When the current generation Hyundai Tucson came out in late 2009/early 2010, we thought it was a standard setter; a model that raised the benchmark of what should be expected in the compact crossover category. That's a tough act to follow, given that the CSUV/CUV segment is incredibly competitive and vital to any carmaker's operations and sales.
Now Hyundai has a refreshed Tucson in their stable. Can we expect more of the same, or will the changes they made be too modest to take on the newer players in the segment?
Upon first glance it's hard to tell that this is actually a mid-cycle refresh apart from the fresh paint and the gunmetal gray wheels which, by the way, are the same size as before. We actually had to check the photos of the 2010 Tucson just to see what they actually changed which included the taillights and the headlights; the rear gets LED taillamps while the front gets the LED DRLs similar to that of the Santa Fe. Still, despite the very subtle changes, the Tucson's design still looks quite current when put side by side with its peers, though we do wish Hyundai did more like when they instituted the design changes between the 2009 Genesis Coupe and the 2012 facelift.
Inside, the story is the same. Hyundai didn't do much to tweak or change things like the design or the materials used. It's become a bit of a spot-the-difference game, with myself putting a photo of the old dashboard against the “new” one; Hyundai did add a leather shift boot for the automatic gear stick, but that's it. Again the look of the cabin is perfectly fine, though they could have done so much more to improve things.
Settling onto the driver's seat, I'm glad that it's still comfortable and easy to get accustomed to the controls. There's still plenty of room to go around, though the rear passengers sometimes get a little claustrophobic with the high beltline for their windows. There's still plenty of space in the boot for cargo, and the rear seats can still fold flat and accommodate even larger equipment like bikes and such.
Standard features for this GLS 2WD variant include the multi-info display that has a computer for your fuel consumption, the dual binnacle gauge cluster, a standard manual airconditioning system, electric power steering, power windows, central locks, power mirrors and the like.
Hyundai did upgrade the standard audio unit with one of those 2-DIN units from AVT that feature GPS navigation, USB functions, iPod compatibility and DVD playback, but the button panel they installed to house the unit left plenty to be desired. If you had one such unit installed at some second-rate auto accessory shop it's acceptable, but not so for a brand new car out of a showroom; it doesn't meet standards (especially with regards to panel gaps) to be considered as OEM or factory quality. Also the angle and position of the entertainment unit makes it very difficult to make out the 2-DIN display, much less watch a movie for the passengers in the back. Perhaps Hyundai should have left the original unit in there and knocked the price back.
Here's where it gets a bit odd. The 2014 Tucson isn't exactly just a facelift, as Hyundai have made some changes to the powertrain. The 2009/2010 Tucson we tested had the 2.0 liter Theta-II engine in it, and we liked its combination of power (166 PS), torque (197 Nm) and efficiency though we still wanted the diesel at the time. This 2014 model's engine, unusually, produces slightly less than the Theta-II despite being a new generation 4-banger at 158 PS and 192 Nm. The 6-speed automatic in this 2014 Tucson has also been improved, reportedly. We'll see then.
On the daily commute to and from work, the 2014 Tucson GLS 2WD performs fine. The electric power steering does much to make maneuvering around tight city streets easy. Fuel economy is also significantly better than the 2009/2010 Tucson 2.0L; this new one does 9.2 km/l at an average speed of 22 km/h in the city. The reason for this is that the Nu engine has more of its torque down low in the rev range; the 2.0L Theta-II achieved peak 197 Nm torque at 4800 rpm, this new one achieves its peak 192 Nm at 4000 rpm. Yes, torque coming in 800 rpm earlier makes a difference in fuel economy and response in low speed city driving.
What's clear is that the suspension remains the same; a bit on the stiff side but not exactly sporty, given how the monocoque feels when taken on a spirited drive. Handling and body control remain the same though the EPS does numb the feel a bit. Braking is likewise good, though the brake assist seems to have the eagerness of caffeine overload. Fuel economy on the highway is also good, though it was a little less than the previous engine at 14.1 km/l.
Overall, the 2014 version of the Hyundai Tucson is still a decent car to look at, drive and own, but therein lies the rub. Many carmakers in the market have upped their game in the segment such as the Nissan X-Trail, the Ford Escape, the Kia Sportage (to which the Tucson is related), Mazda CX-5 and the Honda CR-V.
All the players in the segment have worked to move the goalposts that the Hyundai Tucson had set for the category in 2009/2010. By our calculations, the 2014 Tucson would have a challenging time keeping up with the Joneses armed just with a new pair of headlamps and taillamps, a lackluster entertainment unit, a less powerful (but more efficient) engine and a higher price tag at PhP 1,288,000.