The Hyundai Tucson has a lot going for it, but it doesn’t do enough to topple the Mazda CX-5 as our favourite mid-sized SUV.
Let’s consider its strong points first. Of most importance for caravanners, the Tucson tows very well. It’s stable at speed, and has no trouble pulling any well-matched caravan. The 185PS engine flexes ample muscle from low revs. Hill starts are easy, too, and we were surprised by the Tucson’s short stopping distance from 30mph.
As a solo drive, we were impressed but not overwhelmed. The Tucson handles well but the numb steering has an unfortunate habit of disguising how good the car is, and spoiling any fun. We also found the ride of this top-spec version on 19in alloys to be fidgety, especially at low speeds. Less road noise would be welcome, too.
Inside, the Tucson still has hard plastics in places but overall the cabin is well-made and attractive. It’s roomy enough inside for many families, but if space is a priority there are more spacious cars for similar money.
That’s our quandary with this top-spec Tucson. It’s a good car, but you could have a roomier and heavier 4×4 for similar money if you went without some standard kit. Or you could save well over £4000 by choosing a Tucson with the same engine and gearbox in SE Nav spec, which still comes well equipped.
If you must have all the toys, this version won’t disappoint, but for our money there’s better value lower down the range.
It’s a very good and stable tow car
This top-spec diesel has plenty of pulling power
The Tuscon’s brakes are strong
The spec sheet is generous
Driver and passengers have a good amount of space
It’s not that engaging as a solo drive
This top-spec version isn’t the best value for money proposition
The Tucson is Hyundai’s replacement for the ix35, to rival the Kia Sportage and the Mazda CX-5. Hyundai promises that the Tucson is a big step forward over the ix35, with a more modern design, generous equipment and lots of high-tech safety systems. Buyers have a choice of petrol and diesel engines at prices starting from £18,995, but we’re testing the top-spec 4×4 diesel auto priced at £32,695.
So, what are we looking for? To justify the cost, the Tucson needs power, performance and stability, plus a long list of standard kit. We’re also looking for a spacious, high-quality interior and lots of practical touches. Affordable running costs complete our wish list.
For an SUV of this size the Tucson is refreshingly heavy
The lightest two-wheel-drive diesel weighs 1500kg, while our high-powered diesel auto is the heftiest, with a kerbweight of 1690kg (including 75kg for the driver not included in Hyundai’s published kerbweight). That gives an 85% match figure of 1437kg. If you’re an experienced tow car driver and want to tug more, the legal towing limit is 1900kg (though we don’t recommend pulling a caravan that exceeds the car’s kerbweight).
We matched the Tucson to a Swift Expression 626 with a Mass in Running Order of 1413kg. The Tucson’s 2.0 CRDi engine and six-speed automatic gearbox proved to be a good team for towing. The engine produces 182bhp and 295lb ft of torque, enough to hold its speed up steep hills. The ’box changed gears smoothly and kept the engine working efficiently.
With peak torque arriving at just 1750rpm, there’s little need to rev the engine hard but, if you do, there’s enough top-end muscle for efficient overtaking. Towing the Swift from 30-60mph took 12.5 seconds.
The Hyundai is even more impressive should you need to stop in a hurry. Slowing to a standstill from 30mph on dry Tarmac took just 9.5m. That’s one of the shortest braking distances we’ve seen in a while.
As for stability, the Tucson feels secure and reassuring at motorway speeds, with little movement, even in crosswinds. We’d be happy to tow long distances with the Hyundai. It’s at home on multi-lane roads, towing straight and true, with ample power in reserve.
The emergency lane-change proved a tougher test, but the Tucson performed respectably. There’s little feedback through the steering wheel, and the Tucson leans noticeably when pushed really hard. But the car stayed firmly in charge of the caravan – we couldn’t feel any pushing or shoving from the tourer, even as we upped the speed of the manoeuvre.
Hill starts usually show 4x4s at their best, and that was the case with the Tucson. The electronic parking brake held car and caravan still on a 1-in-10 slope, and the Hyundai pulled to the top with no sign of strain; the engine barely revved above tickover. The same gradient in reverse also posed no trouble.
It’s worth noting that the Hyundai’s 4×4 system sends all the engine’s power to the front wheels in normal driving, only engaging drive to the rear if the front ones struggle for traction. The system can be switched to a 50/50 split at the touch of a button, which could be handy when towing from a muddy pitch.
So, the Tucson is a thoroughly capable tow car. Stability at speed is good and, although the Tucson isn’t as secure in the lane-change test, we never felt there was any danger that the van would take charge. What’s more, with four-wheel drive, the Hyundai tows well on slippery surfaces as well as on dry.
As a solo drive, the Hyundai shapes up well, but with a couple of slight caveats.
Without the weight of a caravan, the Tucson can shift with real urgency. Perhaps the gearbox could be quicker to change gear at times, although selecting ‘Sport’ mode helps. Still, the same high power and torque outputs that make for determined acceleration when towing are even more evident.
The diesel can sound a bit strained if revved hard but, at a steady cruise, it’s quiet and subdued. There’s noticeable road noise, though, especially over coarse surfaces.
Go for a high-spec model like our test car and it rides on 19in alloy wheels. For the most part the ride is comfortable but, on those large alloy wheels, the car tends to fidget. Lower-spec cars have 16in or 17in alloy wheels, and we’d be surprised if these didn’t have a more settled ride.
Tackle a twisty road with enthusiasm and the Tucson corners tidily. The lean we noticed in our aggressive lane-change is kept in check at sensible speeds, but the Hyundai is competent rather than fun. The steering is numb; switching to ‘Sport’ mode adds weight but doesn’t boost feel or feedback.
The Tucson is a pleasant solo drive, but a Mazda CX-5 is much more entertaining.
The Tucson is longer and wider than the ix35, which benefits space. Hyundai has also made the interior smarter than the plasticky finish of the old car.
Up front, the driver and passenger have plenty of room. The panoramic sunroof fitted to our test car steals headroom, but you’d have to be very tall to mind.
Some plastics on lower parts of the dashboard and doors feel hard, but there’s no doubt the finish and design of the Tucson cabin mark improvements over the ix35. The controls are sensibly placed and easy to use, and it doesn’t take long to get the hang of the eight-inch touchscreen – standard on the top three spec levels. The clearly labelled shortcut buttons below the screen definitely help.
There’s enough space in the back row for adults to get comfortable, and it’s good to see air vents between the two front seats to give them just the right temperature. The seats recline for grabbing 40 winks.
The boot has a useful 488-litre capacity. That’s not far off the 503-litre capacity of the Mazda CX-5. However, the wheelarches intrude into the load space and the floor is rather high. Many won’t mind, because it makes room for the standard-fit, full-size spare wheel under it. Fold the seats down and the luggage capacity increases to 1478 litres.
If you really must have the top-spec Tucson, it’s not cheap. The list price is £32,695, which makes it £1700 more expensive than the equivalent Mazda CX-5.
In the Hyundai’s favour, it is very thoroughly equipped. Premium SE is the most generously kitted out of the five trim levels, and comes with heated leather seats front and rear, plus electrical adjustment (including lumbar support) for those in the front. The driver gets a heated steering wheel, an eight-inch touchscreen with sat-nav and a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors and a powered tailgate.
Safety gear goes beyond airbags and stability control to include Autonomous Emergency Braking (which slows the car if the driver fails to do so), a Blind Spot Detection System (to tell the driver when a vehicle is in the driver’s blind spot) and Lane Keep Assist (which warns the driver when the car drifts out of its lane and can correct the steering). All this has helped the Tucson earn a five-star rating from Euro NCAP’s safety experts.
If you’re a company car driver with one eye on your CO2-based tax bill, or just want to keep a tight lid on running costs, the manual version is a better choice than the auto we’ve been driving. The manual emits 154g/km of CO2 and returns 47.9mpg on the combined cycle; the auto emits 170g/km and returns 43.5mpg.
During our towing test, on a mix of A-roads and motorways, the Tucson returned 27.3mpg. That’s not bad with a 1400kg caravan.
Despite the Hyundai’s power and performance, the car sits in insurance band 20, which means reasonable premiums. Strong resale values should also offset the high purchase price: What Car?’s experts predict the Tucson to be worth 50% of the original price after three years.
|Engine Size||1995 cc|
|85% KW||1373 kg|
|Towball Limit||100 kg|
|Maximum Towing Limit||1900 kg|
|Torque||295 lb ft|
|Offical MPG||43.5 mpg|