Make Performance SUVs Affordable (Again?) - Hyundai Tucson Likely To Get The N Treatment

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain

It’s time for performance SUVs to leave the luxury domain and make their way down into the mainstream.

And who better to bring a performance utility vehicle to the masses than the man who previously headed up BMW’s M division, Albert Biermann.

Biermann, after three decades at BMW and more than half a decade in charge at BMW M, joined the Hyundai Motor Group as head of vehicle test and high performance development in 2014. His list of responsibilities at Hyundai and Kia is lengthy. His aspirations for Hyundai’s N brand, according to Drive, are lofty.

But while conventional thought would lead you to believe Hyundai’s N performance sub-brand would focus on cars, Biermann says, “The fun-to-drive element is not limited to the size and segment of the car; you can create fun cars in every segment.”

As a result — and this won’t surprise anyone who remembers that Biermann’s previous position included oversight of M versions of the BMW X5 and BMW X6 — there’s likely a Hyundai Tucson N in the future.

The Tucson is certainly not a bad starting point. It’s a marketplace success for a Hyundai brand that’s faced some recent struggles in the United States. In fact, May 2017 was the highest-volume month in the history of the Tucson nameplate; the first month Tucson sales have ever topped the 10,000-unit mark.

In managing editor Mark Stevenson’s review from two summers ago, credit was given to the Tucson’s ride, handling, NVH, and exterior design. The Tucson is small enough to be nimble. It’s attractive enough to look good with a bodykit. It’s sufficiently underpowered to be able to make good use of a big boost in torque.

Of course, horsepower alone won’t turn the Tucson into a budget Audi SQ5. But Albert Biermann is a man, according to Automotive News Europe, who wants to, “leave his mark at the company by driving home the idea that every humble rubber bushing can be tuned for noise, vibration and harshness, or for ride comfort, or for durability.”

Stuffing the Santa Fe Sport’s 2.0-liter turbo under the hood of the Tucson isn’t all that N will be about.

N, a letter based on Hyundai’s Namyang test track (not because it was the natural follow-up to Biermann’s time at BMW’s M, as if he’ll switch to Mazda and start an O brand next), would position the Tucson in a segment decidedly deficient in performance. That’s assuming the vehicle makes it to North America.

America’s three top-selling utility vehicles — Rogue, CR-V, RAV4 — don’t even offer 200 horsepower, let alone other performance enhancements.

The Ford Escape and Subaru Forester engine upgrades aren’t exactly accompanied by the goodies that would enable them to be considered ST or STI models. The story is similar with Kia’s Sportage.

You could argue that the dearth of competitive offerings speaks to the lack of demand. Or you could argue that the “all but confirmed” Hyundai Tucson N would be dipping its toes in unsullied water.

You could also argue that the world is not in need of performance crossovers. But in a higher price bracket, the world has spoken. There’s a market for such vehicles.

If Hyundai can do to the Tucson what the company has already done with the Elantra Sport, this won’t be a bad thing.

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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  • Scuzimi Scuzimi on Jun 10, 2017

    I drove a Fiat 500 Abarth form 2012-2017. Miserably uncomfortable seats but I loved the car. Sold it and bought a Fiat 500 X trekking Plus. Nice vehicle well except the lame 9 speed trans and rough idle especially with the AC on. I'm hoping a Abarth edition is coming soon to the X lineup as I would buy one. Not sure why anyone would even want a Hyundai as I've never liked any of their offerings. A high peformance Tucson...? Really and comparing it to a BMW M series anything, Really? There's no perfomance history for the brand like BMX, Merc and Fiat.

  • Oberkanone Oberkanone on Jun 10, 2017

    N treatment is not going to end well. Only African Americans can N it up without being racist.

  • ChristianWimmer Yes, but with a carbureted 500cid V8. None of that fuel-injection silliness. 😇
  • VoGhost Fantastic work by Honda design. When I first saw the pictures, I thought "Is that a second gen Acura NSX?"
  • V16 2025 VW GLI...or 2025 Honda Civic SI? Same target audience, similar price points. Both are rays of sun in the gray world of SUV'S.
  • FreedMike Said this before and I'll say it again: I'm not that exercised about this whole "pay for a subscription" thing, as long as the deal's reasonable. And here's how you make it reasonable: offer it a monthly charge. Let's say that adaptive headlights are a $500 option on this vehicle, and the subscription is $15 a month, or $540 over a three year lease. So you try the feature for a month, and if you like it, you keep it; if you don't, then you discontinue it, like a Netflix subscription. In any case, you didn't get charged $500 up front the feature. That's not a bad deal.In my case, let's say VW offers an over the air chip reflash that gives me another 25 hp. The total price of the upgrade is $1,000 (which is what a reflash would cost you in the aftermarket). If they offered me a one time monthly subscription for $50 to try it out, I'd take it. In other words, maybe the news isn't all bad.
  • 2ACL A good car, but - at least in this configuration -not one that should command a premium. Its qualities just aren't as enduring as those of Honda's contemporary sports cars. For better or worse, this is a formula they remain able to replicate.