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First drive: 2016 Hyundai Tucson [Review]

by Byron Hurd

Hyundai\'s small SUV is back with an eye on the top of the class.

The third generation of Hyundai's small crossover has arrived for the 2016 model year. Looking to take a chunk out of the runaway CUV sales boom, does the all-new 2016 Tucson have what it takes to close the volume gap with the segment leaders? Hyundai invited us to Minneapolis, Minnesota to find out.

What is it?The Tucson is Hyundai's smallest crossover offering, based on the midsize Sonata and sporting a nearly identical two-row, five-passenger layout.

The Tucson comes in four trim levels, which have been re-arranged for the new model to align it more closely to Hyundai's new product tiers and simplify purchasing decisions for customers. The base model is the SE; one step up from that is the Eco model, followed by the all-new Sport and the range-topping Limited.

SE models are available with a two-liter, naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine making 164 horsepower at 6,200 RPM and 151 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 RPM. This engine is paired to a conventional, six-speed automatic transmission. Eco, Sport and Limited models all come standard with Hyundai's revised, 1.6-liter turbo. This four-cylinder makes 175 horsepower at 5,500 RPM and 195 lb-ft of torque from 1,500 to 4,500 RPM, and is paired with Hyundai's new seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission. All-wheel-drive is available on all trims.

The SE model's powertrain combination is good for 23 mpg in the city, 31 on the highway and 26 combined in front-wheel drive guise. All-wheel-drive models are rated at 21 mpg city, 26 highway and 23 combined.

The Eco model is the fuel economy all-star, with a 26 mpg city rating, 33 mpg highway and 29 combined with front-wheel drive. AWD drops those to 25/31/27. Jumping to the Sport or Limited model means heavier 19” wheels and stickier tires, which put noticeable drags on the 1.6L's efficiency. Both are rated at 25 mpg city, 30 mpg high and 27 mpg combined in the city with just the front wheels powered or 24/28/26 through all four.

The Tucson's sedan roots also carry over in its suspension, which is a MacPherson Strut setup in the front and a conventional multi-link independent configuration in the rear.

What's it up against?The Tucson swims in the crowded pond that is the small CUV segment. No full-line manufacturer has neglected this class, which is populated by the likes of the Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota RAV4, Kia Sportage and Jeep Cherokee.

What does it look like?Hyundai's European division was responsible for the Tucson's exterior, and that team absolutely hit it out of the park. The shape is a bit more classically SUV than its predecessor's, sporting conventional two-box proportions with sleek, modern surfaces.

The outgoing Tucson was an OK-looking car from some angles, dowdy from others. Hyundai's ground-up redesign has transformed an inoffensive (but unimpressive) shape into a genuinely handsome crossover.

The SE and Eco models get 17” wheels, the latter with low-rolling resistance tires for improved economy. Sport and Limited models feature slick 19” alloys with an aggressive spoke design that sits somewhere between a sawblade and a ninja star. Lighting options include basic halogens, LEDs and HIDs depending on trim level and options.

And the inside? Europe may have produced the Tucson's exterior, but the interior comes from Hyundai's California studio. Regardless of the origin, it matches the exterior both in design and quality. All models come with a cushioned center console panel (christened the "Premium Panel” by Hyundai's marketing team) for added driver comfort, and the seats across all models are well-sculpted and pleasing to look at.

Hyundai's feature-rich interior strategy is in full force here. Heated/ventilated front seats are available (only heated rears, though) for starters. Higher-trim models are available with an almost-full-length panoramic roof with vent and slide options, along with a fully opaque sunshade.

Like tech? You're in good shape there too. Bluetooth and the like are standard, and trick options such as split-screen navigation and Hyundai's "Tune Start” (a buffering system which allows you to rewind a live radio song in progress to the beginning) are available as you progress through the model lineup.

Does it go? Surprisingly, yes. In the greater context of its rivals, the Tucson's performance is decidedly mid-pack, but that's a misleading statement. In the murky world of small CUVs, it's hard to pin down how they should or shouldn't perform. Just take a quick glance at the competitive powertrain offerings if you don't believe us.

Ford offers two EcoBoost engines, the smaller of which would be the match for Hyundai's range-topper if you looked no further than power output, but the Escape is heavy. Jeep offers a V6 at the top of the Cherokee range. Honda doesn't offer forced induction at all; neither does Mazda—both are content with their naturally aspirated four-cylinder offerings. Across the street at Kia, an Escape-matching 2.0T is still available in the (now aging) Sportage.

While the continued absence of Hyundai's corporate two-liter turbo-four may put off a handful of potential buyers, the Tucson's svelte curb weight flatters the power output of the turbocharged 1.6. The DCT programming is substantially better here than it is in the Sonata Eco, and as a total package, this powertrain works quite well. If we limit the Tucson's peer group to those with <200 horsepower engine options, it's no slouch. It may not put a big grin on your face, but it should at least elicit an approving nod or shrug of the shoulders. It's decidedly not-bad.

The Tucson's ride and handling are to be commended too. Hyundai gave us a route that took us over broken pavement, gravel roads and questionably maintained stretches of Minnesota country highways and byways. The Tucson never put a foot wrong. It lacks the CX-5's harder edge and may not be the equal of the RAV4 or CR-V in compliance, but not so much that you miss it. It's quiet and comfortable, but capable of hustling when called upon to do so.

Leftlane's bottom line The Tucson is an excellent jack-of-all-trades option in a crowded and capable segment. Not content with simply offering the best value proposition in the segment, Hyundai has stepped it up and delivered one of the best small CUVs, period.

2016 Hyundai Tucson Eco, base price: $24,150; as-tested: $25,550 2016 Hyundai Tucson Limited Ultimate, base price: $32,650; as-tested, $34,050

Destination: $895

Exterior photos by Byron Hurd. Interior pictures courtesy of Hyundai.

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