THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Sharp styling update, loads of content, good value for money
- What’s Bad: Underwhelming performance, subpar fuel economy
If there’s one thing an auto manufacturer can count on in 2019 is that if it has a compact or mid-size SUV in its lineup, that vehicle will be at or near the top of its sales chart.
And while the compact Elantra sedan remains Hyundai’s bestseller in Canada, there are two SUVs in hot pursuit, the white-hot subcompact Kona and the steady compact Tucson. The Kona’s popularity is growing so quickly, in fact, that its sales accounted for 21 percent of its segment in April according to Hyundai. The Elantra is number one for now, but the Kona could surpass it by year’s end if it stays hot.
As for the Tucson, its sales were down slightly in April (by 0.7 percent) versus the same month in 2018, but Hyundai Canada still managed to move 2,411 units through its dealers which was enough to secure the number three spot in the carmaker’s lineup. For context, 28,634 Tucsons were sold in Canada in 2018.
A mainstay in Hyundai’s lineup since 2004, the Tucson shares a basic platform and some components with the Kia Sportage but bears little resemblance to its corporate cousin in most respects, including styling, branding and packaging.
The third-generation Tucson was introduced in 2015 for the 2016 model year and receives a rather significant mid-cycle update for 2019. Among the changes are a new cascade grille, LED headlights, turn signal repeaters and tail lights, along with an overhauled interior and new wheel designs.
Mechanically, there are two big changes: the 1.6-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine has been dropped and replaced with a 2.4-litre 4-cylinder (181 hp / 175 lb-ft.), and the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic is no longer offered. Both the 2.4 and the carryover 2.0-litre 4-cylinder (161 hp / 150 lb-ft.) are paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission, the only gearbox available.
For Canada, there are four basic grades available: Essential, Preferred, Luxury and Ultimate. All can be had with all-wheel drive, while the two lower grades are also available with front-wheel drive. The base engine is the 2.0-litre mill, but the 2.4-litre unit is available on all grades except the entry-level Essential.
For the purposes of this review, Hyundai Canada has furnished me with a range-topping Ultimate AWD tester equipped with the 2.4-litre engine and finished in aqua blue. Of note, several Tucson exterior finishes come with an additional $200 charge, including aqua blue.
While significant in number and substance, the styling updates on the 2019 Tucson are also subtle and make an already attractive vehicle even more appealing. The third-gen has clean, crisp lines and the new front fascia with its new cascade grille and updated LED headlights blend seamlessly into the Tucson’s overall design. The same goes for the rear, where a new fascia with a redesigned tailgate and new tail lights flow seamlessly into the vehicle’s handsome proportions.
On the inside, Hyundai designers have made the Tucson’s cabin more inviting with a redesigned centre stack, panel vents and instrument cluster, along with new leather seats. It’s not the most luxurious interior I’ve ever been in, but the Tucson’s cabin features a good mix of soft touch plastics that are pleasing to look at and interact with and stack up well against intended competition. Finding a comfortable seating position is straightforward and commonly adjusted controls, such as those that govern climate, stereo, and navigation settings are logically laid out and easy to use.
Adding to the overall level of comfort is the sheer volume of standard features the Ultimate trim comes stuffed with. In addition to a leather interior, it also comes with a panoramic sunroof, heated and cooled seats, heated steering wheel, 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with navigation and a lot more.
In terms of space, the Tucson is a two-row, five-seater that provides a good amount of head and legroom both up front and in the rear seat. Its 1,754 litres of maximum cargo space (with rear seatbacks folded down) is generous and should meet the needs of most buyers.
On the road, the Tucson offers a relatively smooth, quiet, and comfortable ride. The 2.4-litre 4-cylinder engine is adequate once it gets up to speed, but getting there requires patience as acceleration, particularly from rest, is not its strong suit. I realize it wasn’t designed for performance but its sluggishness and general lack of power, particularly at the bottom end of the rev range, is still disappointing.
The lack of a really engaging driving experience doesn’t seem to diminish the Tucson’s appeal, however, as both its sales numbers and aggressive packaging reveal. Hyundai vehicles have a well-earned reputation for delivering a lot of car for the money and the Tucson adheres strongly to that tradition.
One other thing that stood out during my time with the Tucson was its rather unimpressive fuel efficiency. Now, fuel consumption can vary widely and there are a host of factors that impact it, but I was still somewhat surprised that my mix of regular city and highway driving didn’t produce a better number than the 12.2L / 100 km average I experienced. However, given that my time with it was short (one week), this number could improve over time depending on driving habits and other factors.
Overall, the Tucson offers a compelling package for those in the compact SUV market. It’s handsomely designed, well equipped, and has plenty of versatility. It may no longer be the brightest star in Hyundai’s SUV lineup, but it is undoubtedly one of its steadiest.