Hyundai Tucson Elite AWD 2016 review | road test

16 December 2016
 by 
, CarsGuide

Richard Berry road tests and reviews the new 2016 Hyundai Tucson Elite all-wheel drive with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

The Hyundai Tucson made a Robert Downey Jnr-style comeback last year after being AWOL from the market since 2010 and even now, more than a year since it reappeared, it’s outselling every other brand in the mid-size SUV segment.

That’s right, more people are currently choosing the Tucson over past favourites such as the Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4, Nissan X-Trail and Subaru Forester.

Its success isn’t an accident; Hyundai axed the ix35 SUV and brought in the slightly bigger and completely new Tucson which can serve as either a larger small SUV or a smaller medium SUV. Being ridiculously good looking and equipped with the latest technology helped muchly, too.

We’ve already reviewed the Tucson in the Active X specification, and this time around we’re road testing the fancier Elite grade with the 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine and all-wheel drive. So what more do you get for the higher price, and is it worth it? What’s the dual-clutch transmission like to live with?

Design

No too big, not too small the Tucson’s size puts it in the Goldilocks zone of SUV's. The Tucson’s dimensions are 4475mm end-to-end, 1850mm wide and 1655mm from the ground to the roof, making it 65mm longer, 30mm wider and 5mm taller than the old ix35. Compared to its rivals the Tucson is 130mm shorter than a RAV4 and 65mm less than a CX-5.

The RAV4 was given more refined looks in an update this year and the CX-5 has been the best looking SUV in mid-sized segment since it arrived in 2011, but the Mazda is no longer the only hot one - the Tucson with its European styling is beautiful.

The high window sill in the back means children might be staring at a door the whole way to grandma’s.

Spotting the Elite grade is tricky. It has the same 17-inch alloy wheel as the base model Active but it has a chrome effect to the grille’s frame, and to the doors and handles.

Inside, the interior doesn’t look as premium as its exterior may lead you to believe it might be. It’s stylish and has a high quality feel but it’s not as refined as the CX-5’s cabin.

Practicality

The Tucson’s 2670mm wheelbase is 30mm longer than the ix35’s but 30mm shorter than the CX-5’s. Still, legroom in the back is excellent and even at 191cm I can sit behind my driving position with a good 50mm of knee clearance.

Headroom back there is outstanding, too, although the high window sill in the back means children might be staring at a door the whole way to grandma’s. To give you a better picture the base of the window is just above my shoulder.

The Tucson has a full-sized spare alloy wheel under the boot floor which is great to see, but reduces the luggage capacity to 488 litres, still it’s only 18 litres less than the RAV4 which also carries a spare wheel.

Storage throughout the cabin is good with two cupholders up front and another two in fold-down centre armrest in the back, plus bottle holders in all the doors. There’s also a centre console storage bin big enough to hide a handbag and a cooled glove box.

Making life easier for parents, or anybody else who constantly finds themselves running out to the car with arms full of stuff, is proximity unlocking and hands free auto tailgate.

Price and features

Our test car was the Elite grade with the 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine and all-wheel drive for $39,750. That’s a pricey Tucson, considering the range kicks off at $27,990. It’s not the most expensive – that’s the top-of-range Highlander spec with the diesel engine and all-wheel drive for $45,490.

Coming standard on the Elite grade is an 8.0-inch touch screen with sat nav and reversing camera, rear parking sensors, six-speaker sound system, power-adjustable driver’s seat, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, tinted glass, roof rails and the so very convenient hands free tailgate and proximity unlocking.

Here’s something to confuse you: the spec below the Elite – the Active X – comes with leather seats and 18-inch wheels. The Elite gets cloth seats and 17-inch wheels.

If you’re a die-hard stick shifter only the Active and ActiveX grades offer a manual gearbox.

The Active and Active X also come with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, but the Elite doesn’t. The reasoning would probably be that the Elite comes with built-in sat nav, but I reckon Hyundai may have misjudged this one because Android Auto and Apple Carplay are about more than navigation – they have so many more functions and may even make driving safer with hands free messaging.

Is it worth saving $7000 and buying the $32,490 automatic Active X? Well in terms of features it is the sweet spot of the range, but it gets a smaller screen, it doesn’t have the excellent LED headlights nor auto wipers or the proximity unlocking among a couple of other items. The Active X only comes in two-wheel drive – do you need it? No. But it’s handy in the wet for extra traction or if you’re planning on heading down dirt or gravel roads.

Engine and transmission

Our test car was the all-wheel drive petrol Elite and that has a 130kW/265Nm 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo engine with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. There’s no manual gearbox available with this engine. If you’re a die-hard stick shifter only the Active and ActiveX grades offer one.

You can get the Tucson Elite all-wheel drive with a diesel engine, too for an extra $2000.

The braked towing capacity of the Tucson is 1600kg.

