Captain sensible
Loads of equipment
A comfortable and pleasing drive
Relatively spacious and family-friendly cabin
Design is fussy and may date quickly
Not the best to drive
Four-wheel drive versions are much more expensive

First Drive review: Hyundai Tucson (2015)

Come on baby set my sensible on fire

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2015 Hyundai Tucson review by John Simister for The Sunday Times

Hyundai Tucson at a glance

  • Handling: ★★★☆☆
  • Performance: ★★★☆☆
  • Design: ★★★☆☆
  • Interior: ★★★☆☆
  • Practicality: ★★★☆☆
  • Costs: ★★★☆☆

Hyundai Tucson Premium SE 2.0 CRDi (2015), £30,845

HALF the world seems to think it needs an SUV. They are everywhere, tall, bold family holdalls with a tough, don’t-mess-with-me demeanour. Some have four-wheel drive, some just look as though they do. And given the use to which most are put, be it sitting in a motorway jam or doing the school run, they are generally well overspecified for the job in hand.

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They are, however, thought by many to be sexier than an MPV, which is why this is the fastest-growing market segment of all. So, inevitably, SUVs from different companies can end up looking the same. Can you immediately tell the new Hyundai Tucson, pictured before you now, from a Ford Kuga? Take away their badges and I bet you’d struggle.

Hyundai’s larger SUV, the Santa Fe, also looks like this, just as an Audi Q5 looks like a Q3 with an extra 10 per cent zoom. Yet more unsettling is that, from memory, the new Tucson also looks almost exactly the same as the old one, which in Europe was called iX35 but whose own predecessor was called, yes, Tucson. It’s all very baffling.

Then, at Hyundai HQ where the test drive begins, I see an iX35 for a convenient comparison. The new and the older are less similar than I thought, the new Tucson having a waistline ridge between the wheelarches, the old iX35 having ridges above them and also a shorter bonnet. The differences are hardly dramatic, though, and when you walk round to the back of the new Tucson you see a car which, badge apart, could have been made by anyone.

This is, according to the publicity blurb, not just a new Tucson but the ‘all-new Tucson’. And so it is, apart from the engines. The platform on which it is built (in the Czech republic) shares nothing with its predecessor beyond its general layout. It is not a modular system like those of the Volkswagen group or Peugeot-Citroën, able to be extended or compressed to suit a wide range of possible motor cars, but it will be shared with the next Kia Sportage which, if the current one is a guide, will look rather crisper and less likely to date than its Hyundai cousin.

2015 Hyundai Tucson review by John Simister for The Sunday Times

Now for the drive. The cabin looks and feels inviting, especially in top Premium SE guise as tested with its cool air blowable through the perforations in its leather seats. There’s a fair air of quality, with status-signifiers such as the padded, fabric-covered windscreen pillars, but it goes wrong when you realise that the dashboard’s front edge, where it caps the instrument cowl, is made from hard plastic. That’s the American influence, apparently; the exterior was designed in Germany but the cabin, plenty roomy enough but lacking any cleverness such as slideable rear seats (they do recline, though), was done Stateside.

All Tucsons have a DAB digital radio. The mid-range SE Nav models upwards also have a quick-acting, easily-understood, built-in Tom Tom sat-nav system, and all beyond the basic S model (starting at £18,695) have various pepperings of safety kit such as a lane-guidance system, recognition and relaying of speed limit signs, automatic emergency braking and blind-spot detection. The Premium SE also gives you an automatically-opening tailgate, a panoramic sunroof, a heated steering wheel and, if it’s an automatic, the ability to park itself. Indeed the equipment list through the various levels runs to pages, much of it stuff most of us never knew we needed.

2015 Hyundai Tucson review by John Simister for The Sunday Times

The likely best-selling engine will be the 1.7-litre turbodiesel with 114bhp and the lowest CO2, just 119g/km. That version was not available for us to test, partly because the engine is broadly unchanged from the iX35, nor were the entry-level, 1.6-litre petrol engine (130bhp) which hardly anyone will buy, and the lower-power incarnation of the 2.0-litre turbodiesel (134bhp, and again carried over). This last one can be had with front- or four-wheel drive, the others are front-drive only.

More interesting are the two engines Hyundai did let us try. One is new to Hyundai’s compact(ish) SUV, a turbocharged, 175bhp version of the petrol 1.6 and sampled by us with the optional seven-speed, double-clutch automatic gearbox which, strangely, doesn’t come with paddle-shifters on the steering wheel. The other is a 182bhp version of the big turbodiesel. We drove this in manual guise but it can be had with a six-speed, torque-converter automatic (oddly, with paddle-shifters). Four-wheel drive is obligatory with these two most powerful motors.

With either of these engines the Tucson goes well enough for you not to crave more musclepower. The diesel is more relaxed, as you’d expect; the petrol is revvier and zingier and the double-clutch transmission shifts tidily. The lack of paddle-shifters means you tend to leave it to its own devices rather than manually intervening, but there is a Sport mode to encourage keener (and more violent) gearshifts. That mode also makes the steering heavier and the accelerator more sensitive, changes which most of the time do more to spoil the Tucson than improve it.

2015 Hyundai Tucson review by John Simister for The Sunday Times

The Tucson feels wieldier than the iX35 did, and it corners with impressive poise and flatness given its height and the absorbency of its ride, but no useful messages about the state of the front wheels’ grip are telegraphed to the driver’s hands.

Generous use of high-strength steel has made the bodyshell much stiffer than before, which is the key to the mix of precision and suppleness. As for the four-wheel drive system, it defaults to front-wheel drive until the front wheels near the limit of their grip, upon which a Haldex clutch arrangement sends up to 50 per cent of the engine’s effort to the rear wheels. The brakes are powerful and progressive, but those on our test cars smoked worryingly easily despite our driving with no more than moderate gusto.

That, then, is the new Hyundai Tucson; competent and capable but a touch overstyled and never likely to be a landmark in automotive history. The Audi Q3Nissan Qashqai, Mazda CX-5 and Ford Kuga are all a better bet.

2015 Hyundai Tucson Premium SE 2.0 CRDi specifications
  • Engine: 1995cc, fou-cylinder turbodiesel
  • Power: 182bhp @ 4000rpm
  • Torque: 295 lb ft @ 1750 – 2750rpm
  • Transmission: 6-speed manual
  • Performance: 0-62mph: 9.9sec
  • Top speed: 125mph
  • Fuel: 47.9mpg
  • CO2: 154g/km
  • Road tax band:G (£180 for the first year; £180 thereafter)
  • Price: £30,845
  • Release date: On sale September

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Hyundai Tucson rivals

Audi Q3 TDI 184 quattro S line, £31,845 (view cars to buy)

  • For Surprising value given kudos of the Audi name
  • Against Another matrioshka-doll Audi

Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCi 180 Titanium X AWD, £29,095 (view cars to buy)

  • For Excellent value, drives with usual Ford verve
  • Against Design might be a bit brash for some tastes