Why make another of what everyone else is making — and hope it’ll sell?
Wouldn’t it be smarter to offer something no one else is making instead?
That would probably sell.
This new Hyundai Tucson is another crossover SUV — but it’s not “just another” crossover SUV.
What they’ve done is bridge the Size Gap between the emerging class of subcompact crossovers like the Honda HR-V and the Mazda CX-3 — and the existing class of compact crossovers (of which there are probably too many) like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, the Mazda CX-5 and even Hyundai’s own Sante Fe Sport.
Those models bicker with one another over minor styling and features differences, the warranty coverage and so on. But — for the most part — they’re the same things except for the badge in the grille and the shape of their headlights and taillights.
So, what makes the Tucson any different?
It’s bigger than a pocket-sized crossover like the HR-V.
But not as big as something in the CR-V’s class.
It also offers more engine (175 turbocharged hp) than subcompacts like the HR-V (141 hp) and CX-3 (146 hp).
It also straddles the pricing gap between the subcompacts and the compacts — costing a bit more than the former and a bit less than the latter.
Save a few bucks, get more power/performance, a bit more room (especially cargo room) but keep it small and cheap.
That’s the idea here.
WHAT IT IS
The Tucson is Hyundai’s entry-level crossover SUV.
It’s a bit smaller — and has a slightly lower price — than the Sante Fe Sport and offers a bit more cargo room than subcompacts like the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3 while delivering slightly less cargo capacity but about the same passenger space as larger (compact) crossovers like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
It is also among the few crossovers in its class (and beyond) that offers a seven-speed automated manual transmission. Most crossovers come with either continuously variable (CVT) automatics or conventional (hydraulic) automatics.
You can also get it with a fairly powerful (for the class/price) turbocharged engine.
Base price is $22,700 for a FWD SE trim with a 2.0 liter (not turbocharged) engine and conventional six-speed automatic. With AWD, an SE 2.0 Tucson lists for $24,700.
The Eco trim — which comes with the new 1.6 liter turbo engine and the also-new seven-speed automated manual transmission — lists for $24,150 with FWD (slightly less expensive than the AWD but 2.0-equipped SE) and $25,550 with AWD.
A Tucson Limited with the Ultimate package — which adds adaptive Xenon HID headlights, a panorama roof, upgraded eight-inch LCD touchscreen, heated rear seats (and coolers for the front seats) plus a suit of electronic safety aids such as automatic collision avoidance stickers for $34,050.
The 2016 Tucson is all-new.
With optional 1.6 engine, the Tucson is 1 full second (and in some cases, two full seconds) quicker to 60 than rivals on either side of the size aisle.
You don’t have to buy the optional engine to get AWD.
More cargo-carrying capacity than small-fry like the Honda HR-V and nearly as much cargo-capacity as larger fry like the CR-V.
Available eight-inch LCD touchscreen, heated rear seats, power passenger seat, hands-free proximity-sensing automatic-opening liftgate and accessory operation via smartphone.
SE and Eco trims are very reasonably priced.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Optional 1.6 Eco engine is not very economical. I averaged 22.3 MPG during a week-long test drive of an AWD-equipped Limited. If you use that turbo, you will also be using more gas than the EPA stats suggest.
Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3 are only slightly smaller overall and nearly as roomy inside; they also cost less — and you can get the Honda with a six-speed manual transmission.
Limited trim is not reasonably priced — and many of the Tucson’s neat new features (such as the eight-inch touchscreen, the panorama roof and the suit of safety features) are only available in the highest-trim Limited — and still cost extra.
UNDER THE HOOD
The Tucson is among a dwindling cohort of smallish crossovers that’s available with more than just one engine.
And its base engine isn’t weak — and you can pair it with all-wheel-drive.
It’s not uncommon among crossovers where a base and optional engine are available that the base engine is only available with FWD. And not just to up-sell you, either. Usually in such cases, the base engine is a weak engine. It has marginal power in the FWD application. Adding AWD to the equation kills the performance (such as it is) as well as the economy.
That’s not the case here.
The Tucson’s base engine (SE trims) is a 2.0 liter four that makes 164 hp. This is not a little bit stronger than both the Honda HR-V’s standard (and only available) 1.8 liter, 141 hp engine and the Mazda CX-3’s standard (and also only-available) 2.0 liter, 146 hp engine and not that far behind the Honda CR-V’s standard 2.4 liter, 185 hp engine.
