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Has this thoroughly overhauled SUV got the dynamism to match its bold new looks?

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When the first ever Hyundai Tucson launched in 2004, few would have guessed it would one day become one of the UK’s best-selling cars

Its current, fourth-generation guise went on sale in 2020, which has boosted the Hyundai Motor Group’s positioning as the fourth-biggest manufacturer in the world based on the number of cars sold between its Hyundai, Kia and Genesis brands.

The Tucson’s lighting signature is probably going to be one of its more divisive design features, owing to the fact that the parametric grille is already quite busy when it isn’t lit up.

It finished 2023 as the UK’s sixth-best-selling model - ahead of key rivals such as the Volkswagen Tiguan and the Kia Sportage - helping to reshape Hyundai’s image along the way. 

The Tuscon has been representative of Hyundai’s product improvement, making better and better vehicles in their conventional everyday line-up, that has done the job, plus identifying growing market segments such as compact SUVs and crossovers and pitching cars into them with not just aggressive pricing but also genuine quality and ability. 

Its latest generation arrived with a bold visual overhaul, looking far more striking than its predecessor. The first-generation Hyundai Tucson of 2004 felt not-for-us, with heavy plastic cladding, which its replacement, the Hyundai iX35, traded for weirdness.

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The third-generation Hyundai Tucson of 2015 started to get the groove outside and inside, with European-friendly styling and a competitive driving experience. 

The Tucson line-up at a glance

All of the new Tucson’s powertrains are based around Hyundai’s turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, with varying degrees of electrical assistance. With its plug-in hybrid powertrain, this crossover offers the broadest array of powertrains anywhere in the Korean giant's line-up.

The range opens with a 148bhp petrol engine with front-wheel drive, followed by a 48V, 148bhp mild-hybrid unit. While there was a 227bhp mild hybrid on sale previously, it’s no longer available in the UK.  

The Hyundai Tucson plug-in hybrid offers the most power of the lot, with 261bhp and a claimed electric-only range of 31 miles on the WLTP cycle. The 48V MHEV and range-topping plug-in hybrid variants can be had with all-wheel drive.

Hyundai offers the Tucson with five specification levels: SE Connect, Premium, N-Line, N-Line S and Ultimate.

VERSIONPOWER
1.6T 150PS 6MT148bhp
1.6T 150PS 48V MILD HYBRID148bhp
1.6T 265PS 4WD Plug-in Hybrid261bhp

DESIGN & STYLING

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Hyundai Tucson side

This Tuscon launched into a world where a new family-sized SUV or crossover is released seemingly every week, but its striking looks still help it stand out from the crowd. 

Its brassily bold nose might not be to everybody’s tastes but we think this is one of those occasions when it’s deftly judged. The nub of good design: not so outlandish that it will wilfully put people off, yet distinctive and attractive enough for others to want little else.

As is the trend these days, a prominent light bar runs across the Tucson’s tailgate. It looks smart, particularly with those new rear light clusters and their wing-like detailing.

The new Tucson sits between the compact Hyundai Kona and full-sized Hyundai Santa Fe in the brand’s line-up and is a little larger than the car it replaced – although, at 4.5m long and 1.85m wide, it’s still compact enough that it should remain manoeuvrable and simple to park.

The Tucson’s petrol and petrol-electric powertrain options are broad. You can configure a basic 148bhp petrol 1.6-litre, with or without 48V mild-hybrid technology, a 178bhp 1.6 mild hybrid or a 1.6 full hybrid with 227bhp. 

Some have six-speed manual gearboxes but there’s also a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission option or a six-speed automatic as on this full hybrid. Most are two-wheel drive, and if you want four-wheel drive in the UK, you’ll have to specify the 178bhp mild hybrid with the DCT.

As a full rather than mild hybrid, the Tucson gets a 1.49kWh battery mounted beneath the boot floor, while there’s a 59bhp electric motor between the engine and gearbox to get the car up to its total 227bhp output. 

The 1.49kWh pack is bigger than a Toyota RAV4 hybrid’s 1.1kWh battery, and when you remember that an 18kWh PHEV battery will get you up to 30 miles or so of pure-electric range, it’s clear to see how useful a pack of even just 1.49kWh could be.

