As things go, it is likely SUVs could become the biggest selling segment in the passenger car market sometime during 2016. According to industry analyst VFacts research has shown that only five per cent of four-wheel-drive owners do any serious off-roading in their vehicles. However, they favoured the high-set seating position and the robust character of the bodywork made them feel protected inside an SUV.
Automobile makers took note. They cut out the low mode of the 4x4 transfer case, leaving the vehicle, at first known as a soft-roader, able to handle bitumen and minor off-road situations such as gravel.
Since then, some have even eschewed driving all four wheels and rely on front-wheel drive only to put power to ground. The result is greater economy and a significantly lower price.
The charge has been led by small and medium SUVs. The latter segment has just been boosted by the addition of the Hyundai Tucson, a reworking of the popular Hyundai ix35, moving it up into the larger group.
The four-tier Tucson range offers front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, four engines and three transmissions. I had a taste of the ActiveX two-wheel drive variant, which comes to market at $32,990, plus on-road costs.
In design terms, the Tucson is the poster boy for Hyundai
In design terms, the Tucson is the poster boy for Hyundai, setting the design trend taken up by its big brother, the Santa Fe Series II, the top-selling i30, Sonata sedans and the upmarket luxury Genesis.
Daytime running lights and foglamps are set in separate angular bumper-height recesses. Side body lines sweep upward and asymmetric wheel arches wrap new-design 17, 18 or 19-inch alloy wheels.
The rear design is kept simple with horizontal lines flowing from bold rear wheel arches and accentuated by slim combination tail-lights. Slim reflectors are integrated into the rear bumper. It all adds up to an impressive drag coefficient for this class of 0.33 Cd.
Longer, taller and with wider track than the ix35 it replaces, the Hyundai Tucson weighs in with a bolder stance, more front and rear leg and hip room, and more cargo space (488 litres) with the rear seats in place.
A new wider tailgate allows easier access to the bigger luggage area. Maximum opening width has been increased to 1094 mm, up from 1080 mm.
A result of ‘California Dreaming' from the US design centre, the cabin has been given a more sophisticated and user friendly surroundings. The modern dashboard has a 7.0-inch multimedia screen and contrasting black dash surfaces, and air vent and centre console chrome accents.
Chasing a boost in quality, re-engineered door mechanisms produce a softer sound when they are opened and shut with a deeper, more solid tone, while dust-sealing testing, performed in the Australian outback, produced outstanding results, says Hyundai.
In a first for Hyundai the Tucson ActiveX features Apple CarPlay, with Android Auto to follow later. Both systems offer seamless integration with smartphones to provide safe access to Google Map or Apple Map navigation, Siri or Google Voice command, including hands-free messaging and dictation, music, calendar entries, apps and more.
Google Android Auto connectivity will soon also be possible via software updates. ActiveX is equipped with a 7.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system with MP3 capability and six speakers.
Hyundai's 2.0-litre direct-injection four-cylinder petrol engine is available exclusively in 2WD Tucson ActiveX, combined with Hyundai's advanced six-speed automatic transmission.
The engine/transmission package is efficient, quiet and friendly, leading to stress-free motoring
A more rigid body than in the ix35 and improved structures to absorb crash forces are key factors in a high level of passive safety. This is complemented by six airbags – driver and front passenger airbags, front side (thorax) airbags and full-length curtain airbags.
Three-point seatbelts are fitted at all seating positions. The driver and front passenger seatbelts incorporate anchor-point pre-tensioners and crash-locking tongues in the buckles.
Active safety features include Hyundai's electronic stability control system, reversing camera with dynamic steering guidelines, four-sensor rear parking assist, automatic dusk-sensing headlights and LED high-mount stop light and daytime running lights. Tucson's brakes have been improved across the range.
The new Tucson's increased cabin space is worthy of its upgrade to medium SUV status, while mobility and manoeuvrability are in keeping with a compact vehicle.
The engine/transmission package is efficient, quiet and friendly, leading to stress-free motoring, although, without all-wheel drive, there is a hint of understeer when pushed on bends.
We recorded fuel consumption of 7.9L/100km during a mixture of town and country driving.
Improved isolation of key components and increased use of sound-deadening materials in such areas as behind the dashboard, inside wheel arches and over a larger area of the drive tunnel contributed to better NVH. The stiffer body structure also helped reduce road noise inside the cabin.
Good steering response comes from Tucson's electric power steering (EPS) using the latest Logic computer processing.
The Tucson's suspension was exhaustively tested in local conditions and tuned for Australian roads
The new Tucson adopts Hyundai's latest Drive Mode Select system, as used in new Sonata and Genesis. ActiveX features two settings, each adjusting transmission programming, throttle mapping and steering effort. In Eco, throttle effort is increased and, to help conserve fuel, transmission upshifts arrive at lower revs.
As with all Australian Hyundai cars and SUVs, Tucson's suspension was exhaustively tested in local conditions and tuned for Australian roads by the company's local chassis development team.