Review: Hyundai Tucson

Design, interior and infotainment

Station wagons, or estates and touring’s for those on the eastern side of the Atlantic, were once a staple for the American car buyer. It was the ultimate family vehicle that was comfortable with tons of space. Americans ditched the station wagon for the minivan and later the sport utility vehicle (SUV). The last decade paved way for a new type of vehicle: the crossover utility vehicle (CUV).

While it has a fancy new name, the CUV is the result of car buyers circling back to the station wagon, regardless of whether they’d admit it. Theoretically, the CUV combines the tall seating position of a sport utility vehicle (SUV) with the comfort, drivability and fuel economy of a car. In reality, it’s a hatchback or station wagon with extra ground clearance.

Regardless of what you call it, Hyundai has an all-new Tucson compact CUV that looks simple but quite upscale. Hyundai sent me a gorgeous Caribbean blue 2016 Tucson Limited AWD, loaded with the Ultimate Package that retails for $34,945 (£30,930 for the similarly-equipped Tucson Premium SE 1.6 T-GDI Petrol 4WD DCT automatic or AU$43,490 for the Tucson Highlander 1.6 T-GDI petrol AWD) to test for a week.

Hyundai Tucson

I dig the Tucson’s new look: the front-end has a mean grin to it, though it’s not too aggressive. The car has an understated look that is more typical of luxury cars than the mainstream ones it competes with. Hyundai also reserved the use of chrome to some parts of the grille and door handles, which I appreciate deeply – I despise chrome accents on cars.

Interior

Step inside the new Tuscon, and you’re treated to soft-touch materials all over that give the car a feel of luxury. The heavily-insulated doors open and close with a heavy “thunk” that’s typically associated with premium cars. Grab the leather-wrapped steering wheel, and your hands feel at home with the integrated thumb grips.

Hyundai Tucson

Look forward, and you’re treated to a pair of analog gauges for the tachometer, engine coolant temperature, speedometer and fuel. Sandwiched between the gauges is a 4.2-inch, multi-function LCD that displays your trip, fuel economy, driver assist, turn-by-turn navigation and music information. Hyundai provides access to settings for driver assists and vehicle conveniences, like how long the lights stay on after you get out of the car, sensitivity of the automatic headlamps, enable or disable the smart trunk and more, via the small LCD.

Everything looks and feels good initially, but then you reach down for the shifter and notice the lower center console is made of hard, cheap plastics with fake stitching that doesn’t look premium at all.

You move your knee around a little and notice there’s a padded vinyl cover for your right knee. Most of the interior of the Tucson looks luxe – until you reach for the center console. It’s understandable to use cheaper plastics on the lower parts of the dash, but the transition from a nicely-appointed, padded knee rest to the cheapest plastic of the interior doesn’t match well in my eyes.

I’d rather Hyundai forgo the padded knee rests for a higher-quality center console that matches the rest of the interior, but I could be nitpicking. The Tucson as tested is not a cheap car, and the padded knee rest feels like slapping a Band-Aid to cover up bigger problems.

Nevertheless, the Tucson has a well-laid out, driver-focused interior. The center stack, where the infotainment display and climate controls reside, has a slight tilt towards the driver. There’s a large, powered panoramic sunroof that occupies most of the roof and brightens up the all-black interior. If you find the sunlight annoying, there’s a powered sunshade that covers the entire glass panel.

Infotainment system

Hyundai announced their Display Audio infotainment system nearly a year ago for its first public demo at CES 2015. The 2016 Tucson is the first Hyundai to integrate the new system.

Gone from Display Audio is the CD player, finally. I haven’t purchased a CD since the early days of in-car iPod connectivity, with the Alpine KCA-420i, so I won’t lose any sleep over it.

Hyundai Tucson Display Audio

Mounted at the top of the center stack is an 8-inch LCD with a resolution of 800 x 480. It’s not high-DPI, like your smartphone, but you’re not spending a long amount of time staring at the screen from a few inches away, either. Mounted directly below the display are clearly-labeled buttons that provide direct access to frequently used functions and knobs, like volume and radio tuning or music file navigation.

As someone that prefers tactile feedback while driving, I appreciate the buttons. It might not look as sleek as a completely black panel of capacitive touch buttons, or as simple as touchscreen-only designs, but function is always more important than form to me.