If you choose Ultimate trim, there’s the option of a Tech Pack, which brings with it electronically controlled dampers on the MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension. There are selectable drive modes with that, with Sport providing red dials, too.

INTERIOR

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Hyundai Tucson front interior

The Tucson’s interior is as admirably designed and striking as the exterior, with a large swathe running from one door, across the dashboard, to the other door, broken by a swoop into the centre console. The air vents are cleverly hidden within it, too.

There are two digital displays. The 10.25in instrument cluster looks like a large smartphone has been propped up behind the steering wheel, but in a world where unfathomable and over-complex displays have become so tempting for manufacturers because they can, Hyundai has instead stuck with the eminently sensible choice of two large round dials – with warnings appearing over one of them if needed.

We’d prefer a proper lever (which you can just reach for) rather than individual buttons (which require looking at) for the gear selection.

Centrally, there’s a touchscreen of the same 10.25in size, with a bunch of buttons beneath it and, thankfully, separate controls for the climate control and then, lower still, even more clearly marked buttons for the likes of heated seats and steering wheel and parking sensors. 

It suggests some thought has gone into it: the higher the controls, and therefore the closer to your natural eye line on the road, the more ‘touchscreeny’ they become. Real, physical buttons, evidently the easiest way to find and operate something, are still the choice for hard-to-see places. This is worth noting for manufacturers who insist on burying everything within touchscreen menus.

The front seats are broad and comfortable, fabric-fronted and none the worse for it, being attractively stitched. Rear passengers do just as well, with decent head and leg room and, although the width of the centre passenger’s perch is restricted in any car, there’s a broad armrest when there are just two aboard, or the entire centre section can fold. The seat doesn’t just split and fold 40/20/40, but it also has various stages of recline, handy if your youngsters want to doze off.

Behind all of that is a competitively sized, 616-litre boot with a broad opening and largely plastic, durable-looking sides, although a few extra hooks and catches wouldn’t hurt.

Hyundai Tucson infotainment and sat-nav

As so many manufacturers have, Hyundai has put its infotainment system within a touchscreen but it isn’t too troubling to use by global standards. The system is pretty straightforward to navigate, the graphics are clear and, if it’s all a bit much, there’s Android Auto and Apple CarPlay so you can fall back on phone mirroring.

Front and rear occupants get USB sockets and satellite navigation is standard, as is Hyundai’s Bluelink connected system, which has real-time traffic, parking and fuelling (and for EVs, charging) information. Drivers link it to an app on their phone for info when they’re not in the car.

Premium trim and range-topping Ultimate models gain a boot-mounted subwoofer and a wireless phone charging pad.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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Hyundai Tucson front driving

The front-driven Tucson shines something of a light on the typically inverse relationship between weight and efficient, effortless drivability. 

It effectively shares its 1.6-litre 227bhp hybrid powertrain with the four-wheel-drive Kia Sorento, but with 400kg less mass to lug around, the Hyundai makes a much more persuasive go of being a family SUV with heightened green credentials.

I found I ended up leaving the paddle shifters alone during quicker driving. They’re just a bit too slow. It seems this is a feature aimed more at those with things to tow, which is fine.

Performance is punchy without being exciting. The six-speed automatic ’box can be a bit slow on the uptake but the electric motor’s instantly available torque nonetheless makes for fairly effortless roll-on acceleration. 

The Tucson is reasonably swift off the line, too, but can succumb to fairly violent axle tramp on greasy surfaces if you’re apish with your inputs. Exercise a bit of restraint, though, and it’s possible to extract a more than respectable 0-60mph time: we recorded 7.6sec on Millbrook’s damp mile straight.

The brakes provide decent stopping power and pedal feel, with the Tucson needing 54.1m to come to a standstill from 70mph. A Volkswagen Tiguan TDI, meanwhile, required 55m, also in the damp.

In this full-hybrid, there are times when it shuffles along in full-electric mode. Response is largely smooth, there are steering wheel paddles if you want to control what gear the car is in (and an extended pull on the up paddle puts it back in Drive). 

In fully-auto, there’s an occasional hesitation while the caboodle tries to decide exactly what kind of response it should give. Grip and traction are good. There’s a digital readout to show where power is being apportioned. 

