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2016 Hyundai Tucson Test Drive Review
The new 2016 Hyundai Tucson is appealing from every angle, something that cannot be said for many of its competitors.
Completely redesigned for the 2016 model year, the Hyundai Tucson wades into small crossover SUV battle with great styling, a more comfortable and functional interior, top safety ratings, and industry-leading warranty protection. Bigger and better than ever, especially in terms of cargo space and available safety and infotainment technologies, there's just one significant deal-breaker when comparing this Hyundai to established players in the segment, and it relates to the powertrain most Tucsons will use.
Look and Feel
Great design can mean the difference between success and failure, and if Hyundai doesn’t sell a whole bunch of 2016 Tucsons, it certainly won’t be due to this compact crossover SUV’s styling. The automaker may have fumbled with the snooze-fest Sonata redesign, but this all-new Tucson looks terrific.
From its blunt nose, which helps to visually reduce the excessive front overhang common with front-drive platforms, to its heritage-inspired wheel arch trim and handsome 19-inch aluminum wheel design, the new 2016 Tucson is appealing from every angle, something that cannot be said for many of its competitors.
Inside, the Germanic austerity and sensibility that has come to define Hyundai interiors is on full display, with complementary tones and textures rendered in thoughtful, simplistic fashion. Elegant details such as piano-black radio knobs and a textured rubber storage-tray liner represent surprise-and-delight details, and at night the control panel is illuminated in a soothing violet-and-white lighting scheme.
The new Tucson is offered in SE, Eco, Sport, and Limited trim levels. The base price for the SE with front-wheel drive (FWD) is $23,595, while a loaded Limited with all-wheel-drive (AWD) costs $35,665. That’s a whole bunch of money for what is an entry-level crossover, but given the amount of equipment, some of which still isn’t available for “luxury” models, it isn’t completely out of whack.
My test car for the week was the Tucson Limited AWD dipped in Sedona Sunset paint, a subdued and appealing shade of burnt orange. It did not have the Ultimate Package, meaning it did not have electroluminescent gauges, a panoramic sunroof, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, headlights that help the driver to see around dark corners, rear parking-assist sensors, a lane-departure warning system, or an automatic emergency braking system with pedestrian detection capability. It did have carpeted floor mats, though, bringing the as-tested total to $32,320 including the $895 destination charge.
Every version of the Tucson, except the base SE trim, is equipped with a turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine. It makes 175 hp at 5,500 rpm and 195 lb-ft of torque from 1,500 rpm to 4,500 rpm, and it's paired with a 7-speed EcoShift dual-clutch automated manual transmission (DCT).
Some explanation is in order. First, that peak torque figure is important. Once the engine revs high enough and the torque starts to flow, the Tucson feels strong and quick while accelerating. However, before that, when first stepping on the accelerator, you might wonder if an engine is even installed in the Tucson in the first place. That delay in power delivery is called “turbo lag,” and with the Drive Mode Select technology set to Eco or Normal calibration, it is significant. Switching to Sport mode helps, but only slightly.
Compounding the problem, the 7-speed DCT is lazy about engaging first gear. Automated manual transmissions work similarly to traditional manual transmissions, except that the driver does not use a clutch pedal or shift gears—hence the “automated” part of the description. In the Tucson, when you release the brake pedal and step on the accelerator pedal, there's a delay as the transmission engages first gear. Because of this, together with the turbo-lag issue, a driver will not want to try to beat traffic when turning left and will want to leave plenty of room when turning right into the flow of traffic.
Once the Tucson is moving, the engine and transmission are delightful, delivering impressive midrange acceleration and behaving in refined fashion. Driving dynamics are competent, too, though the Tucson lacks the sort of finely tuned qualities that make a vehicle truly enjoyable to drive.
For example, the electric steering is better than that in Hyundais of the past, but still can’t match some competitors in terms of how on-center stability and off-center responsiveness feel. Although equipped with 19-inch wheels and tires, the ride quality is agreeable on Southern California’s relatively smooth highways, but body roll and sidewall squish serve to limit the Tucson’s handling on a twisty road. The brake pedal is sometimes difficult to modulate, too, producing greater braking response than is sometimes expected.
Hyundai gives the Tucson moderate off-roading capability, thanks to an optional AWD system that includes a way to lock the power split evenly between the front and rear wheels. Hill Start Assist Control and Downhill Brake Control systems are also along for the ride. Nevertheless, despite these features, a Tucson is not really intended for tackling more than a well-worn trail.
I put a ton of miles on my test Tucson, having driven it from the northwest suburbs of Los Angeles to San Diego and back. The EPA thinks a Tucson should get 24 mpg in the city, 28 on the highway, and 26 in combined driving. That is an oddly small spread between city and highway driving, and my test average for the week fell a bit short, coming out to 24.7 mpg despite all the highway driving.
Form and Function
Hyundai understands that when it comes to interior design, form must follow function. The result is a Tucson interior that looks austere, but is refreshingly easy to use and nicely detailed with upscale features like chrome-ringed piano-black radio and climate-control knobs, perforated leather seats, and, in the Limited model, a premium dashboard cover with the appearance of exposed stitching. The Tucson’s controls are also clearly marked and rendered in a smooth, matte-finish plastic that looks and feels upscale.