Steering wheel controls are available for your basic volume, next/previous track or preset, voice command, audio source and phone functions as well. I found myself using the steering wheel controls most of the time in the car.

The entire user interface is familiar and identical to other Hyundai and Kia vehicles, including the Optima. There’s a split home screen that shows navigation and audio functions side-by-side. I found myself using the SiriusXM interface most of the time.

Display Audio features HD Radio, SiriusXM, USB audio, Pandora connectivity and iPhone or iPod support. The SiriusXM tuner supports time-shifting for stations set to the first preset, so you can start over or replay Taylor Swift tracks over and over again to your heart’s content.

There’s one USB port in the center console with a large cubby that fits phablets, like my Nexus 6, with room to spare. The USB port can be used for standard flash drives with MP3s on it or your phone. I measured power output on the USB port using a Drok USB power meter at 0.8-amps with my Nexus 6 plugged in and 0.5-amps with my iPhone 6S, so there’s plenty of power to charge your devices, but it won’t charge nearly as fast as a dedicated 2.1-amp or QuickCharge-compatible chargers.

Navigating flash drives is straightforward. You can navigate by track information, like artist, album, song or song title, but I prefer to select my music by folder. Display Audio maintains the folder structure of your flash drive, so if you’re particular about how you organize your music folders, there won’t be any annoying surprises here.

Hyundai Tucson Pandora

Pandora connectivity is available for Android and iPhones. Android relies on Bluetooth audio streaming, while iOS requires a wired USB connection. Shockingly, Pandora via Bluetooth with my Nexus 6 sounded just as rich as the iPhone 6S’s wired connection, and a significant quality upgrade compared to the AVN 4.0-based system in the Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata, which had audible compression artifacts and muddy bass.

Hyundai has not confirmed what changed with Display Audio to drastically improve the audio quality. I predict Hyundai upgraded the Bluetooth stack used in Display Audio to support the AAC audio codec. Your typical advanced audio distribution profile (A2DP) audio implementation only requires support for low complexity subband coding (SBC), which focuses on bandwidth efficiency and not sound quality.

A2DP supports additional codecs, like MP3 and AAC, but infotainment systems don’t typically support receiving the optional codecs. Theoretically, if the receiver supports MP3 or AAC decoding, then there’s virtually no audio quality difference between wired and wireless connections. Pandora streams are encoded in AAC at bitrates up to 192kbps (Pandora One), so if it can pass the raw AAC signal to the car and let the infotainment system decode it, audio quality is limited to the digital-analog-converters (DAC) in the car.

The typical Bluetooth audio streaming that relies on SBC requires the audio source to be decoded, re-encoded to SBC, sent to the receiver, then decoded again, which results in awful sound quality that rivals SiriusXM for poor compression and low bit rates.

Navigation in the Tucson works without any surprises. You can input addresses or search POIs. The maps aren’t as fancy and 3D as luxury vehicles, but it all does the job. I will commend Hyundai for not employing safety lockouts that prevent using the navigation functions when the car is moving. There’s a disclaimer that pops up every time the car starts that asks you to agree, but it goes away after a short amount of time.

SiriusXM NavTraffic is supported in the US and requires a $3.99 per month fee, while International versions of the car use radio data via the traffic message channel (TNC). I’m not fond of SiriusXM NavTraffic at all. The subscription is too much to pay for something that’s offered for free on my smartphone that’s always with me. There’s also the issue in which I can spot road traffic and SiriusXM will not report anything.

Bluetooth is available for smartphone pairing. I didn’t encounter any issues with my Nexus 6 or iPhone 6S when trying to pair. Both devices paired, downloaded contacts and call history without any issues. There isn’t support for in-car text messaging, but you’re better off using Siri or Google voice recognition for hands-free text replies.

Voice commands are available, but the system is slow to comprehend, inaccurate and doesn’t work very well, like most offline, automotive voice recognition systems. I’ve yet to experience in-car voice recognition that can rival Siri or Google Now, but the Tucson doesn’t support Apple CarPlay or Android Auto yet.