In plug-in hybrid guise, the Tucson produces 261bhp and 258lb ft, but this increase in power is also impacted by an increased kerb weight of 1924kg. Its 8.6sec sprint from 0-62mph is respectable but beaten by the 7.5sec offered by the Tiguan eHybrid. 

The Tucson’s electric driving range of 38 miles is also only modest, ahead of the Tiguan, but easily surpassed by the Toyota RAV4 PHEV’s 46 miles. However, this should realistically be enough for most short journeys. 

Out on the road, you’ll notice the PHEV’s strong, electric motor-enabled throttle response, with a smooth power delivery. This is largely thanks to the model’s four-wheel drive system, which also makes driving more simple in more hazardous conditions. 

On the move, it’s more dependable than exciting, but in truth, that’s what Hyundai has rightly aimed for. The Tucson is one of those cars with which you feel instantly familiar.

RIDE & HANDLING

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Hyundai Tucson side

By family SUV standards, the Tucson has its head on straight when it comes to handling balance.

The steering is accurate, light in its set-up and suitably swift in its responses without feeling overtly athletic or rewarding. Resistance builds in a readable fashion as you wind on lock and load up the chassis, allowing you to gently guide the Tucson through corners confidently. 

Good steering helps engender confidence in the Tucson’s ability to corner in a nimble, stable and competent manner, with decent grip and controlled transfer of weight.

This lighter-touch approach seems to be a key point of difference between Hyundai and Kia: the Tucson lacks the cloying, false-feeling sense of weight you so often find in cars from Hyundai’s sibling brand, where it is arguably employed to achieve a more sporting sense of feel.

Vertical body control is perhaps slightly more tightly controlled than is the norm for the class, but a small degree of easy-going body roll is still evident through faster, tighter bends.

This marginally firmer set-up can occasionally lead to a bit of side-to-side jostling over rougher surfaces, but there’s almost always enough give in the suspension to see off mid-corner impacts with little fuss. 

Meanwhile, outright mechanical grip is easily abundant enough for the vast majority of driving environments that typical Tucson buyers might be exposed to, but you don’t have to try too hard to unearth an unsporting amount of understeer.

In short, then, while it’s usefully nimble and dynamically trustworthy, there isn’t too much here for keener drivers to really get excited about.

That’s not to say the Tucson is a completely unenjoyable car to point down a challenging stretch of B-road, but secure, stable and sensible ease of use is higher up its list of priorities than outright driver engagement. And given the tasks and duties cars such as this are primarily required to fulfil, that’s as it should be really.

Being a taller, heavier SUV, the Tucson is never going to be the sort of car you’d relish piloting around a fast, technical track such as Millbrook’s Hill Route. And yet, for the most part, it composes itself very tidily indeed.

Body roll is present, and while you can feel its weight shifting around through successive directional changes, the rate of transfer never feels alarming.

Grip is largely good, and its electronic stability systems don’t feel overly intrusive when you do start testing the Tucson’s adhesive limits.

Of course, push too hard through particularly tight corners and the Hyundai’s nose will plough on in a straight line – and it will do so quite suddenly if you’re really not careful – but such transgressions are easily corrected.

Although the gearbox can be a bit slow to kick down, the torque fill provided by the electric motor helps to mask any accelerative lull that results. There’s plenty of punch on tap here to push the car up even the steepest inclines at a reasonable lick.

Comfort and isolation

Credit to Hyundai: it has near as dammit nailed the Tucson’s driving position. The front chairs err on the firmer side of things but provide good support for your thighs and torso, while excellent adjustability in the seat base and steering column allows you to position yourself close to the wheel without leaving you hunched over the pedals. 

With a taller hip point, visibility is good enough for trundling around town or sitting on the motorway, although the fairly steeply raked A-pillars that lend the Tucson its swept-back looks can slightly obscure your line of sight during cornering.

At a cruise, the cabin is generally pretty isolated, save for some wind whistle around the large door mirrors, and although road roar is present, it’s far from a grating experience.

We recorded 67dB of cabin noise at 70mph, a figure that stacks up well against 68dB readings taken in 2.0 TDI versions of the Audi Q5 and Volkswagen Tiguan a few years back.

