Hyundai Tucson

Replacement for ix35 is the right car at the right time

STEPHEN CORBY

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

IF YOU were a big fan of Hyundai’s ix35 compact soft-roader, and thousands of you were, then we’ve got some bad news – your car no longer exists.

What we mean is the badge is gone, replaced by the global nameplate Tucson, and the new model has grown so much (65mm longer, 30mm wider, 5mm higher, with a 30mm-longer wheelbase) it’s now classified as a mediumsize SUV, just like Mazda’s CX-5.

Hyundai has no immediate plans for an entry-level tall-boy, so you just need to accept that it’s time to grow upwards, and outwards, like our TV and mobile screens. Mid-size SUVs are what everyone wants to buy anyway, with the segment now the secondlargest in Australia – behind i30-size small cars – and on track to break 140,000 units in 2015.

The good news is that the Tucson is bigger and better inside, with prettier plastics, more legroom and shoulder room front and rear, and an ambience (and smell) that’s a good step up from the cheap Hyundais of old. The rear seats are genuinely comfortable enough for adults to undertake long distances, and get their own air vents.

Boot size is up 42 litres and the Tucson boasts a Smart Power Tailgate that opens automatically when you approach it “with purpose” and with the Smart Key in your pocket. We weren’t Smart enough to make it work, sadly.

The exterior design is smoother, and its bigger proportions also give it a greater sense of presence.

That feeling of heft carries over into the way the Tucson steers, handles and rides. The local Hyundai boffins have gone to almost alarming lengths to tune the car for Australian conditions, claiming to have built and tested 162 different dampers.

The result is an SUV that tracks well over rough roads and even bush tracks with ease, and can also handle being thrown at a demanding corner on a winding country road. The steering, in particular, is a vast improvement from anaesthetised Korean efforts of old.

Choose the mid-range Elite ($38,240) and you get a 1.6-litre turbo-petrol from the Veloster SR, which replaces the ix35’s 2.4-litre unit and offers an entertaining 130kW/265Nm through a smooth seven-speed dual-clutch. It provides an effortless and planted feel on twisty roads and may even take the fight to the best in class.

The model that Hyundai believes more than a third of Tucson buyers will choose, though, is the FWD Active X, which costs $30,490 as a manual or $32,990 for the six-speed automatic we drove. It’s a good package for the money, with leather seats, an Apple CarPlay-compatible 7.0-inch screen and plenty of safety fruit, but runs an older-tech 2.0-litre GDi that makes 121kW and 203Nm. Both engine and gearbox feel and sound like they’re working much harder in this spec.

There are plenty more choices, though, with Hyundai offering a slightly baffling range of four engines, three transmissions and two drive combinations.

The base FWD Active ($27,990) will more often sell at $30,490 with a six-speed auto attached to its 2.0-litre atmo MPi engine (not on sale until later this year) while the range-topping AWD Highlander gets the 1.6T ($43,490) or a 2.0-litre CRDi diesel with 136kW and 400Nm ($45,490).

Hyundai’s commendable focus on refinement, quality and driver involvement continues apace with the new Tucson, and it should sell even better than the hugely popular, and now defunct, ix35.

PLUS & MINUS

Base 2.0-litre is asthmatic and outdated; no leather in Elite spec Styling; cabin space; 1.6 turbo; locally tuned ride and handling Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Hyundai Tucson Highlander 1.6T 1591cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 130kW @ 5500rpm 265Nm @ 1500-4500rpm 7-speed dual-clutch 1575kg 8.5sec (estimated) 7.7L/100km $43,490 Now

01 DRAWN TO IT

This is the first production Hyundai overseen entirely by the company’s design guru Peter Schreyer, master crayon wielder of Audi TT fame. It’s edgy yet elegant. We like.

02 THUNK TANK

Hyundai doesn’t just want its cars to drive with a more Euro feel, it also wants its doors to close like that too. It claims to have re-engineered Tucson’s door mechanisms for a “deeper, more solid thunk”.

03 TOUCH POINTS

Tucson’s interior presentation is a tangible step forward over ix35. Materials, design and equipment levels all move the game forward. The old “good... for a Korean car” caveat no longer applies.

Apple core

CAR companies are preparing to live without they make from selling sat-nav, and the software updates, with Hyundai announcing its base Active and Active X models will offer access to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto instead.

These clever systems bring many of your smartphone’s features into the car, along with effective and useful voice activation, but perhaps the most noticeable one is the maps and turn-byturn navigation.

Up-spec Tucsons still get factory sat-nav on their bigger eight-inch screens (compared to seven), though no smartphone hook-ups, for now. But you can bet Apple CarPlay is coming, to these models and plenty of others. the extra cash theymake

OR TRY THESE...

Mazda CX-5 $27,190 – $50,610

AT the pointy end of the class in terms of dynamics, although the base petrol 2.0-litre need revs to perform. Easy to blow through the Tuscon’s price points if you try, but a sweet spot is found with the torquey Maxx Sport diesel ($39K).

Subaru Forester $29,990 – $47,990

WON our August 2014 SUV Megatest by doing just about everything well and almost nothing badly. Fluid handling, a compliant ride and super-effective full-time AWD system make swift progress a pleasure. Won’t shirk at a bit of off-road work, either. Interior isn’t brilliant, but functionality rules.