It's rare when you know you've got a winner on your hands.
That's exactly what was going through my mind when I got behind the wheel of the all new Hyundai Tucson.
I mean look at it. It's smooth, gorgeous, muscular and sporty all at the same time, thanks to the style developed by Hyundai's design bureau in Germany. The Tucson is expression of what the company calls as their Fluidic Sculpture philosophy. Bold design elements like the swept-back headlights and matching forward-swept taillamps, the large hexagonal grille and intakes, sculpted creases and lines and an almost coupe-like side profile all come together with an amazing sense of cohesion and dynamism.
The radical exterior is just for starters, as the surprise continues inside. Glancing at the dashboard for the first time, the Tucson truly blurs the line between concept car and production car. It feels like you're sitting in a car of tomorrow, thanks to Hyundai's use of curves, surfaces and the proper amount of trim and accents on the high-tech dashboard to create a futuristic feel. The texturing, fit and finish are also very akin to something from more expensive European brands, giving off that sense of quality that Hyundai has been known for lately.
With such a great looking car (both inside and out), Hyundai saw fit that it be equipped with a great complement of features. The list begins with the standard set of Hyundai kit like the electric power steering, power windows, locks and mirrors. Being a GLS 2WD model, there are some upmarket niceties like the AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo system with 6 speakers and auxiliary input and iPod/USB connect, leather/cloth combination seats, automatic halogen headlamps, a multi-information display (trip computer, fuel consumption meters, amongst others) and an electrochromic (auto dimming) rear view mirror with a compass. Safety features are also highlights of the Tucson, with four wheel disc brakes, an anti lock braking system with electronic brakeforce distribution and dual SRS airbags.
The Tucson is also top rank when it comes to ergonomics. The driving position is excellent even if you don't fit into the 95 percentile man, and has a commanding view of the road to boot. All controls are within convenient reach, and I have to say that the Tucson's steering wheel is the coolest one I've ever seen on a crossover, complete with anatomic grips. The gate-type shifter is perfectly placed, along with the pedals and a foot-type parking brake.
Over the outgoing model, the new Tucson (dubbed as the ix35 in other markets) has grown longer by 85mm but shorter in height and a little slimmer. The wheelbase has also grown by 10mm and the entire car is significantly lighter (by 62 liters) than the outgoing 2.0L petrol model. There are some great storage options too, with a capacious glovebox, a large center console bin, large cupholders and door pockets, and a large rear cargo area (with fold flat seats) complete a hold-down net and a tonneau cover.
What's really great about the Tucson is the drive.. and it begins with the powerplant.
Hyundai has been known for their great CRDI engines, but since the Tucson's diesel powerplant is meant for Euro V standards and would choke on local Euro II pump fuel. Until the a suitable CRDI can be adapted to local fuels, the local Tucson would have to make do with the petrol propulsion.
Don't think that the Tucson is losing out with a gasoline powerplant, as it is the latest 2.0 liter Theta-II engine from Hyundai. Complete with twin cams, 16 valves and continuously variable valve timing for the intake and exhaust cams, the Theta-II engine produces an excellent 166 metric horsepower and 197 N-m of torque. To put that into perspective, the respective higher displacement 2.4 liter powerplants installed in the Toyota RAV4, Mitsubishi Outlander and Honda CR-V all produce 170 PS, while the 2.0 liter powerplants in compact cars like the Civic and Lancer are rated for 155 PS.
Firing up the motor for the first time, it's already apparent that the new Theta-II engine is smooth and well refined. Pulling out of the parking lot and onto the street, I give the motor a bit of gas and the response is very good. The Tucson is actually quite light on its feet, lunging forward with immediacy as the automatic transmission rifles through the first few gears from a total of six, sprinting to 100 km/h at the 10 second mark. The acceleration latency of the powertrain makes overtaking on the open road easy. The engine/transmission combo also delivers respectable fuel consumption figures the, in city driving and in moderate traffic conditions, returned 8.8 kilometers to the liter and 14.5 km/l on the highway.
Engage a twisty road, and the Tucson holds its own. Being made to suit European tastes for driving certainly bodes well for the Tucson, as it gets a sharper suspension set up than the old model. Up front are MacPherson struts while the rear gets a multi-link array, all handled by coils and gas dampers. In city streets and speeds, the suspension may seem a little firm, but the stability at high speed and cornering ability give the driver a sense of confidence. Thicker stabilizer bars, both front and rear, further improve body control in the corners, while a strong braking system keeps things in check quite nicely.
Normally, when a vehicle is this radically styled, fundamentally good and thoroughly equipped, it's usually given a higher pricetag than its competitors. Strangely, this Tucson GLS 2WD is so well priced (PhP 1,158,000) that even customers shopping for a top of the line compact car can almost easily be swayed to Hyundai showrooms. And being a Hyundai, a 5-year, 100,000 kilometer warranty is another definite selling point.
That may sound like a sales pitch, but really, upon driving the new Hyundai Tucson with its excellent features, refinement, style, powertrain and value for money, it seems that Hyundai now has all the aces in the compact crossover class.