June Neary gets to grips with the Tucson, Hyundai's Crossover model
Will It Suit Me?
I don't necessarily approve of off-road vehicles being used by owners who only ever drive them on the road. However, I was forced to revise this view slightly last time we had a dusting of snow round our way. The beautiful rear-wheel-drive executive estate car I was driving started behaving as though it was on an ice rink fitted with Teflon tyres but given the UK's usual climate, the costs of all-wheel-drive tend to out-weight the benefits for the kind of driving most of us do. You might think that this bodes badly for the Hyundai Tucson we're taking a look at here but don't jump the gun. Yes, this vehicle is one of those SUV-like Crossover models but, like the majority of small to mid-sized models around today, it's designed to excel in the kind of tarmac-based usage that the majority of buyers will put it through.
The Tucson's positioning as a Crossover means you get this kind of car's tall driving position, easy access and bold off-roader styling. Most will buy this model in front wheel drive form, but I tried it in 4WD guise with Hyundai's quite efficient 1.6-litre T-GDI petrol turbo engine. Across the range, you get a refined, car-like driving experience and lower running costs than would be obtainable in a proper fully-fledged go-anywhere 4x4; you know, the kind of Land Rover-style thing with the differentials, ground clearance and low range gearbox you'd need for driving up a dried-out river bed.
There's a large and roomy cabin beneath the Tucson's appealing exterior lines. Efforts to bring a sportier feel to the exterior by tapering the windows off towards the rear of the car and shrinking the rear screen don't help visibility though. The vehicle also fails to come up with many of the clever MPV-style features that would add versatility to the cabin. The rear-seats don't slide, but they do recline and feature conventional 60:40 split backs that fold down nearly flat to the floor to increase luggage space. Rear leg room is very good for a vehicle of this size and entries and exits are made easier by the elevated ride-height. It's easy to see why 4x4-style vehicles have become so popular with families, as the taller design makes it so simple to strap kids in or fit a car seat.
Behind the Wheel
As mentioned previously, not all Tucson models offer four-wheel-drive. As has increasingly become the case with crossovers and compact 4x4s designed mainly for road use, the entry-level variants of this car are front-wheel-drive only. This means the extra traction to help you out in slippery conditions is lost but all Tucsons still have the extended ground clearance to stop them coming to grief on speed humps and high kerbs. The 2WD versions also bring fuel efficiency benefits.
The engine range available with this Hyundai is usefully diverse. When it comes to this issue, it's well worth finding the price premium to progress from the rather feeble 132PS entry-level 1.6-litre GDi petrol unit to the 116PS 1.7-litre CRDi diesel that most will want. Buyers wanting the 4WD option though, will need to trade up to the pokier 2.0-litre CRDi diesel variants. All-wheel traction is an option with the 136PS version of this unit and standard if you go for the 185PS variant. You also have to have 4WD if you choose the top 1.6 T-GDI petrol derivative I tried. This top 177PS flagship version gets the option of an efficient DCT dual-clutch automatic transmission if you want it.
Features such as Downhill Brake Control (which stops the vehicle running away with you when heading down steep gradients) and Hill-Start Assist Control (which ensures a smooth getaway when driving back up) will help should you decide to venture off road. There's also a Flex Steer system where 'normal', 'comfort' or 'sport' modes can be selected to adjust the level of power steering support and feedback.
Value For Money
Equipment levels are strong. All models get alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, tinted glass, all-round electric windows, powered heated mirrors and auto dusk-sensing headlamps that also have a 'Follow-Me-Home' feature that lights the way to your front door at night. Inside, there's air conditioning, USB, Aux-in and Bluetooth 'phone connectivity, a trip computer, driver's seat height adjustment, a reclining rear bench and a decent quality six-speaker DAB stereo that you can also control via buttons on the multi-function steering wheel.
Could I Live With One?
There are a lot of Crossover models like the Tucson out there at the moment as manufacturers respond to the strong demand in this sector of the market. It's easy to see where their popularity stems from but choosing between the leading contenders isn't easy. Hyundai's effort ticks all the important boxes with its attractive looks and practical interior. I reckon it's a step in the right direction - and very much a Hyundai of the modern era. Which makes it a very competitive car indeed.