The Tucson has become a staple in the compact crossover segment, and for good reason.
Hyundai seems to know exactly what their customers want in a crossover, and they have been using that insight to grow leaps and bounds in the market. It has however, been a few years since the current generation of the Tucson hit the market in 2016, and while Hyundai put through a total refresh of the larger Santa Fe (reviewed here), the Tucson has gotten by with mostly minor tweaks, including a new engine for this year. We jumped behind the wheel of a 2019 Hyundai Tucson Ultimate to find out how competitive it remains.
The current Tucson reset the design language for Hyundai’s crossovers. While it’s not exactly brand new styling, it still looks new because the Santa Fe and Palisade heavily draw from the styling cues used on the Tucson. Overall it’s a fairly handsome little crossover and tends to look a bit tougher and more aggressive than its competitors. This is thanks to the long horizontal grill bars which give the front end a wide look, and the rugged black plastic body cladding. Those key traits aside, its general shape is in line with the hoards of small crossovers you’ll see just about anywhere now.
Our tester however came in a bright “Aqua Blue”, which fit well with the young and adventurous personality the Tucson works towards, and did make the tester stand out in crowds just a bit. Being a top-tier Ultimate trim, ours got sporty looking 19” wheels on low profile rubber. It looks good, but I have to wonder whether the ride quality and replacement cost penalties are worth it for the larger 19” tires.
The interior of the Tucson stands the test of time, still feeling just as modern and well thought out as any of the Tucson’s rivals. Interior materials are visually pleasing with lots of matte black and splashes of aluminum. Most of the frequently touched areas are finished with soft-touch materials, but it’s clear that Hyundai made some sacrifices where they could – the door panels and the lower portion of the dash are particularly cheap feeling. Entry and exit is extremely easy due to the tall doors and relatively low floor, as is loading the rear cargo area, thanks again to the low floor height. Speaking of which, the cargo area itself is a very generous size and the rear seats fold flat for even more versatile space.
One area of the Tucson’s interior that has received significant updates over the years is the infotainment; it’s been continually refined for ease of use and now offers integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The large screen is crisp, easy to control with a combination of touch commands and real buttons for the most frequently used functions. Complimentary to the infotainment in Tucson equipped with the Ultimate package is the Supervision 4.2” LCD gauge cluster which is very clear, informative and easily managed from the steering wheel mounted controls.
In fact, the Ultimate trim package comes with just about everything you could ask for in a little crossover including heated and ventilated leather seats, heated steering wheel, a massive glass panoramic sunroof, rain sensing wipers, surround view camera, a powerful Infinity eight-speaker sound system, and a number of exterior upgrades such as LEDS and extra chrome trim to set the Ultimate apart from the lesser model.
The Ultimate trim comes powered by the 2.4L GDI naturally aspirated four-cylinder, which is standard on the Ultimate & Luxury models and optional on the Preferred trim. The base model Essential trim, as well as the Preferred trim get a smaller 2.0L naturally aspirated four cylinder. The replacement of Hyundai’s 1.6L turbocharged motor with the new 2.4L makes the Tucson one of the few crossover on the market today without the option for a turbo.
The 2.4L in our tester makes 181 horsepower and 175 lb-ft. of torque @ 4,000RPM, a 20 horsepower bump over the entry level 2.0L version, and both engines come mated to the same six-speed automatic. Opting for the larger engine probably is the best idea here, since even with the extra power acceleration is far from inspiring. The four cylinder however is surprisingly refined and quiet inside the cabin, and the six-speed automatic is generally a pretty smooth operator as long as you don’t start getting too enthusiastic with your driving, at which point it will struggle to keep up. The Tucson is available with HTRAC AWD, and of course our tester came equipped as such.
From behind the wheel the Tucson is really quite pleasant and competent as a people mover. Visibility is good, it’s easy to maneuver in the city, and the handling is confident on the highway. On the other side of things, the Tucson’s ride can be a bit harsh on the rough city streets and the smooth highway cruising is slightly intruded upon by a significant amount of road noise entering the cabin. Truthfully though, while the driving experience is remarkably uninspiring for an enthusiast, driving dynamics are typically right down near the bottom of the priority list for many, many compact CUV shoppers.
During my week with the Tucson, aside from my regular long daily commutes, I also had to make a quick day-trip to Detroit and back for a meeting. Door to door the trip took about three hours each way, all highway and with minimal traffic given my timing and favourable weather. I thought I might regret leaving my big land-yacht sedan at home and opting for the smaller Tucson, but over the course of the six hours spent on the highway that day the Tucson really did earn its keep.
The leather seats, while note the softest or highest quality leather, proved supportive in the right places and prevented me from getting sore or uncomfortable despite the hours logged. The radar controlled adaptive cruise control worked flawlessly, and controlled any acceleration and deceleration a lot smoother than even some luxury cars I’ve recently tested. The Infinity sound system sounded great playing my favorites from XM radio, drowning out the slightly annoying road noise and helping to melt away the miles. On the highway the on-center steering feel is tight and the Tucson tracks well making the drive all the more relaxing.
Trips like this help to prove that these compact CUVs like this Tucson really work hard to be all things to all people; with so many buyers from different age groups and life stages, these really are extremely versatile little vehicles, and if you choose well the compromises can be minimal.
Speaking of minimizing compromise, it returned a very healthy 8.5L/100km fuel consumption average for my 650km highway trip, a great number without much conscious effort from myself to be a fuel-miser. On my regular GTA commutes the Tucson averaged a less impressive 11.1L/100km, not out of line with competitors, but it goes to show that carrying the hefty of the AWD system around in the city does come with a toll. Of course, this naturally aspirated four cylinder is perfectly content on regular grade fuel.
One aspect of choosing a compact crossover that’s becoming more and more important to buyers, especially parents, is the vehicle’s suite of safety technology to prevent and mitigate accidents. Happily, you will find a complete offering of the latest driving technology available in the Tucson including; forward collision avoidance assist, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, rear cross traffic warning, rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning and even a driver fatigue warning system. Additionally, while hopefully it’ll never come into play, the Tucson is built around what Hyundai calls its SuperStructure, a high-strength steel chassis that helps direct energy away from the cabin in the event of an accident.
Pricing on the Tucson is fairly aggressive in the compact segment, especially when you layer in the long list of equipment that each trim level comes standard with. A base model ‘Essential’ Tucson with FWD will start at $25,999 and still gets a 7” infotainment screen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, heated seats, keyless entry and more. Step up to the Preferred trim at $27,999 for a heated steering wheel, 17” alloys and additional safety tech. Making the larger jump to the Luxury trim at $34,699 adds AWD as standard (although it can be added to the lower trims) along with leather seats, surround view camera, powerlift gate and more. Lastly, the Ultimate trim like our tester rings in at $37,999 and gets you the larger 19”, 8” touchscreen, LED lighting, Infinity sound, and rounds out the set of luxury touches. Our tester added an extra $200 for the Aqua Blue paint, which brings the as tested MSRP to $38,199.
While the as tested price here is getting a bit steep, and into the territory of some larger or more luxurious competitors, a very well-equipped Tucson can be had for under $35,000, which represents a lot of practicality, safety and features for your money. I’ve said it before, but Hyundai is building vehicles for their customers, and they happen to know exactly what they’re buyers want. The focus here is on modern style and the latest technologies and amenities at a palatable price. Driving dynamics take a backseat here, and that’s absolutely OK for many buyers, and the Tucson’s success speaks volumes to that.