban use, though the swift performance and well-kept body roll means it’s easy to get your toe down when the road opens up a bit.
The only slight gripe is that the large 19-inch alloy wheels can mean the ride is a bit unsettled and crashy at times. Disappointingly, there’s no option for smaller rims on this Hybrid model, either, regardless of trim level.
Chalk and cheese is the easiest way to describe the new and old Tucson in terms of design, and where its predecessor was bland, this new Hyundai is radical.
Though some might find the new design a bit outlandish (especially in the top-spec Ultimate trim seen here), we reckon it’s bold for all the right reasons. It’s all angles, from its funky-shaped wheel arches to its sharp cuts and edges down the side A thin silver strip running above the window line also helps to give it an almost ‘coupe-like’ design, while the new front end offers incredible presence.
That’s thanks to what Hyundai calls ‘parametric jewels’ in the grille, which light up to give the Tucson a unique look on the road. You’d expect such a feature to just be found on top-end Audi and Mercedes models, so it’s great to see such bold design on a comparatively affordable model.
Hyundai cabins have improved dramatically in recent years and the Tucson’s feels like the best yet. From its cool four-spoke steering wheel to its superb quality throughout, this Hyundai certainly feels as upmarket as the equivalent Volkswagen inside, if not better.
It’s brimmed with technology, too, including a large widescreen touchscreen system and digital dials (both 10.25 inches in size and fitted across the range), though Hyundai is the latest firm to adopt ‘touch buttons’ as opposed to traditional buttons to press. While they look cool, they’re rather fiddly to use on the move.
Thanks to increased dimensions, the boot space has grown from 513 litres to 616 litres, and interestingly this Hybrid actually has a bigger trunk than the mild-hybrid options. Rear seat room is also very generous, and the Tucson is ideal as a family car, even if you have taller teenage children.
All versions get a long list of equipment, with climate control, a reversing camera and range of driver assistance technology included on entry-level SE Connect versions. A mid-spec Premium model brings heated front seats, LED headlights, adaptive cruise control and keyless entry. Meanwhile the flagship Ultimate trim certainly lives up to its name – boasting a panoramic sunroof, electric boot and all kinds of additional safety technology.
Hyundai has managed to more-or-less conquer the mainstream market and now it’s moving into premium territory. It’s a bold move, but the new Tucson feels like the right car for the job. In a segment where design and quality stand for a lot, this SUV really impresses, feeling special to look at and be in.
The Hybrid system is also one of the best around, while a vast, practical interior makes it ideal as a family car. Though the choppy ride could be improved and – of course – there’s the big issue of raised pricing, this Tucson is a suitably modern reinvention, and one that’s leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor.