First Drive: Does the 2016 Hyundai Tucson Have What Buyers Want?

2016 Hyundai Tucson
Source: Hyundai

When it comes to making boatloads of money in the modern American auto industry, there are a few tried and true methods for companies to strike it rich. The first is to sell a full-size pickup truck. The chicken tax makes it difficult for foreign automakers to take advantage of this strategy, but Ford, for example, makes so much money off the F-150 that it may as well be a truck company that makes cars as a fun hobby.

Another strategy is to sell a compact crossover SUV. These vehicles sell in droves, turning the segment leaders into cash cows. As sales of midsize sedans like the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, and Honda Accord slip, crossover SUVs have the potential to be even more profitable in the next few years. Unfortunately, while Chevrolet and Ram still make quite a lot of money selling their own full-size trucks even though Ford still sells the most, there are fewer barriers to entry in the world of compact crossover SUVs, meaning the competition is fierce.

Somewhere around a dozen vehicles compete in the compact crossover segment, giving potential buyers plenty of options, and simply offering a compact crossover doesn’t guarantee sales success. For example, while the segment sales leader, the Honda CR-V, has sold 163,018 units so far this year, Volkswagen has only sold 13,677 Tiguans.

Understandably, Hyundai would prefer for the sales of its compact CUV, the Tucson, to be up there with the CR-V. With 22,634 sold so far this year, though, Tuscon sales are much more in line with the Tiguan.

The solution, Hyundai believes, is an all-new Tucson designed to hold its own against the best vehicles in the segment and hopefully push sales to 90,000 annually. Will it, though? After spending several hours driving the Blue Ridge Parkway in two different versions, my suspicion is that if the new Tucson doesn’t hit that 90,000-unit annual sales target, it will probably get very close.

2016 Hyundai Tucson
Source: Hyundai

The most obvious change is in the exterior design. The new look isn’t what I would call strikingly-gorgeous, and no one chased me down to find out what kind of car I was driving, but at the same time, it’s a handsome car. You can see the influences of the larger Santa Fe on the styling, and you can tell that the new model is much more evolved than the one it replaces. I personally like the design and think it’s one of the more stylish cars in its class.

In the process of redesigning the Tucson, Hyundai also stretched the wheelbase and increased the overall length. The result is more cargo volume and more backseat legroom, which makes the Tucson much more useful for transporting things as well as more than two people. I didn’t get an opportunity to test the cargo volume, but I did spend a little over an hour riding in the back seat, and there was enough room to get comfortable. Three passengers in the back seat would probably get old quickly, but two could ride back there for quite a while without a problem.

My suspicion is that most of the time there won’t be rear-seat passengers, though, and instead the Tucson will be tasked with transporting only one or two people. For the driver and the front-seat passenger, Hyundai has made sure the seats are plenty comfortable. They’re not true sport seats, but they’re still well-bolstered, which was much appreciated when driving along the windy mountain roads of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

2016 Hyundai Tucson
Source: Hyundai

As for the rest of the interior, a lot of what you get depends on how much you’re willing to spend. The $31,300 Tucson Limited with all-wheel-drive and the $2,750 Ultimate package gives you about all you could want, including more than a few features that were reserved for luxury cars only a few years ago. A panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated seats, an 8-inch touchscreen with navigation, leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and LED lighting made for an enjoyable experience.

The base model with front-wheel-drive starts at $22,700, and while you definitely don’t get features like leather seats and a panoramic sunroof, you aren’t left feeling like you’re driving a stripped-out version of the Tucson. Standard features include a 5-inch touchscreen infotainment system, a tilting and telescoping steering wheel, 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, a sunglasses holder, and all of the modern safety technology you would expect like stability control, anti-lock brakes, traction control, and side-curtain airbags.

My complaints about the interior were few. One is that there’s only a single USB port available, and while that’s still one more than you can get in a Volkswagen, having at least two (if not three) would be much appreciated. I also thought some of the materials used in the cabin felt down-market. It wasn’t enough to ruin the experience, but maybe that will be addressed in a few years when the Tucson gets a refresh.

It would also be nice if the cabin offered more contrasting colors, especially on the Limited version. As it stands, the all-black interior looks a bit drab and uninviting.

2016 Hyundai Tucson
Source: Hyundai

Where the Tucson will really attract buyers, though, is in how it rides and drives. It wasn’t ever meant to be a corner carver, but the Tucson still drove with a maturity and sophistication that I didn’t expect, making it the opposite of the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport. Credit for that accomplishment goes to the high-strength steel and other advanced materials used in the car’s construction and the significant improvements Hyundai has made to the suspension.

The tight turns of the Blue Ridge Parkway would put any vehicle’s handling to the test, but I was surprised at how well the Tucson did. It was clearly much more at home driving through town, but when driven aggressively, there was only minimal body roll, and it never felt dangerous or out of control. The Mazda CX-5 is still sportier, but the Tucson felt substantial and composed no matter what kind of road it was on.

On the highway and around town, I noticed the Tucson was also very quiet. There was very little wind noise, road noise, tire noise, and engine noise, which made driving a relaxing experience and also contributed to the feeling of quality. I could hear a little bit of the exhaust under acceleration, but it sounded good for a four-cylinder engine and wasn’t intrusive or unpleasant.

Speaking of the engine, there are two of them available. The base engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 164 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque and is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. I didn’t get a chance to drive that one and instead drove versions equipped with the other option, a 1.6-liter turbocharged four that makes 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque and is paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.

175 horsepower isn’t a lot, but the 195 pound-feet of torque made the Tucson feel faster than you might expect. As long as acceleration is acceptable, I highly doubt anyone buying a compact crossover is concerned about power, though. Instead, they’re probably mainly concerned with fuel economy.

2016 Hyundai Tucson
Source: Hyundai

In that regard, the 1.6-liter engine does admirably, offering 26 miles per gallon in the city and 33 miles per gallon on the highway if you opt for the front-wheel-drive Eco version. In a loaded Tucson Limited with all-wheel-drive, those figures drop to 24 miles per gallon in the city and 28 miles per gallon on the highway. Considering that the 2.0-liter engine loses out by a few miles per gallon in each configuration, it makes sense that most buyers will opt for a better-equipped model with the 1.6-liter engine.

When you look at it as an entire package, the new Hyundai Tucson offers a modern design with plenty of space, a fuel efficient engine with enough power for daily driving, available premium options, lots of safety features, and a sophisticated ride. Some of the interior materials feel a little cheap, but overall, the Tucson is as good as any of the best-selling compact CUVs on the market today.

It doesn’t have the production capacity in the U.S. to outsell the CR-V even if it could, but based on my initial impressions, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hyundai moved every single one of the 90,000 Tucsons it’s hoping to sell each year.

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