2016 Hyundai Tucson Review - Hope On Four Wheels

Mark Stevenson
by Mark Stevenson

When you are one of the world’s largest automakers, deep in what is a healthy growth period in American automotive sales, and you can’t muster sales gains … well, it’s time to re-evaluate your strategy.

This is the situation in which Hyundai finds itself.

After entering the U.S. utility market in 2000 with the Santa Fe, the Korean automaker has never fully expanded a solid line of compelling crossovers and SUVs to tantalize buyers. Instead, Hyundai has focused on building their quasi-luxury Genesis sub-brand as they crank out compact car after subcompact car, and growing when non-utility volume was good. Now, not so much. Utilities are the present and future.

Hyundai’s lineup is getting better, mind you, but there are still gaps. Compounding Hyundai’s sales woes is its smallest offroader offering — the Tucson — wearing age in not-the-most flattering of ways.

A little late to the party, Hyundai is looking to right the ship with a new Tucson. While the third-generation model looks good on the outside, it must be more than a pretty face if it wants to take on the Japanese army of CR-RAVs and their ilk.

The Breakdown

2016 Hyundai Tucson

Engines


2.0-liter GDI, naturally aspirated, DOHC, four-cylinder, all-aluminum with CVVT, direct injection


164 horsepower at 6,200 rpm, 151 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm

1.6-liter Turbo-GDI, DOHC, four-cylinder, all-aluminum with CVVT, direct injection


175 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, 195 lb-ft at 1,500-4,500 rpm

Transmissions


6-speed automatic with OD lock-up torque converter (2.0)


7-speed “EcoShift” dual-clutch automatic [automated manual] (1.6T)

Fuel Economy Ratings (city/highway/combined)


2.0 FWD: 23/31/26


1.6T FWD: 25/30/27


1.6T FWD Eco: 26/33/29


2.0 AWD: 21/26/23


1.6T AWD: 24/28/26


1.6T AWD Eco: 25/31/27

Trims


SE (2.0)


Eco, Sport, and Limited (1.6T)

MSRPs (before freight of $895)


SE: FWD – $22,700, AWD – $24,100


Eco: FWD – $24,150, AWD – $25,550


Sport: FWD – $26,150, AWD – $27,550


Limited: FWD – $29,900, AWD – $31,300

Exterior


Before we get into the new Tucson, let’s talk about the second-generation model, because it’s critical to understand one very important aspect of the outgoing version.

The second-generation Tucson — bless its heart — wears a fascia that’s the automotive embodiment of a cleft lip.

When your competition is oh-so-much better looking, it’s no wonder that Hyundai’s SUV sales are down, down, down. Hyundai says a “proliferation of new models” from competitors is one of the reasons their CUV sales are down 14.5 percent so far this year. All those new models are also more pleasing to the eye — by a very considerable margin — than the outgoing Tucson.

However, the new Tucson is what happens when all the UNICEF-funded doctors come into your village and fix all the deformities.

For one thing, the third-generation Tucson ditches its current-generation Elantra design lineage and now sports a face closely resembling its bigger brother Santa Fe, itself wearing a rather trim suit around its decidedly crossover bones.

Up front is Hyundai’s hexagonal grille that meets up directly with the headlights a la Ford Edge, Mazda CX-3 and others. The three bars extending across the grille tie the new Tucson together with the Santa Fe, while this smaller model’s trimmer headlight shape evokes a lighter, more sprightly and active persona. Three headlight configurations — projector with LED accents or LED daytime runners, full LED lamps, and full HID lamps with steerable beams — are offered depending on trim.

In profile, body cladding flows from the front bumper, follows the asymmetrical wheel wells wrapped around either 17- or 19-inch wheels, and eventually makes its way to the rear uninterrupted. The bentline appears ever-so-slightly higher than the outgoing model, though the Hofmeister kink at the end is tighter and more aggressive instead of the outgoing model’s long and swoopy execution. With an exterior designed in Europe, it should come as no surprise there’s some Germanic influence in the new cute ‘ute.

At the rear, the lighting shape and placement is almost identical to the Kia Sportage. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — the Kia is a looker — but if Hyundai wanted something more distinct, they should have pushed their own design just a tad bit further. On the other hand, the second-generation Tucson was distinct to a fault and handsome as a beaten owl, so there’s that.

Interior


Inside, the Tucson has made great strides in quality of materials, but all is not perfect.

The top-trim Limited examples of the Tucson in which I spent my day were fitted with leather seats, a full assortment of infotainment goodies and plastics that were pleasing to touch. However, while many deride “sea of black” interiors from the likes of BMW and others, nothing prepared me for the “single shade of charcoal” in our Tucson testers. Without any noticeable sheen, the interior has an air of surrender to it. Every plastic and leather panel, save the infotainment/vent surround and some of the shinier parts, were the exact same, dull shade of grey. At least there wasn’t 50.

That said, there are many buttons that (nearly) all make sense and Hyundai’s infotainment system with Blue Link is top notch. Heated seats are available for front and rear, and ventilated chairs are available up front exclusively. The 10-way driver and 8-way passenger seats are comfortable, as one should expect in a top-trim offering, and the instrument cluster is simple yet full-featured with its 4.2-inch color LCD screen sitting between the two large speed and rev-counter dials.

Improved NVH and safety are also in the newest ute’s game plan as the interior panels hide an increased usage of high-strength steel to stiffen chassis rigidity; front, side and curtain airbags for safety in a crash (knee airbags are missing, something Hyundai should consider addressing in the future); as well as a new load path for the driver’s side foot well for crush protection.

That last addition is interesting and comes scarily close to a “teaching to the test” philosophy.

The new small overlap crash test that’s caught many manufacturers is a tough nut to crack, especially in smaller vehicles with less frontal volume. This load path helps pass that test, but why Hyundai didn’t put it on the passenger side as well is baffling.

Well, maybe not. As you see, the small overlap test is only performed on the driver’s side. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Sure, the majority of small overlap-style crashes are likely to happen on the driver’s side, but a load path for the passenger foot well likely wouldn’t hurt.

Hyundai reached out to clarify the passenger side also has a foot well load path for occupant protection. However, this was not detailed in the presentation on the day of the drive. Sorry for the confusion.

Infotainment


There’s not much new to talk about with Hyundai’s infotainment system. An enhanced UI is displayed on an 8-inch touchscreen and features the automaker’s Blue Link connected features. One new addition is an integrated Yelp app that allows you to bring up fake recommendations of restaurants in your area. Other telematics features, such as remote vehicle start and car maintenance notifications, are also included in the Blue Link service.

Audio quality in the top-trim Limited model is on par with others in its class, even without leveraging well-known audio brand logos to affix to the speakers and head unit.

Drivetrain


Under that new sheet metal is an all-new (for Tucson) 1.6-liter, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine with direct injection and CVVT. With only 175 horsepower compared to the base engine’s 164 horses, one might think the premium option is underpowered, and they might be a little bit right.

The 1.6T’s claim of 195 lb-ft of torque is the bigger news here and it’s the measurement you feel most on the butt dyno. However, in passing maneuvers, the force-fed mill doesn’t instill the same confidence in the driver as the Escape’s 2.0-liter EcoBoost or even the 2.5-liter, naturally aspirated, SkyActiv four-cylinder engine found in the Mazda CX-5. It’s competent, but a little more displacement would go a long way to widening the gap between the Tucson’s two mills and make the top offering feel more special.

Sending power to the front or all four wheels in 1.6T-powered models is a seven-speed DCT that’s incredibly smooth once you get going. From a standing start, there’s only the slightest of hiccups from the automated-manual gearbox when it realizes you’re requesting forward momentum. The SE model, powered by the base 2.0-liter four-cylinder, gets a six-speed automatic as its only transmission. No manuals here, folks.

Together, the 1.6T and DCT deliver better fuel economy than the base model-only 2.0-liter four pot. While the entry engine delivers 26 mpg combined for front-wheel drive models, Sport and Limited trims with the 1.6T give 27 mpg while Eco models stretch a tank even farther to 29 mpg (the increased fuel economy is mostly down to tires, we were told, but there are other tweaks in the Eco model as well).

The Tucson is equipped with user-selectable drive modes, but you’re just best to leave those alone. Nobody drives their compact CUV around town in Sport mode unless they: 1) don’t know what it does and 2) are too daft to figure it out.

Drive


If you didn’t know it, you’d think you were driving in the Mazda CX-5 as far as the ride quality is concerned. Hyundai is finally (in the last couple of years) starting to take suspension tuning seriously to provide a more pleasurable and comfortable ride. That said, it demolishes the hard-as-a-rock ride in the RAV4.

