Photos by Derek Mau
Two compelling alternatives in the very competitive compact crossover segment
With the economy on stable ground and gas prices remaining low, Americans are buying more and more SUVs. 2015 sales were up almost 25 percent over 2014 and compact crossovers are leading the charge. The Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Ford Escape each sold over 300,000 units, and the Nissan Rogue and Chevy Equinox weren’t far behind.
With this level of sales at stake, other manufacturers are eagerly trying to gain market share and are offering competitive products to hopefully lure customers into the showroom. The Mazda CX-5 and Hyundai Tucson are sold at a fraction of the rate of the class leaders, but after driving them back to back, each makes a compelling case to be considered when buying a new small SUV.
2016 Hyundai Tucson: An impressively well-rounded crossover with a superb new powertrain
The Hyundai Tucson is completely new for 2016, with attractive new styling and a surprisingly good new powertrain option. The base Tucson SE makes do with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine but order the Eco, Sport, or Limited trim, and you get a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder paired with a seven-speed dual clutch transmission.
This might seem like an awfully small engine for a crossover, but with 175 horsepower and an impressive 195 lb-ft torque on tap, the Tucson has plenty of grunt to get around town and haul a full load of passengers and cargo. The engine almost feels like a diesel, yet remains very smooth and composed even when driven hard. And unlike some other small turbocharged motors, there is also a payoff in gas mileage. On a 300-mile road trip up to the wine country, we easily averaged almost 30 mpg.
The dual-clutch transmission is also exceptionally good, rifling off shifts quickly and smoothly. Only when crawling along in heavy traffic did it lurch a bit when engaging first gear, which is often a weakness with dual-clutch transmissions, but in this case, the superior shifting performance is well worth this minor flaw.
Although not the sharpest handling small crossover, the Tucson holds its own in the curves. Our Sport trim test car featured a set of wide, low-profile tires on 19-inch rims, which definitely helped provide an extra level of confidence when cornering, and didn’t appear to compromise the ride quality much at all. Props to the suspension engineers at Hyundai for such a well-balanced execution, which is something that eludes many other SUVs.
The interior of the Tucson is also new and provides a relatively clean, uncluttered design. Interior room is good for a small SUV, especially for front seat passengers, but the cargo area is definitely on the compact side. Packing for a three-day camping trip over Memorial Day weekend proved a bit tricky, as even with the rear seats folded down there isn’t that much room.
Hyundai’s choice of features for each trim level is a bit curious, as our $27k test car still had to make do with no-frills cloth upholstery and was also missing automatic climate control, yet did feature a hands-free smart liftgate. Still, the Tucson provides good value, as the base SE starts a bit over $22k, and even the top of the line Limited trim starts at under $30k. Modern safety features such as lane-departure warning and automatic emergency braking are also available, although only if you order the Ultimate package, which is only available on the Limited trim.