Siri Eyes-Free is available when paired with a compatible iPhone. With Eyes-Free, Siri can be triggered by holding down the voice recognition button on the steering wheel. I found myself defaulting to using my iPhone in the Tucson, because of Siri’s inherent in-car speech recognition abilities.

Android Auto & Apple CarPlay

When Hyundai announced Display Audio and demonstrated development boxes at CES, there was a focus on Android Auto and CarPlay connectivity. Neither connectivity options are available yet. This is completely inexcusable, considering Hyundai’s own Sonata and the Kia Optima have at least Android Auto support, albeit CarPlay won’t be ready until next year.

The 2015 Sonata debuted without Android Auto support, but took a year before the update was rolled out to vehicles, so expect to wait for a while with the Tucson. It’s a shame Android Auto and CarPlay connectivity aren’t ready yet, especially when GM, Honda and Volkswagen, including the updated Passat, support it with 2016 model year vehicles.

I’ll revisit the Tucson and update this review when Hyundai releases the software update to enable the two in-car phone tools.

Audio, driver assists and BlueLink

Hyundai doesn’t offer a branded audio system upgrade in the Tucson. Exclusive to the Limited trim levels is an eight-speaker sound system with external amplifier, while the lower trim levels sport a six-speaker system. While there are a total of eight speakers, there are only six discrete audio channels, because Hyundai counts each individual driver as a speaker.

The Tucson has six discrete audio channels: front, rear, center and subwoofer channels. The front doors each have a woofer, tweeter and count as two speakers. Hyundai installs the subwoofer on the side of the cargo area.

The subwoofer and mid-bass is a little muddy, while the tweeters could offer more clarity. I’d say sound quality is adequate for your daily commute, but not as impressive as the premium-branded Infinity or Lexicon systems in the Sonata and Genesis sedans. It’s definitely not an audiophile-level system, but I expect more from the range-topping Limited trim.

Driver assists

Hyundai’s suite of driver assists includes a blind-spot monitor (BSM) system, backup camera that’s standard on Sport and Limited trims, and downhill brake control (DBC) that’s standard on all trims. Check the box for the Ultimate Package, and you get lane departure warning (LDW) and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection (AEB).

The radar-based BSM aids in lane changes by detecting other cars in the blind spot and provides audible and visual alerts accordingly. Hyundai integrates a flashing indicator into the side mirrors that flashes once if it detects a car in the blind spot.

Hyundai Tucson blind spot

When you use the turn signal and it detects a car in the blind spot or a car that’s approaching at a faster rate of speed in the adjacent lane, the indicator flashes rapidly and the car beeps to notify you. If the car is in reverse, the same sensors are used for rear cross-traffic detection, which is extremely helpful in parking lots with limited visibility while you’re backing out.

A backup camera is standard on all Tucson trim levels, which provides a good enough view of what’s behind the car. Hyundai provides an overlay with active guidelines that gives you an approximate idea of where the car will end up depending on your steering wheel input.

Hyundai Tucson backup camera

DBC is a neat little feature that helps getting the Tucson down steep hills, ideally where there’s ice, snow or other slippery surfaces. Simply press the button located below the shifter and the car automatically controls the brake and throttle to get the car down the incline at 5 mph. I tested this feature going down a steep hill in the rain, where the technology isn’t necessarily needed, but it was the only place I could test it.

I found DBC to be a lot easier to use than attempting to work the brakes to maintain a slower speed going down a steep incline. This feature can be a lifesaver for those who live atop a steep hill where it snows or freezes over a lot, and makes life easier for more experienced drivers.

LDW is a purely passive affair. It’s only active when the LDW indicator in the gauge cluster is green, which is at speeds above 40 mph, like most other cars. The system alerts you if you’re about to depart the lane with a visual display in the gauge cluster, plus a series of annoying beeps if you leave the lane.

Hyundai Tucson LDW

I find passive LDW systems more of an annoyance, but I don’t have trouble staying within the lane markers or need a reminder otherwise. Fortunately, Hyundai makes it easy to disable the system with a button on the dashboard, to the left of the steering wheel.

AEB is a feature that should work in theory, but not something I can safely test outside of a controlled environment. Nevertheless, AEB can detect imminent collision and apply full braking capabilities, the equivalent of slamming on the brakes, at speeds of 5 to 50 mph. It can also detect pedestrians and brake immediately when traveling from 5 to 43 mph, in case someone decides to jaywalk when you’re not paying attention.

