Lizzie Pope
Digital Editor

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The crowded compact SUV segment has another strong contender with the launch of the new Hyundai Tucson and we've been behind the wheel – read our review

It’s welcome back to the Hyundai Tucson name after an absence of five years. And, if our first drive around the sweeping roads of Northumberland was anything to go by, it’s definitely a welcome return.

The new Tucson (pronounced ‘Too-son’) replaces the ix35, which took over from the first (2004-2010) Tucson, Hyundai returning to the model’s original name to better align it with its bigger sibling, the Sante Fe. In so doing, it also differentiates these two SUVs from the rest of the marque’s ‘i’-prefixed models.

However, it’s going to take a lot more than a new name and an admittedly sharp new look for the Tucson to make waves in a lucrative and fiercely competitive market segment, with rivals such as our 2014 Tow Car Awards-winning Nissan Qashqai, as well as the Mazda CX-5 and the Honda CR-V

On sale in the UK from 3 September and priced from £18,695, the Tucson is being offered with a choice of two petrol and three diesel powerplants, with either a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-/seven-speed auto, and with two- or four-wheel drive.

The range kicks off with the 130bhp/119lb ft 1.6-litre petrol, which is only available with two-wheel drive and a manual gearbox. The other petrol option is a turbocharged 1.6, which has 175bhp and 195lb ft torque, and uses either the six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic.

The entry-level diesel is powered by Hyundai’s 1.7-litre 114bhp/206lb ft engine, with a manual gearbox and two-wheel drive. There’s also a 134bhp/275lb ft 2.0-litre diesel, sold with a manual gearbox and two- or four-wheel drive, or a six-speed auto and four-wheel drive. At the top of the range is the four-wheel-drive-only 2.0-litre diesel with 182bhp, 295lb ft torque and either a six-speed manual or a six-speed auto.

There are five trim levels. Entry-level S includes 16in alloys, split/folding rear seats, air-con, LED daytime running lights, electric windows front and rear, Bluetooth connectivity and Trailer Stability Assist. Next is SE, which ups the wheel size to 17in and adds roof rails, a luggage net, heated front seats, cruise control and more. Opt for SE Nav and, unsurprisingly, an 8in touchscreen sat-nav system is included, plus a reversing camera. Among the extras acquired if you climb one more rung and choose Premium are heated outer rear seats, electrical adjustment for the driver and front passenger seats, and front and rear parking sensors. Go for the top trim level, Premium SE, and you’ll gain ventilated front seats, LED headlights, a heated steering wheel and an electric tailgate. Caravanners will be pleased to know that all models are available with a full-size spare wheel.

There are also two types of towbar available with the Tucson from Hyundai. The fixed towbar costs £180 (plus VAT and 0.5 hours labour), while the detachable towbar is £300 (plus VAT and 0.75 hours labour). In addition, 13-pin wiring, required for either towbar, is £130 (plus VAT and 1.5 hours labour).

Kerbweights (including 75kg for the driver) start from 1464kg for the 1.6-litre, two-wheel-drive petrol with a manual gearbox, and climb to 1779kg for both versions of the 2.0 diesel, when combined with automatic transmissions and four-wheel drive. This gives caravanners 85% match figures of between 1244kg and 1512kg. All models have a 100kg towball limit.

We started our drive in a Premium-spec 134bhp 2.0-litre diesel, slipping into a smart cabin that, once on the road, was free from squeaks and rattles. For some, the mix of plastics might be a bit too, well, plasticky, especially the use of cheaper-feeling materials around the window controls, but the leather seat facings help to raise the game and everything feels well screwed together. And, having said that, usefully grippy plastic in a cubbyhole where you might stow your phone shows that thought has gone into the cabin environment.

There is also good adjustment for the (comfortable) driver’s seat, the steering wheel and the door and rear-view mirrors. And if you’re planning to tow with a Tucson, you’ll be pleased with the size of those door mirrors, which afford excellent rearward visibility. It is also interesting to see a conventional handbrake in a world where an electric version is fast becoming the norm. An electric parking brake is fitted to Premium and Premium SE-spec cars with automatic transmissions.

Rear-seat passengers are well-catered for, too, with good head and legroom, reclining rear seats, an armrest with cupholders, air-con (although you’ll have to live with the temperature set by those up front), deep door pockets and storage nets on the backs of the front seats. One concern, however, is that the high window line might make it a little gloomy inside for children, who may also struggle to see out.

While we’re at the back of the car, the Tucson has a good-sized boot. There’s quite a lip to lift luggage over, but the 513-litre capacity is healthy enough. If you need more, the split/folding seats are easy to fold down, leaving a nearly-flat boot floor and a 1503-litre space. You’ll also find tie-down points and a 12V socket in the boot. If the tailgate’s open and you haven’t opted for the electrically operated version, its height is easy for even shorter people (like me) to reach.

Get going and there’s no escaping the fact that this 2.0 is a diesel. Its voice isn’t excessively intrusive, but when cold and under load it is pretty vocal. There’s also a notable lack of urgency, even during full-throttle acceleration. This is doubtless due in part to the Tucson’s good level of noise suppression, so not only are road and wind noise kept at acceptable levels, but your perception of the car gaining speed is a little blunted, too. There’s also no discernible punch from the turbocharger. Yet a glance at the paperwork reveals that this four-wheel drive model’s 0-62mph time is a reasonable 10.9 seconds.

What the Tucson lacks in thrilling performance, it goes some way to make up for with its neat handling and good body control. The ride loses composure over broken surfaces but, considering that our test car was wearing 19in wheels, there’s not too much to grumble about. It turns in cleanly with just a whiff of understeer when pushed, so while this might not be an absorbing drive, it’s pleasant enough and, anyway, it’s unlikely to be a car for back-lane blasts. It’s aided by the great six-speed manual gearbox that has just enough of a mechanical feel to give confidence, yet retains a light, easy-to-use weight to its operation.

However, I think I’d take the 114bhp 1.7-litre diesel over the 134bhp 2.0-litre. Yes, you lose out in terms of outright performance, but from behind the wheel you really can’t feel the difference. You also can’t get four-wheel drive, which might be an issue if you want the added traction it brings for year-round touring, and the 1.7’s 1580kg kerbweight means an 85% match figure of 1343kg.

But the 1.7 is a much more refined engine than the 2.0, aurally and in terms of the vibrations felt in the cabin. Quieter and smoother, it’s a much more easy companion. Plus, being a younger engine, it comes with start-stop technology and is, overall, more efficient. Our four-wheel-drive 2.0 test car’s official combined fuel consumption figure was 54.3mpg with CO2 emissions of 139g/km, compared with the 1.7’s 61.7mpg and 119g/km, placing it in VED band C to the 2.0’s E. And then there’s the issue of price: the 1.7 costs from £20,195 OTR, the 2.0 from £24,195 OTR – or £25,825 OTR if you want four-wheel drive.

Also worth noting is that the SE Nav spec of the 1.7 we tested left us wanting nothing. Granted, the Premium had more leather, but the SE Nav’s trim is smart and nice to touch, the seats are supportive and the intuitive sat-nav with its large screen – not to mention that rear camera – will be useful on tour.

Of course, whichever Tucson you buy, you’ll get the reassurance of a five-year unlimited-mileage warranty, which is something that sets Hyundai apart from many of its rivals.

We will only really find out what tow car ability the new Hyundai Tucson has when we get a chance to test it with a caravan hitched up, but first impressions reveal this to be a practical and likeable SUV. 

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