Does the Hyundai Tucson have what it takes to up-end the mighty Mazda CX-5?
IMPORTANT SAFETY UPDATE FOR HYUNDAI TUCSON BUYERS
11 January 2016: The Hyundai Tucson has been structurally revised, re-tested and independently awarded five stars for safety. The new rating applies to South Korean-built Tucsons from 17 November 2015, and European-built Tucsons from 16 December 2015.
This revision follows the November 11, 2015 announcement of the vehicle's four-star safety rating, as a consequence of inadequate offset frontal crash protection for the driver. (Inadequate to achieve the minimum requirements of five stars.) The structural integrity of the footwell was compromised, and the risk of injury for the driver was unacceptable.
Hyundai re-engineered the footwell and the vehicle was re-tested on 9 December 2015, with the five-star determination announced 11 January 2016. Do not buy a South Korean-built Tucson built before 17 November, or a European-built Tucson built before 16 December 2015. In the revised test, the Tucson scored 14.53 out of a possible 16 points, while in the previous test it scored just 11.46 (minimum for five stars: 12.5).
More on the Hyundai Tucson Safety Update >>
The Hyundai Tucson was released in May 2015, spanning the price range $30,490 to $45,490 in Australia (not including on-road costs). The new Tucson replaces the ageing ix35 - and is light years ahead in terms of its execution overall - and while two of the powertrains carry forward, there's a new 1.6 turbo petrol engine shoehorned straight in from Veloster - it's a cracker.
I was really hoping to say: ‘Pretty good. More of the same from Hyundai. Well done. Another good SUV.' But this test drive experience was completely unexpected. I really didn’t think they’d do that. Not now. I didn’t think they had it in them. I thought ‘pretty good’ was the plan. But that’s not what they achieved. New Tucson is not good. Not by a long shot...
Because it’s friggin’ excellent. New Tucson (below right, in blue) is a Mazda CX-5 killer (below left, red).
The king is dead … and here’s why: Hyundai Tucson Highlander is $3000 cheaper than Mazda CX-5 Akera, and every bit as well equipped ($52,150 v $48,605) - and in practise, you’d negotiate the price down to $45k without going for your Glock. And at that price it’s the SUV works burger bargain of the decade.
You might remember the Mazda CX-5 Akera pulled the pants down on these premium poverty Euro contenders like the BMW X1, Audi Q3 and Merc GLA. I reported on that, and earned the opprobrium of badge snobs everywhere, and that conclusion still stands. But Tucson Highlander also, therefore, has not just the pleasure of German pants-down-pulling, but it also enjoys the orgasmic rush of tarring and feathering the Germans, and parading them along the high street with their ankles shackled in this undignified state.
1.6 Turbo Petrol
The new Tucson's 1.6 turbo petrol engine (surgically extracted and transplanted from Veloster) is a great fit in the Tucson, and I really wasn’t expecting that. It makes substantially more low-rpm power than Mazda’s 2.5-litre SKYACTIV petrol engine (250Nm at 4000 Mazda and 265 from 1500-4500 for the Hyundai) - in fact, the Tucson makes more power from 1500rpm to at least 4000rpm - we know that definitively from the stated peak performance figures. (Although the Mazda would probably still set the lap record if you drove it like you stole it.) The proof of the pudding here is in the driving, and at all the revs at which you’re routinely likely to drive, it’s the Tucson leading the Mazda, comfortably.
Rubbing salt into the wounds here: a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission in the Tucson is much better for having a serious go than the six-speed auto in the Mazda (although the Mazda has more transmission refinement in some low-speed driving situations as a consequence of it being a conventional auto). So you get to choose here: low-speed civility, or direct driving engagement - there’s a clear bias towards one or the other, and you get to choose. So that’s nice.
Handling’s good too. You get brilliant local suspension tuning by the team at Hyundai Oz and their un-named but very capable suspension tuner. The setup is excellent for our conditions - and you get just the right amount of roll and compliance for this kind of car. So if you want a reasonably refined taxi for mum and the kids, which dad can also enjoy having a go in, from time to time - this is an ideal package to suit both those agendas.
I don’t normally comment on styling - except where there’s a tangible observation, because you have eyes, you can perve as effectively as me, I’m sure. In any case, styling is often in the eyes of the beholder. But there is a salient styling observation here: When you park a Tucson next to a CX-5, it makes the CX-5 look old and busted - even though Mazda did a great job with the 2015 CX-5 facelift - especially on the interior.
Speaking of which: cover up the badges, and jump in to each one. Which SUV do you suppose might be easier to pass off as a prestige European SUV in this badge-obscured state? If you just answered ‘CX-5’ you’d be dead wrong. (Below: Tucson interior, left & centre; Mazda CX-5 interior, right.)
Hyundai has done a brilliant job on the interior, which was where the outgoing ix35 fell down most badly. ix35 had the world’s worst twin binnacle instrument canopies, a hideous notched transmission selector - half-baked at best, in so many ways, on the inside. I never even bothered reviewing it. My review was, essentially, go buy a CX-5 instead. It was a flashback to under-done yet trying too hard old South Korean automotive design model. Tucson’s interior is an ergonomic triumph - the air conditioning controls, centre LCD, brilliant packaging of the transmission selector with electronic park brake and sundry ohter driver-selectable features (like park sensors and centre diff lock) behind that - just fantastic. And in particular the steering wheel. That wheel is fundamentally awesome: Good to look at; better to use. It’s the next generation of Hyundai steering wheel, and I can’t wait until that’s adopted across the range. Huge step forward.