Examine the lower half of the Tucson’s interior and you’ll easily identify where the company saves money. Although the texture and graining matches the soft materials up top, the hard lower plastic takes on a glossy sheen and appears easily scuffed and scratched. If you happen to be purchasing a Tucson Limited with the Ultimate Package, this approach might prove particularly galling.
Comfort levels impress, though, with both front seats offering 8-way power adjustment in the Limited model. The driver’s seat also includes power lumbar support. The rear seat is not quite as comfortable, as the bottom seat cushion is mounted rather low. However, it supplies decent thigh support, and legroom is generous enough that a Tucson works for a family of four, which previously might have been a dubious claim.
With this redesign, Hyundai also expands cargo capacity behind the rear seat, the space growing by 5.3 cubic feet to a total of 31. With the rear seat folded down, total volume expands by 6.1 cubic feet to 61.9. While the new numbers remain modest, especially in comparison to other vehicles in the small crossover SUV segment, the added room makes a big difference in terms of the new Tucson’s overall utility and practicality.
Buy a Tucson Sport or Limited, and you’ll get a hands-free power-operated rear liftgate. Unlike other automakers that offer a similar feature, Hyundai’s solution simply requires the owner to stand behind the vehicle, key fob in a pocket or purse, and after a few seconds the liftgate will open.
On the one hand, this is a safer design, because it doesn’t require a person with full hands to balance on one leg and wave a foot under the rear bumper. On the other hand, if you linger too long near the rear of the vehicle with no intention of accessing the cargo area, the liftgate will open, whether you want it to or not. This feature can be turned off using the Tucson’s driver-information system, but that defeats the point of having it in the first place.
Limited models add a larger 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation and a premium sound system, a dual-zone automatic climate-control system with air filtration, and Blue Link connected services technology, which requires a subscription. Free for the first year of ownership, Blue Link Connected Care service includes SOS emergency calling and automatic collision notification. Upgrade to Blue Link Remote Access service for remote engine start, remote access to the vehicle’s locks, stolen vehicle recovery, and the ability to set speed, curfew, and geographic boundary alerts. Blue Link Destination Search service is yet another upgrade, installing the ability to conduct voice searches for points of interest, among other features.
I sure could have used that last function, because when trying to find a hotel by name it offered point-of-interest results by category and proximity rather than by name and city. Additionally, the Tucson’s voice-recognition technology failed to properly process either of the exact addresses I gave it, requiring me to pull to the side of the road and manually input the destination.
Hyundai, the Tucson’s navigation system is no match for Siri.
Every 2016 Tucson is equipped with a standard reversing camera, and the Sport and Limited models include a blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist technology. These features work well, and the blind-spot warning system uses a light that illuminates on the side mirrors, making it easy to reference. When you signal a lane change and another vehicle is in the Tucson’s blind spot, an aural alert sounds.
Upgrade to the Tucson Limited for Blue Link and its associated safety-related features. The Limited trim and its optional Ultimate Package are also required for the Tucson’s new automatic emergency braking with pedestrian-detection technology, which can apply full braking capability at speeds up to 50 mph, depending on the function. A lane-departure warning system is also included in the Ultimate Package.
During one of my first times driving the Tucson, I glanced down at the controls to reference the infotainment screen, and when I looked up the light ahead had turned yellow. Not realizing how long it might have been that color, and not yet acclimated to the Tucson’s brake pedal, I pushed too hard and too fast, activating the Tucson’s full emergency braking system. Trust me: It's effective. And after that, I used a much lighter touch on the brake pedal.
While the federal government had not yet tested the Tucson as this review was written, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) had already determined that the Tucson was a Top Safety Pick. Better yet, the Tucson will retain this designation in the 2016 calendar year (when the IIHS strengthens requirements for the rating), because it gets a Good rating in every crash-test assessment plus a Superior rating for front crash prevention.
With redesigned vehicles, especially those with new powertrains and technologies, it is hard to predict how reliable they'll prove over time. Historically, the Tucson has performed well in terms of durability, and given that Hyundai has been offering one of the best warranties in the business for well over a decade and hasn’t yet gone out of business, that bodes well for Tucson dependability. My bet, though, is that the 7-speed automated manual transmission will produce some negative response from owners in next year’s Consumer Reports and J.D. Power studies.
While the Tucson’s reliability predictions could drop due to the DCT, chances are the SUV’s undeniable appeal and value will improve its depreciation rating once ALG assigns them for the 2016 model year. Previously, the Tucson rated average in this regard.
The Tucson has also been rated as relatively affordable to own, and this should continue with the new model. Gas mileage is decent, and with free roadside assistance available for the first 5 years or 60,000 miles of ownership, this Hyundai shouldn’t incur much in the way of unexpected costs.
Given that the 2016 Tucson is just arriving in showrooms, deals are limited to a low-payment lease special for the SE model, as well as a coupon worth $500 to current Hyundai owners. This is a competitive segment, though, and Hyundai will want to keep the stock moving once initial interest in the redesigned Tucson starts to wane.
In my estimation, that could take awhile. The new Tucson competes in the most popular segment of the U.S. new vehicle market and looks better than most of its competition. Combine this aesthetic appeal with favorable safety and value equations, plus the ability to specify a Tucson with many features that have been commonly reserved for luxury models, and Hyundai may just discover that discounts aren’t really necessary to convince buyers that it sells one of the better small crossover SUVs available today.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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