Cape Town - It’s been a while since I attended the current Hyundai Tucson’s launch earlier in 2016, so it was rather refreshing when the 1.6 Turbo Executive arrived for a test drive.
Consumers will recall the Tucson name of a few years back. That was when the first-generation came to South Africa in 2004. The nomenclature was then replaced with ‘ix35’ when the SUV’s second generation came to the country.
Overall sales, although solid in SA, never impressed in the states and the automaker opted to revert to the Tucson moniker for its third generation, globally.
Since its launch in 2016, the Tucson has proved to be a huge success for Hyundai and even earned a South African Car of the Year nomination.
Familiar design cues
Hyundai did not depart too far from the ix35’s design. The Tucson carries some familiar lines and curves over from the previous model, which makes recognising it a whole lot easier. But at the front the grille takes prominence with three horizontal bars running across the length of it. The headlights, too, are larger than before and fog lights sit above daytime running LEDs.
READ: Tucson returns to SA - 'Tougher, Prettier' Hyundai SUV
At the rear the Tucson badge takes a solid spot on the left side of the tailgate and to the right of its ‘turbo’ badge. The rear lights are also very unmissable. Two exhaust pipes give a subtle indication to the performance inclination of this vehicle. The visual package is rounded off by a set of 17” tyres, but the wheel arches are a tad too big for it. So, if the budget permits, you should splurge on the optional bigger tyres. The Tucson is a good looking vehicle especially compared to its predecessor.
Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond
Going the distance
The Tucson’s drivetrain is one that can take the punch. The turbocharged 1.6-litre engine has initial turbo lag when stomping on the accelerator, but once it gets going the SUV does relent. It devours the road ahead and charges forth with a surge that makes driving it a pleasure.
The six-speed manual gearbox moves smoothly between the cogs and the throw-action requires little effort. And the cruise control makes the journey all the more enjoyable.
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On tar roads the Tucson is a joy to drive. It does not jolt about on secondary roads and can easily transverse your chosen tarmac. Steering feels assured when choosing a direction and is very easy to live with. A button along the gear lever changes steering from 'Normal' to 'Sport' though the difference between the modes is negligible.
The SUV is very comfortable on gravel. Traveling along the West Coast's gravel roads, the Tucson was thrown into the proverbial deep end. The area had very little to no rain while Cape Town has been on the receiving end of downpours the week before Christmas. Needless to say that the gravel is dry, with loose sand providing very little grip should the Hyundai start sliding about. But there was no indication that this SUV is out of its comfort zone.
Occupants barely felt any imperfections in the road - except for potholes - and could hold conversation despite the unfriendly road conditions. Also, provided the road permits, the Tucson can do legal speeds without feeling uneasy or out of place.
Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond
Rear occupants have the luxury of reclining seats. With a simple lift of a lever, the reclining action is executed to allow for a comfortable seating position over longer distances. It's fitted with aircon vents between the front seats. The front seats are electrically adjustable and all the windows are powered too.
READ: Hyundai rounds off Tucson range with two new diesel derivatives
Automatic climate control ensures that the cabin is as cool as possible at any given moment, and the Bluetooth/AUX/USB compatible sound system is clear with no distortion making its presence felt.
This specific model, however, is not equipped with satnav.
The Hyundai Tucson is a surprisingly good vehicle. ‘Living’ with it for an extended period highlighted just how competent it really is, as well as how good it looks in my driveway. But, and there is always a but, the SUV’s engine does have to work to get performance out of it; which has a direct influence on fuel consumption. And that is a downside of many small capacity turbocharged engines.
The interior is a very comfortable place to be, but there was a smell that hung around. Even when the cabin has been spring cleaned and aired, the unpleasant smell would always return.
Despite all of this, this Hyundai Tucson is a very enjoyable SUV and it truly deserves to be a finalist for 2017 South African Car of the Year.
Here's what Wheels24 editor Sergio Davids had to say:
Wheels24's Sergio Davids: "I was suitably impressed with the new Tucson at its local launch in Cape Town in 2016 and having spent a few weeks behind the wheel of Hyundai's new SUV, it's easy to see why the model has been a huge success for the brand. It's also earned a well-deserved nomination for the 2017 SA Car of the Year.
"The Tucson has reinvented itself with an eye-catching exterior design making it possibly the best-looking SUV in its class. If you're in the market for a compact SUV with great styling, sophisticated technology and comfortable ride, the Tucson should be on your list.
"Overall, it's a vast improvement compared to its predecessor: the ix35. Its biggest selling points are an eerily-quiet cabin, a new suspension setup that feels composed on gravel as it's on tar and steering that's less artificial than its predecessor.
"Its ride and handling is less sporty than its looks, however it remains composed on most surfaces. Steering is predictable and competent, the ride is refined, and the cabin well-insulated even at highway speeds.
"Backed by Hyundai's industry leading 7-year or 200 000km powertrain warranty, the Tucson makes for a great value proposition in the fiercely competitive SUV market."
Janine Van der Post: I love the Hyundai Tucson and I struggle to find any fault with it. Sure there are some micnor niggles that could possibly be improved on but that's if you're a perfectionist. Yes, we're motoring journalists and we drive many fancy and fast vehicles but the Tucson is a realistic choice for most. Like the woman you want to take home to your family to meet, and say "she's The One". "She's" reliable, suits the budget for a family car, and can go the distance for the long haul; and very pretty too as a bonus.
The Tucson is spacious, comfortable, frugal and easy to drive, yet gutsy enough to chuck around some bends when spirited driving is required. There really isn't a box left un-ticked for a great all-rounder.