Hyundai lets you set the sensitivity of the AEB system via the gauge cluster LCD, so you can adjust it to suit your level of driving attentiveness. While AEB, when it’s working, can help deter accidents, it’s not a substitute for being alert and attentive while driving, but should only serve as an aid for worse-case scenarios.

Missing from the suite of driver assists is adaptive cruise control (ACC), unfortunately. The car is designed to accommodate the feature, but Hyundai chose not to offer it yet – for an undisclosed reason. Hyundai plans on offering ACC on the recently unveiled Elantra, which shares a platform with the Tucson.

Hyundai Tucson

Nevertheless, my chats with Hyundai representatives reveal the Tucson can accommodate ACC if the company chooses to include it. There’s a spot in the center console for the electronic parking brake that would replace the ’80s truck-like foot-operated parking brake, if Hyundai were to offer its excellent full-speed range smart cruise control system.

Blue Link

Exclusive to the range-topping Limited trim is Hyundai’s Blue Link telematics system that provides a smartphone app to remotely control vehicle features and roadside assistance. The Blue Link mobile app is available for Android and iOS devices, including a companion app for Android Wear and the Apple Watch.

I tested the Blue Link app on my Motorola Nexus 6 and Asus ZenWatch and found the app to be simple and functional. You can lock, unlock, remote start, trigger the horn and lights, send navigation locations directly to the car, and check vehicle status using the Blue Link app. The smartwatch companion app has most of the same functions as the smartphone app.

Hyundai Tucson Bluelink

I find the novelty of remote starting my car from my smartwatch entertaining, but it’s not something I can see myself using regularly. If you live in the snow belt, remote start is a huge nicety to have for cold mornings, but there’s one caveat to Blue Link: subscription costs.

A one-year trial period comes with every new Blue Link-equipped Hyundai vehicle for the peace of mind services in the Connected Care Package, but the Remote Package that enables the smartphone apps has a reduced, three-month trial period. However, the subscription cost is $99 (Blue Link is not available in the UK or AUS) a year, which works out to $8.25 a month, for the Remote Package.

The price for Hyundai’s remote features sounds reasonable – no more than a Google Music or Netflix subscription – but you also need the $99-a-year Connected Care Assurance Package to even consider the Remote Package. For a grand total of $200 a year, or about $17 a month, you can remotely control your car from a smartphone app.

I personally wouldn’t pay for any of the Blue Link services. I’m carrying on just fine with an “old fashioned” remote start button on the key fob, since that doesn’t require a subscription to use.

Performance and living with it

Hyundai equips the Tucson Eco, Sport and Limited with a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder motor matched to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT), with your choice of front or all-wheel drive (AWD). The model I drove has AWD. The turbocharged powertrain and DCT is rated for 175 horsepower (hp) with 195 pound-per-foot (lb-ft) of torque.

Hyundai Tucson

To verify the rated power numbers, I took the car down to Drift-Office, a local tuning shop owned by a good friend of mine in Auburn, Wash., to put it on a vehicle dynamometer (dyno) and measure how much horsepower the car generates. It was a chilly and wet Washington day, with an average temperature 55 degrees Fahrenheit and an average humidity of 92% at 69 feet above sea level on the day of my visit. The car was strapped down and ran four times.

Hyundai Tucson dyno

The numbers the Tucson puts down at the wheels is truly impressive, with 172 hp and 196 lb-ft. There’s virtually no power loss through the drivetrain, so either Hyundai’s DCT is very efficient or the engine is highly underrated. To put things into perspective, typical AWD cars lose 25% to 30% of its engine power through the transmission. I was expecting the Tucson to make around 130hp at the wheels, but it surpassed my expectations.

You might be curious about the run with a max power of 156 hp depicted above, which did happen. However, it was the third run where the car suffered some heat soak from being stressed with nothing but a giant blower fan as its source of cool air. This is not something you typically experience on the road.

Driving the Tucson around town reveals that the car is quite refined, with smooth power delivery and quick shifts from the DCT. The car never feels starved for power and performs well getting up to highway merging speeds.

