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2016 Hyundai Tucson First Drive

Sunshine Coast, BC -- When more than half your industry sales come from your truck sales, redesigning one of those sellers can be a tricky task. The key is to keep the interest there, while also bringing in new buyers and new interest. It’s a delicate balancing act, and one I think Hyundai handled very well with their brand new, redesigned Tucson compact SUV. 

With a brand new exterior look, a new engine, and updated driving dynamics, the 2016 Hyundai Tucson is prepped and ready to take on some serious competition in the compact SUV segment. Hyundai’s sights are set on this important category, and they’re making it a priority to focus on becoming the best in said marketplace. But can it come out on top? 

I took the streets of the Sunshine Coast in beautiful British Columbia to find out. Through winding, tree-lined mountain roads, I discovered the 2016 Hyundai Tucson isn’t just pretty to look at but is also highly competent in a number of ways. 

Let’s talk competition 
So, about that serious competition; there really is quite a bit of it. From the new Nissan Rogue to the Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4, and even the Volkswagen Tiguan, the little Tucson’s playing with the big boys. However, it’s more than prepared to take them on. 

When speaking about the competition, Hyundai execs pointed out that of all the competitors, one stood out as their benchmark, the one they wanted the 2016 Tucson to be most like (in terms of dynamism and interior quality feel, etc.); and that was the VW Tigger. Having just driven the Tiguan the week fore the Tucson, I was perfectly placed to compare the two.

How to reach that benchmark 
Volkswagen is known for its quality interiors (doors that close with a solid “thunk,” knobs that turn solidly, and soft-touch materials regardless of trim level). Hyundai wanted to reach that same level with the new Tucson. And I think they’re almost there. 

In terms of amenities and interior feel, Hyundai did a fab job. While the dash and doors feel a bit tough and plastic-y, the feel of the middle console is good and the buttons are solid. The HMI system is a breeze to use, and for the first time in the Tucson, a heated steering wheel is available as are rear-heated seats. 

Regardless of model chosen, the 2016 Hyundai Tucson comes standard with a rearview camera and standard LED DRL headlight accents. There are eight exterior colours to choose from, six of which are brand new (including the brilliantly bright and cheery Caribbean Blue I got to experience). There’s also a Drive Select system that allows for Sport/Eco/Normal driving that is also standard across the board. 

Those standard features alone make the base MSRP price of just over $24k more than reasonable. The manual has been dumped from the lineup (wasn’t exactly a hot seller) and instead the entry-level 2016 Hyundai Tucson is offered with a 6-speed automatic and FWD. At the very top of the model lineup sits the Tucson Ultimate AWD with a few extra goodies, and it starts at $39,599. Now, there are five other models to choose form between the two; something for everyone it would seem. 

Will it cannibalize the Santa Fe? 
One of the questions that came about when pricing was discussed (as well as amenities and drivability) was: Won’t the Tucson hurt Santa Fe sales (especially with a top price right in the Santa Fe’s range)? We were told explicitly, no it would not because it is unique from the Santa Fe. It’s smaller (8.5” shorter to be exact), does not offer the optional third row model (a la XL), and is much more dynamic to drive. If you do not need the space of the Santa Fe then the Tucson is where your money should (and likely will) go. 

Having driven both the Santa Fe and now the Tucson I’d say it’s safe to say there really are enough differences between the two. Just as the CX-3 is much smaller and more compact than the CX-5, so too is the Tucson to the Santa Fe. 

Driving dynamics are also immediately differentiated between the two. The new 2016 Tucson drives more like a car than a compact SUV, which is part of its appeal. 

Turbo FTW 
There’s a brand new engine in the 2016 Hyunda Tucson. It’s a 1.6L turbocharged mill that churns out 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. That’s about 10 more ponies than the 2.0L that carries over, but it’s the torque that’s the real story (and the transmission, but I’ll get there in a moment). With nearly 50 lb-ft more torque in the turbocharged engine, the Tucson 1.6L really gets going when asked. 

The roads we traversed through Halfmoon Bay, along the Sunshine Coast on the stunning west coast were full of rolling hills and rather severe mountain climbs. The 1.6L breezed up the hills, with very little confusion as to which gear it needed to be in and the engine performed without sounding overworked and without hanging on to unnecessary gears for too long or dropping into the next one roughly. 

The 2.0L, however, I felt suffered greatly on the uphill climbs. The engine sounded labored and it just didn’t have the same pull as the 1.6L. It felt tired and like it would much rather be travelling along a perfectly flat highway where it would be more than happy. 

Dual-clutch compact SUV -- yup  
Now, part of the 1.6L turbo’s outperformance of the 2.0L is the brand new transmission the engine is mated to: a 7-speed dual-clutch unit with available sport shift (via the shifter, as no paddle shifters are available). 

I bet I know what you’re all thinking: This isn’t a sports car, so why the dual-clutch? There’s no need for lightening quick gear changes when you’re rocking your 2016 Tucson to day care with your youngest in the back. However, there is a need for optimal engine performance and fuel efficiency, both of which the new 7-speed helps with immensely. Never did I feel the 1.6L was searching for the appropriate gear, and upshifts are nearly invisible. 

Of course, activating the “Sport” drive mode ensures throttle response is tightened and gear changes are held longer, and downshifts are more dynamic. 

Taking Hyundai to the next level 
Part of meeting that Tiguan benchmark was making the Tucson feel more upscale than its price tag would suggest, and not just with interior materials. Hyundai also wanted the ride to be luxurious, smooth and quiet. And they succeeded there. Over twisty, bumpy coastal roads, the 2016 Tucson excelled. With all windows up, the road noise is minimal and a regular conversation can be had. Of course, my drive partner and I opted to keep all windows (and the glorious optional panoramic moonroof) open, music blaring, so we could sing along at the top of our lungs …. But that’s a topic for another post. 

Have they met or perhaps beat the benchmark Tiguan? I don’t think so just yet, but they’ve got a damn good product that’s sure to catch buyer’s attention with a sleek, modern new look and more amenities than you’d ever think to find in a compact SUV from the Korean manufacturer. 

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    2016 Hyundai Tucson
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    2016 Hyundai Tucson
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