IT seems only weeks ago that the first Hyundai iX35 brought a new sense of style to the compact SUV brigade and inadvertently aggravated lots of potential owners in SA who were held on waiting lists for longer than they wanted.
Then came a second gen iX35 that presented a more mature face -albeit still with Hyundai’s sense of style to the fore – and with it, more space. There’s no doubt it was successful in attracting customers but the waiting lists had evaporated as much because Hyundai’s once-notable price advantage had evaporated as because the competition had upped its game.
What I haven’t mentioned is that the iX35 was once the Tucson, an American-derived name that few know how to pronounce. Now there is no doubt in my mind that the iX35 moniker was the single most significant factor in upping consumer perceptions of this Korean brand so it’s understandable that the SA importers wanted to keep that nomenclature intact.
No such luck though as the big bosses in Seoul commanded that the latest SUV from the stable would revert to Tucson badging and so it was that I joined a large gathering of journos to learn about and drive the next gen Korean SUV complete with a significant makeover and a badge last seen around ten years ago.
There’s no doubting the re-incarnated Tucson is a Hyundai but there’s more to the changes than meets the eye. Let’s say the new model, constructed from 51% high strength steel, is bigger and bolder with sharper feature lines that telegraph more than a hint of Santa Fe.
In SA, the range is made up of five models, these being a 2.0 Nu premium in manual or auto, the 2.0 Nu Elite auto and then the turbocharged 1.6 TGDi Executive 6-speed manual and the range-topping 1.6TGDi Elite with 7-speed DCT transmission and AWD.
If the exterior is more muscular and athletic, the interior is more upmarket with lots of Audi-esque detailing and soft-touch surfacing doubtless instigated by that man Peter Schreyer who made his mark with the four rings. There’s also more space thanks to the use of an all-new platform that allows for 513 litres of luggage with all seats deployed and 1503 litres with the seats folded.
Comfort levels are good, front and rear although I made the observation, with which my co-driver concurred, that the front seat cushions are a little short under the thigh. Interestingly, the publicity blurb makes mention of “long seat cushions” which suggests this aspect has been raised before but is still not fully addressed.
It’s worth noting that Elite models provide power adjustment of the front pews and also feature a much bigger central infotainment screen which makes the familiar tiny rectangle employed in lesser models look hopelessly inadequate. Satnav is an option across the range but a 6-speaker digital radio with USB/AUX connectivity is standard fare.
Safety has not been forgotten as there are six airbags on board. Collision energy dissipation has also been upped and in select models, Vehicle Stability Management, Blind Spot Detection and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert is either standard or can be ordered as an option.
I’ve often espoused the view that car buyers in Europe expect more from their vehicles than buyers in any other major region which is doubtless why Hyundai have made much of the fact that the Tucson was extensively tested on European roads.
The objective was to achieve a good balance between a controlled ride, good road holding and acceptable comfort levels while improving on refinement and the tactile quality of the steering. Even the famed Nurburgring was brought into the test regime which many might think is unusual for an SUV but to me it telegraphs Hyundai’s eagerness to compete on level terms with established European brands when it comes to dynamic behaviour.
The question to be answered, and the reason for our presence on the launch, was to judge whether the engineers’ efforts, and of course those of the stylists, have borne fruit.
The latter issue, I accept, is subjective but to my eyes, the Tucson looks much more substantial and solid than earlier models, so much so that it might well encroach on Santa Fe territory. The visual appeal is also enhanced by sexy alloy wheels and a new colour palette which provides more choice and a broader variety of shades rendered with less orange peel than I recall.
All the models available for assessment featured Hyundai’s 1.6 litre turbo petrol motor mated to either a 6-speed manual box or a 7-speed DCT (dual clutch transmission) which for the uninitiated is a twin-shaft conventional gearbox equipped with automated clutches and solenoids that effectively replace your left foot and left hand.
Outbound, we were mounted in a manual version in Executive spec. I personally find the dashboard to be marginally over-styled but there’s no denying the ambience has moved up to semi-premium level and space,front and rear, is generous.
The 130kW (at 5.500rpm) turbo motor delivers very adequate performance levels with surprisingly little obvious effort thanks to a 265Nm peak torque output which holds on all the way from 1 500 to 4 500 rpm. This characteristic will be manna from heaven for those living at altitude as there will be no discernible loss of muscle courtesy of the turbo’s contribution.
On the cruise at 120 km/h, progress is relatively serene in terms of overall refinement with mechanical and wind disturbances well-suppressed. Road roar on smooth tar is also largely absent but coarse tar does set up a disconcerting din when the vehicle is unladen.
The return was made in the range-topping Elite model with the same motor powering the 7-speed dual clutch box that offers Eco and Sport modes. I had not been too enamoured with Hyundai’s first DCT effort in the Veloster Turbo but in this application, I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised as shifts are quick and timeous and for the most part, unobtrusive.
Although the manual version is blessed with a light clutch and easy shift action, my choice would be for the DCT, especially as the top gear offers an extra-long ratio for quieter, more economical open road cruising.
Again, the 1.6 engine earns kudos for delivering adequate power with little obvious turbo lag at low revs although there was some hesitancy evident from a complete standstill. A longish spell in dense Cape Town traffic also proved that the transmission easily handles continual stop/start conditions.
Hyundai has certainly done a good job with the suspension set-up as the nicely supple ride isn’t achieved at the expense of sloppiness, but sharp transverse ridges do cause quite a marked thump to resonate through the cabin. I also found the new electrically-activated steering to be too light in urban conditions but out on the open road at speed, this firms up even if the feel is a tad artificial.
Off-roaders will be happy to note that the 1.6TGDI Elite features all-wheel drive which normally offers 100% drive to the front but up to 50% will go rearwards when necessary. A 50/50 lock mode can be engaged at speeds up to 40km/h.
Good standard equipment levels, a nicely kitted cabin and convincing dynamics mark out the new Tucson as an even more compelling proposition in the medium SUV sector. The opposition has cause to be worried.
(I was unable in the time available, to establish from ADI, Hyundai importers for Zimbabwe, precise details of the company’s plans for the new model in Zimbabwe. Please contact ADI in Seke Road Harare for an update and please also note that all references to model ranges in this article are specific to the SA market)
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