You can pair the Tucson’s 2.0 engine with either FWD or AWD, too.
Unfortunately, you cannot get a manual transmission (as you can in the HR-V and in the European version of the Tucson ) and while the gas mileage is not bad — 23 city, 31 highway with FWD; 21 city, 26 highway with AWD — it’s not nearly as good as the HR-V’s (25 city, 34 highway with the six-speed manual and 28 city/35 highway with the optional CVT automatic) or the CX-3’s 29 city/35 highway (27/32 with AWD).
Acceleration, though, is competitive with the HR-V and the CX-3 and also the CR-V.
Better, actually, than the arguably under-powered (for its size and weight) CR-V, which needs close to 9 seconds to get 60.
The 2.0/FWD Tucson is safely in the high eights.
Eco, Sport and Limited trims come standard with a turbocharged 1.6 liter engine that makes 175 hp and 195 ft.-lbs. of torque (as compared with the 2.0 engine’s 151 ft.-lbs. of torque). This is a gutsy little engine — with a lot more guts (and torque) than the Honda or the Mazda or pretty much any other comparably priced (and sized) crossover offers right now.
Hyundai pairs this engine with a seven-speed automated manual — a transmission type that as recently as five years ago was exclusive to very high-end (and high-performance) cars. The box combines the efficiency and performance advantages of a manual transmission with the ease of operation of an automatic. It can change gears more quickly (and with always spot-on timing) than a human driver can — without the conventional automatic’s small but significant power (and mileage) losses vs. a manual transmission.
This combo delivers best-in-class acceleration: Zero to 60 in about 7.4-7.5 seconds, depending on whether you select FWD or AWD.
A Nissan Juke is comparably quick — thanks to its comparably powerful (and also turbocharged) 1.6 liter (188 hp) engine. But the Juke isn’t really a crossover… it’s a Juke. It has about a third the cargo capacity behind its second row (just 10.5 cubic feet vs. 31 cubes for the Hyundai) and about half the total capacity with its second row folded down (35.9 vs. 61.9).
The Juke’s back seats are hopeless for humans, too.
One caution, though, about the Tucson’s otherwise admirable 1.6 liter engine: It is thirsty.
If you use the turbo.
And of course, you will. Otherwise, why bother?
Lay off the thing — and you may see the EPA’s sounding-good 26 city/33 highway (25 city, 31 highway with AWD). But lay into the turbo — as I did — and your real-world mileage will likely average low-mid 20s.
It doesn’t suck.
But it’s not what you might be led to believe. And that’s the thing. Car companies are resorting to small displacement turbocharged engines to give the appearance (and the potential) of very good mileage with the availability of on-demand performance. The catch is that when you do demand performance, the mileage droops.
ON THE ROAD
“Eco” usually means slow.
That’s definitely not the case here. While it isn’t a tire-fryer, the turbo Tucson’s mid-seven second to 60 capability sets it apart from everything else directly comparable.
It goes when you hit the gas.
Most of the others, don’t.
Now, you can definitely find something speedier than the Tucson — but it’ll also be larger.
Or — as in the case of the Nissan Juke — smaller.
The turbo engine’d Tucson goes because it’s … turbocharged. The others (Juke excepted) aren’t. They make less power — and whatever power they do make, you have to make them work harder to make it. With almost 200 ft.-lbs. of torque available at 1,500 RPM, the turbo Tucson has what’s needed to get almost 3,400 pounds of vehicle moving quickly without feeling as though its straining.
This is the brightest feather in its cap, no doubt.
The seven-speed automated manual is another. It makes excellent use of the power available and with one more gear than most rivals, acceleration feels quicker and more relaxed at the same time. There’s less gap between shifts (vs. the others’ conventional automatics) and less mechanical racket (vs. the CVTs in others). Best to just leave it in Drive, though, as the manual mode doesn’t make for quicker ETs and the computer will override you anyhow, if you try to force a downshift when it thinks not — or hold it in gear when it decides it’s time to move on to the next one.
They pretty much all do this, though. Warranty considerations. This is where a manual you control offers more control — if not quicker shifts and better ETs.
