I clearly remember the first Hyundai mid-size SUV that I drove – the ix35. It was the updated one with vastly better ride and handling than the first and it completely changed my mind about what the Korean car company could do. A year or so later, the Tucson arrived, the first Hyundai to land that was finished. No quick updates required, it was good to go.
That was nearly five years ago by my (possibly dodgy) calculations. The mid-size SUV market has grown and the Tucson is coming to the end of its life, with not just worthy competitors from Japan and Korea, but France and Germany as well.
The MY20 update brought some much-needed freshness to the Tucson – Hyundai's dealers can't wait for the next-generation, which isn't that far away – with updated styling inside and out and a few bits and bobs to keep the fight up in Mazda's all-conquering grille.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 7/10
The Highlander is the top of the Tucson tree and is probably the least popular. Available in petrol and diesel, I had the turbo petrol which is priced at $46,850.
That kind of money scores you 19-inch alloy wheels, active LED headlights, power tailgate, auto-dimming rear vision mirror, heated steering wheel, panoramic sunroof, front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, (probably fake) leather interior, dual-zone climate control, active cruise control, wireless phone charging, sat nav, auto wipers, power everything, heated and cooled front seats and a full-size alloy spare.
19-inch alloy wheels come standard with the Highlander.
The eight-speaker stereo comes with DAB radio and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The basic Hyundai software is quite good and there's also a nify phone app called AutoLink. You can fire up the car, set the climate temperature and find it if you've lost it.
Annoyingly, out of the seven available colours, just one is a freebie (the usual, white), while the rest are a solid $595 extra.
The eight-speaker stereo comes with DAB radio and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 7/10
The MY20 update slapped a new nose and tail on the Tucson. I'm not entirely convinced by the really chunky bit of chrome on the inner corners of the headlights and what was once a quite balanced and restrained design has been blown out a bit. The new grille is an overall improvement but, to my eyes, could do with less shiny chrome and a slightly lighter hand.
The MY20 update slapped a new nose and tail on the Tucson.
The interior update is better, with a lot more i30 goodness added in, including a new central strack with a much nicer touchscreen and a general lift of the quality of the materials. The Tucson's interior is one of the lighter ones in the segment and does it without resorting to the coloured patches in the Mazda that always look a bit cheap. If you go looking you'll find some hard plastic but there's a lot less of it these days.
How practical is the space inside? 7/10
While the Tucson doesn't look very big, it seems to pack a fair bit in, something we discovered since our stewardship of one for six months. With a 488-litre boot that expands to 1478, there's a fair chunk of space here, bettered only really by the slidey-seat Tiguan and five-seat Honda CR-V.
The front seats are very comfortable.
Back-seat dwellers will appreciate the reasonably generous legroom and headroom.
For smaller items, there are four cupholders and the same number of bottleholders. You can also get some bits and pieces into the spare space in the spare wheel.
Back-seat dwellers will appreciate the reasonably generous legroom and headroom unless they're sitting in the middle seat, which isn't a great place to be unless you're quite thin and short. The front seats are very comfortable and while the driving position is very hatchbackey – Hyundai is excellent at getting everything right – you still have a good view out.
While the Tucson doesn't look very big, it seems to pack a fair bit in.
With a 488-litre boot that expands to 1478, there's a fair chunk of space here.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 7/10
The Tucson leaves South Korea with a 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder engine dishing up 130kW and 265Nm. It's found all through Hyundai's and Kia's range and while its outputs aren't startling, they're pretty good, 8kw and 60Nm more than the 2.0-litre in the lower models. It's a fair way off the 400Nm of the diesel, though.
This 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder engine dishes up 130kW and 265Nm.
Power gets to all four wheels via Hyundai's own seven-speed twin-clutch automatic. The all-wheel drive system is, obviously, not a hard-core off-road version.
The Tucson is usefully quick off the mark, cracking the 9-second mark for the sprint to 100km/h – not bad for almost 1700kg of mid-size SUV.
How much fuel does it consume? 8/10
The official combined cycle figure of 7.7L/100km looks a little high compared to some of its rivals, but I've always found Hyundai's testing to be a bit more honest than many others. We got 8.2L/100km in mostly suburban driving, which I reckon is good going.
This figure also comes without any stop-start cleverness, which – weirdly – Hyundai still doesn't do.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 9/10
You also get two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchor points.
Warranty & Safety Rating
5 years / unlimited km
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 7/10
Hyundai offers an impressive 5 year/unlimited kilometre warranty that is dragging other marques into the 21st Century. Only sister brand Kia is better. You also get roadside assist for the duration, as long as you keep servicing the car with them.
Which is probably not a bad idea because you also get lifetime capped price servicing. You can also pre-pay servicing for a three-, four- or five-year period (maximum 10,000km per year) for $885, $1290 and $1585 respectively.
Hyundai offers an impressive 5 year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
Service intervals are 12 months or 10,000km – de rigeur for Hyundai turbo engines, sadly – and cost $295 for the first three, $405 for the fourth and back to $295 for the fifth. Look, it's not cheap, but you know what you're up for.
And it's cheaper to service than a turbo Vitara, for example.
What's it like to drive? 7/10
When the Tucson landed it instantly became – as far as I was concerned – the benchmark, particularly in front-wheel drive form. I know it's getting tired, but the local team who tweaks the steering and suspension before the cars go on sale here are absolute guns. None of this Nurburgring nonsense, but a sensible balance of ride and handling to get you through the trials and tribulations of Australian road design and maintenance.
When the Tucson landed it instantly became the benchmark, particularly in front-wheel drive form.
The turbo models with the bigger rims are not quite as successful on the ride and handling front as the 2.0-litre front drivers. I'd still take it over the CX-5 for ride and handling, but it's a much closer-run thing. The steering is really positive and the car does go where you point it, something that's been a hallmark of Hyundai's locally-tuned cars.
On that subject, the Tucson has, by and large, held up pretty well over the years of its current existence. It still feels pretty good, the only real blot being the hesitation from the seven-speed twin-clutch transmission. You need to have the car in Sport mode to get it to respond which rules out turbo lag and rules in a dithering gearbox. It will be interesting to see if the next-gen Tucson will have Hyundai's new eight-speed twin-clutch or the eight-speeder in the Santa Fe.
The Tucson has, by and large, held up pretty well over the years of its current existence.
On the move, the Tucson is quiet and composed, for the most part riding really well on the big 19-inch wheels. When the road gets a bit crusty, the bigger rubber and lack of compliance from the sidewalls does count against the Highlander. Rear-seat passengers might be a bit unsettled by the way the rear can crash a bit into large potholes but, other than that, everything is fine.
Once you wind it up, it moves aong very smoothly and happily indeed, the small-ish numbers from the engine pushing the Tucson along without fuss. It's still a very impressive package, really, with just the mildly annoying seven-speed dither.
The only thing you should really consider is this: does the Highlander do more than the Elite? The answer is probably no. Most of the stuff in the Highlander is cosmetic or nice to have and as the car moves inexorably toward its end, the compelling reason for a petrol Highlander is the prosect of a hefty discount. Get one and you've got a ripper motor.
But, sometimes, you just have to have the top-of-the-range and I completely understand that. So if that's your motivation, there is nothing in this package that should give you pause for thought. As I said, it has held on very well over the past four or five years with lots of little tweaks keeping the Tucson well and truly in the game.