Hyundai Tucson Elite Test

A very appealing soft-roader package.

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • Effortless V6
  • Sequential-mode auto
  • Comfortable and practical
  • Plenty of features
  • Impressive value
  • Relatively heavy

Not long ago it would have been laughable to think Hyundai Australia would offer a line-up of three SUVs. Well, the recent introduction of the V6 Tucson not only adds strength to the Hyundai line-up, it’s also a damn good vehicle.

If there was ever a machine that proves Hyundai’s maturity as a car manufacturer, this is it.

In the basic functions of a vehicle – its accommodation, ease of use, comfort and on-road feel – the Tucson is extremely impressive. You could almost slap another brand name on it and charge 10 grand more – almost...

During our week behind the wheel, we were always impressed by the refinement and effortless grunt of Hyundai’s DOHC, 24 valve, 2.7 litre V6 (which is shared with the heavier Sante Fe). At light-to-moderate throttle applications, the Tucson whisks you ahead of traffic with a pleasant hum from under the bonnet. And this is how we’ll remember the Tucson – for 90 percent of driving, it’s effortless and refined.

But what about the other 10 percent, you ask?

Well, when you want the Tucson to really get up and go, it fails to deliver the goods you expect given its part-throttle grunt. The problem is weight - at 1627kg, the Tucson Elite is almost 200kg heavier than the comparable Nissan X-Trail. With 129kW at 6000 rpm and 241Nm at 4000 rpm, the Tusie struggles to accelerate to 100 km/h in the low 12s. Hyundai claims 10.5 seconds 0 - 100. Note that the engine's refinement also deteriorates when you're pushing it - it becomes quite loud at high revs.

Interestingly, the Tucson’s 2.7 litre V6 comes tied to only a 4 speed auto transmission – there’s no manual cog box available. On the upside, the trans features an easy to use sequential shifter which lets you use the engine’s torque and compression-braking as required. When left in Drive mode, the trans is generally well calibrated but we’d like it to kick-down more readily.

With an engine compression ratio of 10.0:1, the Tucson is happy to drink normal unleaded fuel without signs of detonation. Hyundai claims 11.0 litres per 100km consumption as the average for ADR 81/01, but we achieved around 13 litres per 100 over a mix of driving conditions – including a bit of dirty stuff. It’s not wonderfully economical, but that’s no surprise given its weight.

The Tucson’s AWD system is an electronically-controlled job similar to the Nissan X-Trail’s.

In normal driving, up to 100 percent of torque is apportioned to the front wheels. However, as road conditions or torque demand changes, the system sends up to 50 percent of torque to the Torsen-coupled rear wheels. The system incorporates an electro-mechanical multi-clutch and monitors throttle position, front wheel angle and slippage.

The Tucson also has an on-demand centre diff lock, which locks the driveline split at 50:50 front-to-rear. This is ideal for boggy mud and snow. The 50:50 lock then progressively reverts to active AWD as ground speed increases. The Tucson’s traction control button can also be used to deactivate the system in conditions where it’s beneficial to have some wheelspin.

But don’t for a minute think that the Tucson will follow in the tracks of a LandCruiser or Patrol. It has no under-body protection, its Bridgestone Turanza tyres aren’t suited to sand or mud and there’s no low-range gearing. The Tucson is designed as a soft-roader for occasional ventures off the bitumen – and in that role we found it very accomplished.

On the bitumen the Tucson bounds along without tyre rumble or vibration and without the awkward ride characteristics associated with a vehicle having heavy axles, suspension, wheels and tyres. MacPherson struts are used at the front and a multi-link rear is employed – note that Australian-delivered Tucsons are equipped with a sporty suspension setting developed for European markets. The damping is noticeably firm in urban conditions but the springing is soft enough to prove adequate compliance.

In normal driving the Tucson behaves well. Push it fast through a corner with some dirt spread over the apex and the electronic AWD system quickly sends torque to the rear wheels as you apply throttle: this helps maintain stability and traction. However, enter a tight corner with too much speed and the AWD system won’t save you – the Turanzas wail and there’s considerable understeer. It might not be ‘sporty’ handling but it is safe and predictable.

Hyundai’s power assisted steering offers good feel and response and is ideally suited for the application. The relatively modest exterior dimensions also make the Tucson easy to park.

Braking performance is strong thanks to the four large diameter discs teamed with ABS and EBD. Note, however, the pads don’t offer great bite when cold and there’s no brake assist.

The Tucson is a nicely sized vehicle for anyone wanting enough carrying capacity for a weekend away without the manoeuvrability hassles of a more serious machine. If you want something bigger you can buy a Santa Fe or Terracan.

The cabin offers ample space for front occupants and rear passengers get generous knee, foot and head room. Rear elbow space is limited by the doors’ armrests and, as a result, the Tucson is best suited as a 4 seater – it’s not a comfortable 5 seater. Entry and exit is easy thanks to the ‘step in’ seat height and wide-opening doors.

The rear cargo area is generous considering the Tucson’s relatively short body. There are absolutely no problems fitting the family’s weekly shopping in the rear and, if you like, you can utilise the flip-out shopping bag hooks (rated at 3.0kg each). An elastic net, tie-down loops, 12V power outlet and a cargo cover can also be found in the rear. A full-size alloy spare wheel is easily accessible beneath the cargo floor. Another attractive feature is the hinged rear window that can be lifted separately to the tailgate.

The Tucson’s 60/40 split backrest can be tipped forward in a clever single action - the backrest folds forward and the lower cushion lowers to provide a near-level continuation of the cargo area floor. With the rear backrests folded forward, Hyundai claims there’s enough space to throw in a 26 inch mountain bike. Note that the front passenger seat’s backrest can also be tipped forward so it’s almost horizontal – this increases the load length to a maximum of 2.7 metres (measured diagonally from the right-side corner of the cargo area). Impressive stuff – great for carrying a long surfboard or fishing rods.

In Elite-spec, the Tucson offers a great standard features list. You get power windows, a MP3-compatible sound system with front tweeters, cruise control, leather steering wheel and gear knob, trip computer, map lights, automatic headlights, brushed-look highlights and upmarket trim. An electric tilt/slide glass sunroof is also standard on the Elite; this gives a very pleasant ambience, but aerodynamic noise is noticeable when the roof is open. Some of this noise seems to come from the chunky roof rails.

Note that the Tucson Elite is also packed with a total of six airbags. All five seating positions also have adjustable height head restraints and the centre rear retractable lap/sash belt hangs down from the ceiling.

Soft-roaders are all about creating an image and the Tucson Elite cuts a striking appearance. It’s a funky looking vehicle with short overhangs and chunky proportions – it’s distinctive without being ‘out there’. A mini aerial on the roof, dual chrome exhaust tips, roof rails and side cladding comes standard on all Tucson models while the Elite boasts fog lights and unique 16 inch alloy wheels. The AUD$710 dearer Tucson Elite S comes with colour-coded bumpers and side cladding.

Paint and panel fitment is to a high standard and there are only a couple of quality gripes – the interior door grips are very plasticy, the dual-height console lid feels flimsy and there are some small screws in the front door frames that are noticeable every time you step in or out. But, overall, the Tucson is pretty bullet-proof so long as you don’t take to too far off the bitumen – it’s backed by an excellent 5 year/130,000km warranty.

One thing is 100 percent certain - you can’t complain about anything considering the amount of vehicle you get for the money.

And exactly how much money are we talking? Well, with its standard V6, six airbags and comprehensive features list the Tucson Elite enters the market at a very competitive AUD$32,490. Its nearest competitor – the Nissan X-Trail Ti auto - checks in at AUD$5500 dearer. The comparable Mitsubishi Outlander is around 4 – 5 grand dearer.

If value is your thing – and you don’t necessarily want to make any trade-offs – the Tucson Elite is highly recommended.

The Tucson Elite was provided for this test by Hyundai Australia. www.hyundai.com.au

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