Our driving was mostly limited to the straight, long roads of Minnesota and Wisconsin, but there was a stretch of gravel thrown in for good measure. The unpaved road — probably the smoothest gravel road in the known universe — didn’t provide much of a challenge for the utility. However, one thing was noticeable: it was almost dead quiet inside.

Sure, you could hear the occasional piece of gravel bang about the Tucson’s underside, but you could also have a conversation without straining your vocal chords.

As stated earlier, the 1.6T could use a tad more oomph — or maybe could communicate the torque a little more to remind you it’s the “premium” engine offering.

Even with all the criticisms above, the Tucson is now a solid contender — if, for the updated styling alone — compared to its predecessor. However, Hyundai will continue to beat the value and packaging drum, as they should. In no other utility, especially the much-praised Mazda CX-5, do you get this sheer abundance of equipment. If you are looking for value and choice (minus a manual transmission), this is the answer, and you no longer need to sacrifice good looks to get it.

Will it right the sales ship at Hyundai? That’s another article entirely.

Additional photography provided by David Tracy of Jalopnik and the manufacturer.




























Mark Stevenson
Mark Stevenson

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3 of 66 comments
  • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Jul 23, 2015

    While it looks miles ahead of the outgoing one (featured prominently on the Walking Dead*), I think it might have a hard time against such established names like the CRV and the RAV4. While the RAV is a disappointment to me for both ride quality and interior quality, I think the current CRV has this thing beat. Especially with reputation and resale value later. They simply have not made a bad CRV. *It was/is featured on this program, even though the Tucson model in question came out after the "end of the world" so to speak in the show. I believe the timing issue is something like two years(!) there.

    • Bd2 Bd2 on Jul 23, 2015

      It'll do fine, esp. considering Hyundai's capacity limitations for the Tucson. Not exactly going after the CR-V which is a bit larger/roomier since the Santa Fe Sport kinda takes that role (esp. with the indication that Honda wants to make the next CR-V even larger and included a 3rd row).

  • Theyrekidding Theyrekidding on Jul 27, 2015

    Can anyone comment on Hyundai service after the sale? They certainly provide none before it. Never owned one, (we own a Lexus, Honda and Toyota) but stopped by to look at 2016 Tucson. Very impressed and tried to buy it but dealer would have none of that! They wanted over sticker. I offered couple hundred below. So, now wondering if they did me a favor. Wrote to Hyundai to tell them about how we were treated. Hyundai couldn't care less. Long story, but truth be told, their answer was kinda like, "It's your problem, not ours". OK. Anyway, if Hyundai expects to increase sales, they won't do it this way. We tried....

  • Leonard Ostrander We own a 2017 Buick Envision built in China. It has been very reliable and meets our needs perfectly. Of course Henry Ford was a fervent anti-semite and staunch nazi sympathizer so that rules out Ford products.
  • Ravenuer I would not.
  • V8fairy Absolutely no, for the same reasons I would not have bought a German car in the late 1930's, and I am glad to see a number of other posters here share my moral scruples. Like EBFlex I try to avoid Chinese made goods as much as possible. The quality may also be iffy, but that is not my primary concern
  • Tsarcasm No, Japan only. Life costs by Rank:#1 - House (150k+)#2 - Education (30k+)#3 - Automobile (30k+) why waste hard earned money in inferior crap => Korean, Chinese, and American cars are trash. a toyota or honda will last twice as long.
  • Tassos In the 90s we hired a former PhD student and friend of mine, who 'worked' at GM "Research" labs, to come work for us as a 'temp' lecturer and get paid extra. He had no objection from GM, came during the day (around 2 PM), two hours drive round trip, plus the 1.5 hour lecture, twice weekly. (basically he goofed off two entire afternoons out of the five) He told me they gave him a different model new car every month, everything (even gas) paid. Instead of him paying parking, I told him to give me the cars and I drove them for those 90 mins, did my shopping etc. Almost ALL sucked, except the Eldo coupe with the Northstar. That was a nice engine with plenty of power (by 90s standards). One time they gave him the accursed Caddy Catera, which was as fun driving as having sex with a fish, AND to make it worse, the driver's door handle broke and my friend told me GM had to pay an arm and a leg to fix it, needed to replace almost the whole damned door!
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