Hyundai Tucson engine

Due to the design of DCTs, which more closely resembles a manual than a traditional automatic transmission, early units would shudder at low speeds where you’re inching forward in-traffic, like a manual transmission. Fortunately, the DCT in the Tucson doesn’t exhibit this behavior very often, and the typical driver won’t notice it.

Since the Tucson isn’t a high-performance vehicle of any sort, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters are absent. Hyundai provides a manual mode that lets you select the gear, but the selections are more of a suggestion than anything. If you reach the engine redline or drop below a certain amount of revolutions per minute, or rpm, the transmission will automatically upshift or downshift for you, so you don’t have full control over the transmission gearing. I find this annoying but it’s not something I’ll mark the car down for, since it’s not a performance vehicle.

Hyundai did a remarkable job on the suspension tuning. The car handles twisty roads well, with minimal body roll while the struts smoothly absorb bumps in the road, resulting in a smooth and comfortable ride. Steering, on the other hand, could be better. Hyundai employs its drive select mode, which lets you choose between Normal, Eco and Sport driving modes. Your selection alters the throttle response, transmission shift points and steering feel.

Since the Tucson features an electric-power steering motor mounted on the steering column, it suffers the same fate as other systems. There’s very little road feel, and it doesn’t have a “just right” drive mode (i.e. one that feels natural), unlike the larger Sonata 2.0t Sport and Kia Optima SX, which have the power steering motors mounted on the steering rack.

The normal drive mode has the right amount of precision but feels too light, while the sport mode doesn’t feel as precise: it applies too much force and feels artificial, but has the right amount of weight that I like for steering. Ultimately, I left the car in normal most of the time and got used to the lighter feel of this mode. Steering feel might not be something that you’re shopping for, but if it doesn’t bug you, the Tucson is a fine car to drive.

The US Environmental Protection Agency rates the Tucson with the 1.6-liter turbo motor at 24 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city, 28 on the highway and 26 combined mpg, which is comparable to gasoline competitors. It falls short on the highway fuel economy when compared to the Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5, but the torquey turbo motor is worth the lower fuel economy for me.

During my time with the Hyundai Tucson, my fuel economy hovered around 22 to 23 mpg, according to the vehicle’s trip computer. Drivers that are much easier on the gas pedal than me – I have a lead foot – should experience slightly better fuel economy.

Living with the car

Crossovers are the default car most families look at when kids get introduced into the mix. We partnered up with Diono, a car seat manufacturer, to test-fit three car seats in the back of the Tucson. Diono’s USA headquarters is in Puyallup, Wash., where I conduct vehicle testing and a convenient place to stop by and test-fit car seats. With the help of Diono, we attempted to install three Radian RXT convertible car seats in the back of the Tucson.

The Tucson has two pairs of lower LATCH anchors for the outboard seats while the middle seat requires the use of the three-point seat belt. All three seats have top LATCH anchors available. The car seats were installed using the vehicle seat belts and not LATCH anchors.

Hyundai Tucson Diono car seats

Unfortunately, the Tucson failed this test. Three car seats could not be installed safely in the back, regardless of whether they were front or rear-facing. The placement of the belt buckles makes it impossible to do so in the middle and driver side rear-seat. It’s a shame, because there appears to be enough physical space to fit three car seats. If Hyundai updates the buckle design, I’ll gladly revisit this and update the review accordingly.

Junk in the trunk

Hyundai employs the same hands-free smart trunk feature as the Kia Optima in the Tucson. It works the same way: walk up to the locked car with the key fob in your pocket and it automatically opens for you. The Tucson implementation works a lot better, with the inclusion of a powered trunk that opens without your intervention.

So, in the ideal scenario, you walk up to the Tucson with your hands full of Star Wars toys, wait a few seconds and the trunk opens for you. You load up all the toys, press a button to close the trunk and hop in the car and drive off. I did not experience this ideal scenario exactly, but the hands-free smart trunk worked every time.

The Tucson has a cargo area of 31 cubic feet, which is plenty of space to accommodate luggage for a family road trip. I keep a Sumo Gigantor and Omni from Sumo Lounge around for trunk space testing. The Gigantor is a little too big to carry in and out of my house, so I stick to using the Omni for most cars. It’s a fun way I devised to show exactly how big a trunk is.