If you floor it from a dead stop, you’ll experience a moment’s flat spot, as the 1.6 draws breath — but then it pulls hard as long as you keep your foot in it, all the way to 90, 100 MPH and beyond.
Which creates a problem. You become desirous of the power on tap in the same way that having a half gallon of rocky road in the freezer is enticing to someone trying to lose weight.
You can try to keep your foot out of it. Just like you can try not to dig in to the rocky road.
Good luck with that.
Which’ll leave you with mileage that will vary.
The 22.3 MPG I averaged was just barely out of the teens. Had I really put my foot down, I might have rang the bell. Now, the HR-V and CX-3 can’t keep up with the turbo Tucson. But no matter how hard you hammer either of them, you will always do better than 22.3 MPG. Fuel consumption being a function of airflow more so than your right foot.
The turbo Hyundai simply has bigger lungs — and so, a bigger appetite.
AT THE CURB
There is nothing revolutionary about the Tucson’s appearance. It’s a perfectly good-looking crossover SUV that has the same basic profile as lots of other crossover SUVs. The function dictates the form (as with minivans).
It’s size that sets the Tucson apart.
At 176.2 inches long overall, it is a little more than half a foot (7.1 inches) longer than a subcompact like the HR-V and about 3.2 inches shorter overall than a Honda CR-V (179.4 inches).
This splitting of the difference gives you a vehicle that fits into tighter parking spots, takes up less space in the garage — but which isn’t either too small (or too big) on the inside.
First and second row-wise, the Tucson actually has almost exactly the same legroom (41.5 inches and 38.2 inches, respectively) as the larger-on-the-outside CR-V (41.3 inches and 38.3 inches). On headroom, the Hyundai actually has slightly more than the Honda in its second row (39.2 vs. 38.6).
The smaller HR-V has impressive first and second-row legroom (41.2 and 39.3 inches, respectively). But when it comes to cargo room, the HR-V falls short: 24.3 cubic feet behind the second row vs. 31 for the Tucson. This isn’t as much as you’d have in the CR-V (35.2 cubes) but then, you also have an easier time slotting into curbside parking spots and maybe now your lawn mower will fit in the garage, too.
Also, something you can’t see but which you’ll be able to feel is the Hyundai’s much tighter turning circle relative to both smaller and larger rivals. Just 34.9 feet vs. 37.5 for the CR-V and (big surprise here) 37.4 for the much smaller HR-V.
Base SE trims come with some notable features — such as LED headlights, heated outside mirrors and satellite radio — as part of the standard equipment package. The only negative here — if you want something-special performance — is that the SE cannot be ordered with the 1.6 liter turbo engine.
But the standard 2.0 engine is an adequate powerplant. Keep in mind that the SE Tucson is no slower than the Honda CR-V (or the HR-V) and people love them, regardless.
The Eco, Sport and Limited trims all come with the 1.6 engine (and the seven-speed automated manual) But the Eco comes standard with lower rolling resistance tires on 17-inch wheels which in turn boost its mileage to 26 city/33 highway (FWD).
The Sport and Limited trims come with much larger nineteen inch wheels and tires, which knock the mileage down to 25 city/30 highway (FWD) and 24 city, 28 highway with AWD.
Cool features include a tailgate that opens automatically — without having to foot swipe. A proximity sensor senses you’re there and opens it for you without you having to assume any yoga poses.
The Limited gets a class-largest eight-inch touchscreen monitor (a smaller, less fancy five-inch display comes in other trims) and can be ordered with a panorama roof, automated braking/collision avoidance, heated rear seats, ventilated front seats and rear park sensors.
Unfortunately, these features are not even available as options on lower trims, which detracts from the economic appeal of the Tucson. A Limited with AWD and the “Ultimate” package — which includes most of the features just described — stickers for just over $34k.
You do get a lot — but it’s also a lot of money. Not too far from BMW (X3, $38,600) money.
Which may be too much money… for a Hyundai, no matter how “nice” it happens to be.
But the SE, Eco and Sport trims are very appealing on multiple counts, including value.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Hyundai did something smart by splitting the size difference between the lesser and the larger — and by offering the Tucson with more engine than is generally available in this class.
Now about that manual transmission… .
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos