This post has been updated based on an engineering revision to the Tucson. It is now a five-star vehicle. More here >>
The new Hyundai Tucson has failed the minimum requirements for five-star crashworthiness - thanks to inadequate structural engineering in the driver’s side footwell. In the 64km/h offset frontal crash test, the score was just 11.46 out of 16.
The minimum required score for the coveted five-star rating is 12.5 - but I’m pretty sure we shouldn’t be shooting for the minimum, when it comes to safety.
For this reason alone I am changing my official recommendation on Tucson to 'don't buy' - see below. There is no justification for purchasing a vehicle with a rating below five stars. It's very unfortunate for the Tucson, which I otherwise rate very highly. See why here, in my Tucson video review >>
HOW THE COMPETITION CRASHES:
OFFICIAL SUV OFFSET FRONT CRASH TEST SCORES @ 64km/h
Hyundai Tucson: 11.46
MINIMUM REQUIREMENT FOR 5 STARS: 12.5
Toyota RAV4: 13.56
Mazda CX-5: 14.10
Subaru Forester: 14.64
Nissan X-TRAIL: 14.68
Hyundai ix35: 15.15
Mitsubishi Outlander: 15.58
Hyundai Santa Fe: 15.63
I can’t remember the last time Hyundai offered a four-star car or SUV - it was years ago, and this result really is disgraceful. A complete shocker. (Chained in a cell in GitMo, and the guard’s holding a cattle prod - that kind of shocker.) Everyone - and I mean everyone - assumed five stars was merely a formality. Most Hyundais - including the outgoing ix35, which the new Tucson replaces, rate five stars.
This result is even more disgraceful when you consider the same vehicle in left-hand drive achieves five stars overseas, thanks mainly to better footwell integrity on the left side. That effectively makes right-hand drive customers, like us, second-class citizens on safety. Completely unacceptable.
Hyundai says it is presently analysing the data and will implement appropriate engineering modifications. When that happens, ANCAP says it’ll re-test the vehicle, which should deliver a five-star result in the future. But that’s cold comfort for any early Tucson adopters here in Australia - because there’s no way to upgrade existing Tucsons. So, if that’s you: Don’t crash, and sorry about the resale value - which will surely take a hit as a consequence. At the end of October this year, 1880 Tucson customers are in this position, and more will surely follow while existing four-star stock continues to be sold. Many of those buyers will be unaware of the safety status of the vehicle they buy.
KIA CARNIVAL: CRASHWORTHINESS CLONE?
Incidentally, the same thing happened recently to the Kia Carnival - so, joining the dots, just maybe, Hyundai-Kia needs to change its tune in respect of right-hand drive architecture and R&D focus. (Hyundai and Kia are flipsides of the same corporate coin - generally vehicles in each brand are co-developed at the Namyang R&D facility in South Korea.)
In the technical report for Tucson, protection for the driver's legs was found to be 'marginal' because the footwell deformed too much (it ruptured), and the brake pedal was also potential sources of injury because it moved up (79mm) and back too far (145mm). The Carnival's technical report for the same test might as well be a cut/paste. It aced every other test too.
You might say to yourself: 'Leg injury; so what?' The reality is, you can easily die of blood loss at the roadside from an impact to your legs, and in what the medics call a 'high mechanism' impact (one with a lot of impact energy) even the best orthopaedic surgery is often unable to reverse-engineer the damage to your bones, leaving you crippled for the rest of your life. The reality on a personal level is more serious than the engineering jargon suggests at first glance.
WHY OPTIONAL SAFETY RATINGS ARE A JOKE
This Tucson incident highlights a problem with safety specification here in Australia. All vehicles sold here pass the minimum structural integrity standards specified in the federally mandated Australian Design Rules. ANCAP's ratings are not regulatory - they're merely presented as consumer information. The Federal Government lacks the balls even to make the ANCAP rating a formal part of the certification process, and this means early adopters of a particular vehicle might buy it on the presumption of achieving a five-star rating, and find themselves in the position of one of the 1880 people who have already purchased a Tucson.
In other words, carmakers are free to sell their new vehicles - sometimes for many months - before the ANCAP crashworthiness score is even known. And anyone purchasing it early is doing so in the dark on safety.
(Take me: I'm an industry insider of sorts, with a degree in engineering. I know more about crash testing and its underlying physics than most people ever will. I've worked for car companies as a contractor. If you'd asked me two months ago about the likely safety rating of Tucson, I would have told you nothing in life is certain, but anything other than a five-star rating for Tucson would have been highly unlikely. Almost unthinkable. So I'm frankly shocked at this result - especially as, internally, Hyundai knows it is far more vulnerable to brand damage than, say, BMW was when - for example - that company's ludicrous i3 was handed a four-star safety rating.)
This is a big hit to the perception of quality of brand Hyundai - senior management there has been pedalling like crazy, for years, to turn marketplace perceptions around - largely successfully. But a pound of bad news is like a tonne of good news, so this is a crisis of confidence for them.
Until that vital safety upgrade and subsequent testing happens - I’m changing my recommendation on Tucson. It’s now a don’t buy. There is no justification whatsoever for purchasing any four-star vehicle. It’s not much fun dying of hypovolemic shock at the roadside following a crash - especially if buying a different vehicle would have prevented your injury. Not much fun to have your leg amputated, after 12 months of largely unsuccessful reconstructive surgery. And this is exactly what's on the line here - we're not talking about a star in a rating system. We're talking about the quality of the rest of your life following a crash - and sometimes it's even life or death, right then and there.
This is extremely disappointing - because in every other respect, the new Tucson is a Mazda CX-5 killer. It even aced the rest of the crash-testing processBut it’s simply not a smart choice until that engineering is upgraded, and independently verified. If you need a medium SUV now, buy a Mazda CX-5 instead (and put up with the space-saver spare tyre and the annoying i-Stop feature. If you want a Tucson, put that plan on ice, because the five-star version is months away. Click here for my CX-5 review >> as well as the insider's guide to test driving a new car >>