Fuel consumption

The 1.6-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder is the most fuel-efficient engine in the Tucson line-up, and it’s in an all-wheel drive car. Hyundai says that in combined driving conditions you should go through petrol at an average rate of 7.7L/100km.

After more than 150 highway and country kilometres as well as plenty of peak-hour city commuting I recorded 9.1L/100km, which is still an excellent figure.

Driving

The Tucson’s composed and comfortable ride is up there with the best in this class – better than the X-Trail and RAV4, and at least on a par with the CX-5. Hyundai’s Australian engineering team tuned the Tucson’s chassis to suit our local roads by testing 103 different damper, spring, stabiliser and tyre combinations – the result is a great ride and impressive handling. If only all car makers would or could do this.

Suspension up front is MacPherson strut, while the rear suspension is a multi-link set-up.

Pedal feel is excellent; the driving position is good with comfortable.

The light steering felt a tad too light when bolting along country roads, but in the tight laneways of the city and suburban car parks I wanted to kiss it right in the rack and pinion. Turning circle is a reasonable 10.6m.

That 1.6 engine is powerful and responsive and let the Tucson gallop up hills which the Renault Koleos struggled on even with its 2.5-litre petrol four-cylinder.

Now, that dual-clutch gearbox. I’m not a major fan of most dual-clutch 'boxes. They tend to be less than smooth at low speed due to the car constantly searching for a better gear. It’s smart technology, but a traditional torque converter automatic, such as in the Highlander spec of the diesel, or in the Active and Active X grades, makes the driving experience so much smoother and more enjoyable when pottering about in the city and in slow traffic.

Out on the open road the dual-clutch performs almost seamlessly, and through twists and turns of our favourite backroad the shifting was spot on, even engine braking downhill and holding gears when it detected I was having a bit of fun.

Pedal feel is excellent; the driving position is good with comfortable and supportive front seats.

The all-wheel drive system works well, ensuring all wheels retain good traction. There’s also a four-wheel drive lock function. The system is not absolutely vital, but it does rein in the 'squirreliness' that a front-wheel drive car will get on a wet road under acceleration.

Having just been for a quick blast the night before in a Ford Focus RS I was amazed by how much better the Tucson’s headlights are. Those LEDs project an intense white light with a far-reaching high beam, that bend with you through the turns.

Safety

OK, pay attention... this is vital. Tucsons built in South Korea after November 17, 2015 and in the Czech Republic after December 16, 2015 have a maximum five-star ANCAP rating. Those built before these dates have a four-star ANCAP rating. ANCAP said the lower score was because “the structural integrity of the driver footwell was compromised and there was excessive rearward brake pedal movement in the frontal offset test.”

The issue was fixed and a five-star rating was then awarded.

The Elite grade doesn’t get the advanced safety technology found in the ranging topping Highlander. We’re talking auto emergency braking (AEB), lane keeping assist, blind spot monitoring and lane departure warning, and rear cross traffic alert. It’s disappointing, especially this high up in the range, particularly with other brands offering gear like this as standard at a lower level.

For child seats there’s three top tether anchor points and two ISOFIX mounts

Ownership

The Tucson is covered by Hyundai’s five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.  Servicing is recommended at six months or 7500km intervals. The first service is capped at $189, the second at $289; the third at $189. 
Then it alternates like this until the sixth service at 60,000km which is $389, then back to $189 for the next and so on… The servicing is capped for the lifetime of the car – well, 510,000km, and that one will cost you $310 under the Hyundai iCare Essential service plan.

Verdict 

The Tucson has made a spectacular comeback and the chart-topping sales show people know a good thing when it comes along. Yes the dual clutch isn’t smooth at low speed, and if it was my money, and given I’m shackled to a city with gridlocked traffic, I’d gravitate towards the six-speed auto in another grade. That said, the Elite with the 1.6-litre engine and all-wheel drive is great value, good looking and it rides and handles beautifully.

Could Hyundai's new Tucson talk you out of a Subaru Forester or Mazda CX-5? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Click here for more 2016 Hyundai Tucson pricing and spec info.

Specifications

  • Price From $39,750
  • Fuel consumption 7.7L/100km (combined), 169g/km CO2 Tank 62L
  • Seats 5
  • Warranty 5 years/unlimited
  • Service Interval 12 months/15,000km
  • Engine 1.591L turbo 4-cyl unleaded, 130kW/265Nm
  • Transmission Automatic, AWD
  • Turning circle 10.6m diameter
  • Dimensions 4475mm (L), 1850mm (W), 1655mm (H)

Hyundai Tucson Elite AWD 2016 review | road test

What we like

  • Good looks
  • Excellent ride and handling
  • Great four-cylinder engine

What we don't

  • Dual clutch a tad jerky at low speed
  • Not much advanced safety technology
  • Overly light steering at highway speeds

Rivals

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