Ride comfort is generally good, save for the aforementioned jostling on more lumpen, unevenly surfaced stretches of asphalt. At town speeds, the Tucson can come across as a touch firm by family SUV standards, but it still manages to smooth over most secondary impacts with little fuss. 

This makes The Tucson is a comfortable car over long distances, but not quite as accomplished as Honda’s Honda CR-V. It’s more comfortable at higher speeds than on more uneven, slower b-roads. 

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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Hyundai Tuscon front lead

Whereas the seven-seat Sorento never really felt like more than a jumped-up mild hybrid – and struggled to put serious daylight between itself and conventionally powered rivals in terms of fuel consumption – the lighter Tucson fares considerably better. 

We were fairly impressed with the Tucson’s fuel consumption. This is, after all, a petrol-engined family-sized SUV that has to generate its own electric power for its hybrid (Hyundai resists Toyota’s ‘self-charging’ tag that has upset quite a lot of people) yet it returned a solid 40mpg in our hands, including a morning of performance testing. 

Hyundai is the cheaper than both the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, but after four years will be worth 40% of its original value (its two rivals 39%).

This is primarily down to the supplementary electric motor having greater scope to take over proceedings and being better able to run for longer periods without being interrupted by the petrol engine.

With sufficient charge in the drive battery, it’s possible to move away from a standstill on electric power alone – provided you’re gentle with your throttle inputs. Similarly, you will often need to lift off the throttle entirely to access EV mode when up and running, and again adopt a lighter touch to continue running as such.

Employ this more mindful approach, however, and it’s possible to see the sorts of fuel consumption figures you’d typically expect from a hybrid – particularly in stop/start urban environments. On shorter trips around town, our testers were able to get close to 50mpg from the Tucson.

On our touring test route, we saw 48mpg, keeping up with national-speed-limit traffic on a cruise, suggesting 50mpg is to be had with even more care. Not so long ago, you’d have done well to return that from a diesel in a car of this size, weight and capability.

As with all competitive market sectors, pricing is close between the Tucson and its immediate rivals, although it is well equipped and feels grander and more premium inside than its badge, a brand built on affordability, would suggest.

Ditto when it comes to depreciation, with the Tucson set to retain 40% of its value after four years and 48,000 miles, a percentage point above some Japanese rivals from Toyota and Honda – which means there’s very little in it new or used.

Priced at just over £31,000, the Tucson significantly undercuts rivals including the Ford Kuga and the Volkswagen Tiguan. Compare it to the Honda CR-V, and it’s almost a staggering £15,000 cheaper.

Standard equipment is good, too. Basic trim levels offer key features such as a rear view camera, dual 10.25in screens, dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera. Premium adds larger 18in wheels, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, interior ambient lighting and a premium audio system. 

For wireless phone charging, 19in N-design wheels and microsuede upholstery, jump up to N-Line, or N-Line S for a panoramic sunroof, a powertailgate and a Krell audio system. Ultimate, which is priced just below £36,000, gets all of that, plus three-zone climate control, ventilated comfort seats and leather upholstery. 

VERDICT

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Hyundai Tucson side parked

The arrival of the fourth-generation Tucson feels like a significant milestone in Hyundai’s story. Its bold, dashing exterior is a vivid departure from Tucsons of the past, while the interior is a smart and functional place to sit, with swathes of premium materials that really push the model upmarket, but with a more affordable price tag. Add in competitive interior space, and it’s a great place to sit. 

The Tucson’s appeal is developed further by a selection of petrol-hybrid powertrains that are both powerful and potentially very frugal, particularly with the model’s all-important, all-electric capabilities. Its ride and comfort are also strong points, while its handling feels well-matched to British roads. 

New Tucson shows that Hyundai can do both style and substance

Of course, the Tucson isn’t perfect. The gearbox can be slow-witted and driver engagement isn’t the order of the day. Its styling might be a bit too jazzy for some, too. 

Ultimately, though, these are small complaints about what is otherwise a very sensible and recommendable family SUV. It seems that strong equipment, attractive pricing and a cast-iron warranty may no longer be the primary reasons you’d pick a Tucson over one of its European rivals.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Hyundai Tucson First drives