Hyundai Tucson sumo sack

I dragged the Sumo Omni outside to put in the Tucson and got it half-way in – fortunately, none of my neighbors were around to question what I was doing. The 60 x 60 x 38-inch bean bag got halfway into the trunk with the back seats up, but can easily fit with the seats down.

If you need to haul tall or oddly shaped items, the Tucson should be able to accommodate them without any problems.

Verdict

Hyundai leaves me very conflicted with its 2016 Tucson. I’m a big fan of the styling: it has an elegant but understated look that’s humble. I’m absolutely in love with the Caribbean Blue color of the car I tested too.

However, for the $34,945 (£30,930 for the similarly equipped Tucson Premium SE 1.6 T-GDI Petrol 4WD DCT automatic or AU$43,490 for the Tucson Highlander 1.6 T-GDI petrol AWD) that Hyundai asks for the top-of-the-line Tucson Limited AWD with Ultimate Package, I expect more.

Hyundai Tucson

We liked

I like Hyundai’s Display Audio infotainment system, even without Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. It’s very intuitive to use, with a combination of touchscreen and physical buttons. Removing the CD player is a nice touch, as it promotes a clean dashboard without a random slot that most drivers never use.

The Pandora connectivity works well on Android and iOS, and I was surprised by the sound quality of Pandora via Bluetooth with my Nexus 6. For once, the sound quality matched the wired connection of iOS.

The Tucson’s 1.6-liter, turbocharged four cylinder and dual-clutch transmission delivers impressive performance numbers that translate well into everyday driving. It has the right amount of power and low-end torque to keep you happy – and even lead-foot drivers like myself – and never feels under powered. If anything, the turbo motor leaves me wondering how much more power I could get out of it with some aftermarket goodies, but Hyundai probably frowns upon modifying its review samples.

Blue Link is well-executed on all Hyundai models, including the Tucson. Having the ability to control your car remotely with a smartphone app or smartwatch is a nice convenience, especially for those that are forgetful or OCD about making sure their car is locked. I, for one, know I am sometimes paranoid and wonder whether I forgot to lock my car, but sometimes too lazy to walk back outside to make sure.

The hands-free smart trunk is a useful convenience for those that hand-carry groceries, or have two kids to carry. I’ve yet to experience it failing, unlike the systems from competing makers, such as Volkswagen, that require silly karate leg-sweeping motions to trigger the trunk release. It doesn’t get much easier than walking up to the trunk of your car and waiting for it to open.

We disliked

While Hyundai promises Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are coming soon, it’s unacceptable to not at least have one ready at this time. The last time Hyundai promised Android Auto was coming to the Sonata, it took a year before the update was rolled out, and it still doesn’t have CarPlay either – that’s still promised for a later date. With Volkswagen, General Motors and Honda supporting both smartphone connectivity standards, Hyundai has no excuse for the delays.

The absence of adaptive cruise control is a puzzling choice, especially since it’s found within the Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, all of which are older models that predate the Tucson. Lacking a pivotal tech feature from a company that’s always delivered more tech features than its competitors is odd to me, especially since the car was designed to accommodate the feature already.

While I like the features Blue Link offers, I don’t like the subscription costs. Alone, the $99-a-year Blue Link Remote Package wouldn’t be too bad of a deal, since it provides control and access to the Tucson. But requiring the $99-a-year Connected Care Assurance Package before you can even think of the Remote Package tarnishes the offer. I’d love to have just the remote control features of Blue Link, but I couldn’t care less for peace-of-mind services that are only useful in case of a collision.

Final verdict

Hyundai’s latest Tucson is a stylish compact crossover with elegance inside and out. If it didn’t sport the Hyundai badge, it would be easy to mistake the Tuscon for a luxury crossover that would fit in with Audi and Lexus’s models. Beyond the tech inside, the powertrain delivers enough oomph to keep lead-foot drivers happy without sacrificing too much fuel economy.

Ultimately, if you don’t care about adaptive cruise control, steering feel doesn’t concern you and you are patient enough to wait for Android Auto and CarPlay, the Tucson is a solid compact crossover – just don’t go running to the dealership over it.

 

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