The clarity of the GPS sat-nav display in particular, rates a special mention. As does the inclusion of Apple Car Play and Tune-in radio - although, obviously the only station you’d ever need or want is Sydney’s original 2UE 954. Clearly. Car Play does of course channel Siri through the through the hi-tech ouija board we know today as Bluetooth.
Don’t get me wrong: CX-5 is still a great SUV, and there are plenty of reasons to own one, but Tucson’s the one with the five-year warranty, the capped price servicing for life, and the full-sized alloy spare. Mazda can’t match that - and Tucson also lacks Mazda’s hateful i-Stop system. So that’s a plus. Frankly it’s a close-run race. Two very high quality vehicles. But there’s no need to go to the video referee. Tucson’s in front.
Versus Santa Fe
Tucson poses some interesting internal problems for Hyundai, however. It’s better equipped and nicer than Santa Fe. And Santa Fe is good. Santa Fe has a carry-over liability in the left footrest - which has always been compromised by the low angle required to allow for the manual park brake pedal in the Active, and the predecessor, and that’s unfortunate and uncomfortable on long trips. But Tucson is very well sorted in all of these respects.
The kicker here with Tucson is: Tucson is roughly $10,000 cheaper than Santa Fe, spec for spec - let’s not forget that. Hyundai is taking some steps to level that playing field on specs with a minor model upgrade planned in October 2015. And that’s sure to include adaptive cruise and blind spot warning.
Below: Santa Fe (two images on left) and Kia Sorento (on right). My Santa Fe reviews >>
Of course, if you need seven seats: Santa Fe. Or Kia Sorento - it’s impressive too. My Kia Sorento reviews >> Some people, however, will buy a Santa Fe not for the extra two seats, but because they claim they just need a bigger SUV. So let’s examine that, objectively. Santa Fe is 21.5 cm longer - what’s that; 8.5 inches - for $10,000. In terms of maximum storage space, with all the seats stowed, Santa Fe offers about one-seventh of a cubic metre more storage capacity. That’s like two office filing boxes. And there’s only one-and-a-quarter inches (30mm) more stretch in the wheelbase in Santa Fe - hardly a gulf. And since the people in rows one and two sit, essentially, between the wheels, there’s really no more passenger space on offer in Santa Fe, at least in rows one and two. To me - and I like Santa Fe - $10,000 seems a lot to pay for a few inches and two boxes, if you’re paying it just for the additional size.
Any time you disturb a system, you get feedback. You make a positive change, like adding Tucson to the market of medium SUVs. So that’s good. But the feedback - at least back at the Hyundai mothership - is going to be giving people who would have formerly purchased a Santa Fe because it was so clearly a leap ahead of ix35, a real reason to save $10,000 and purchase a Tucson instead. Tucson means Santa Fe is no longer a no-brainer. There’s a real case for saving $10. Good for you; bad for Hyundai. Oh well.
Tucson: Biggest Criticism
The stupidest thing about Tucson Highlander is: despite having all the requisite hardware - like the radar sensor up the pointy end, used for autonomous emergency braking, and all the other cool technology - there is no adaptive cruise control. So it’s steam-powered, Dickensian cruise control for the Tucson Highlander - and on this point, the Mazda CX-5 Akera is clearly in front. It’s a crazy, incomprehensible decision from Hyundai. Completely nutty. Hyundai’s response about why this obvious feature is absent is - disingenuously - it’s not available globally. It leaves me if the time or the budget beat them to market - because they could have always simply just made a telephone call to Bosch.
The Carry-over Engines
Couple of caveats before I let you go: The Mazda 2.0-litre atmo petrol engine in lesser CX-5s is slightly underpowered and lower in peak torque than Hyundai’s equivalent 2.0 - they both have direct injection, but it is really a close-run thing. Mazda’s in front on power from its 2.2 diesel, versus Hyundai’s 2.0 - there’s five per cent in it there, as well as five per cent in peak torque.
As for Nissan Qashqai and X-TRAIL, Mitsubishi ASX and Outlander, Kia Sportage, and Subaru Forester … they can just about see CX-5 and Tucson duking it out for the yellow jersey, way up ahead. If you want one of these second-liners, make sure you drive the CX-5 and the Tucson - at the same pricepoint - and then identify exactly what it is about your second-liner that makes it a better option after throwing your specific situation and preferences into the mix. Everyone’s different, and there could be a good reason to choose a second-stringer.
But now, it’s time for some tough-lovin': if you think you want the Rip van Winkle of SUVs Honda calls the CR-V, or the aptly nicknamed Holden Craptiva, or the absolutely not deathproof Volkswagen Tiguan, or a little something to just scare the kiddies into eating their vegies, like the Skoda Yeti - or any of the market’s twenty-something other SUV back-markers … talk to a trusted healthcare professional about changing prescriptions - because the meds you’re on: clearly they’re not working.
The new Tucson really is worth a test-drive if you're in the market for a good-value five-seat SUV with superb equipment levels and an outstanding warranty.