Smaller crossover utilities are the fastest growing segment of the American auto market in the last few years and Hyundai America CEO Dave Zuckowski hopes that the all-new 2016 Tucson will take advantage of that and rekindle the brand’s growth. The first batch of some 9,000 Tucsons has arrived in port from South Korea and are currently going through final quality checks before being shipped out to dealers across America for sale starting August 15. While those are being inspected, I got the chance to spend a couple of hours in a pre-production model on rural roads west of Ann Arbor.
From a low of 100,000 sales in 1998 during the depths of its quality crisis, Hyundai’s American sales hit 725,000 units in 2014 and are expected to hit 750,000 this year. Unfortunately, Hyundai’s sales growth has flattened significantly in the last three years, restricted by a less than ideal product mix and capacity constraints. During a product presentation prior to the drive, Zuckowski pointed out that 80 percent of Hyundai’s sales in 2014 where cars while the market has a whole was 56 percent trucks (which includes pickups and utilities). While the U.S.-built Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport have done well with 108,000 sales last year, the compact Tucson only attracted 47,000 customers in a segment where 300,000 Honda CR-Vs and 295,000 found new homes.
Zuckowski laid the blame in part on not being able to get enough Tucsons which until now were all sourced from South Korea. Recently, Hyundai’s assembly plant in the Czech Republic being producing Tucson for the European market, freeing up capacity from Korea for sale here. Hyundai hopes to sell 56,000 Tucsons here by the end of this year and top 90,000 in 2016 thanks to the redesign and added capacity.
The new Tucson is the first stepping stone in Hyundai’s crossover lineup with the Santa Fe Sport and Santa Fe each adding 8.5-inches of additional length. The 2016 model is itself three inches longer than the outgoing model with an 1.2-inch longer wheelbase, 1.4-inches of additional width and a roof that is 1.4-inches closer to the ground. The design is a continuing evolution of the brand’s fluidic sculpture language, but it is now even more aggressive looking. Like the Mazda CX-5, the fascia is now more upright and the hexagonal grille is larger and bolder. The result is a both sportier and more truck-like at the same time. To further distinguish the Tucson from its competitors, the wheel arches have a forward-leaning, assymetric shape that is slightly reminiscent of classic Marcello Gandini execution on a number of Italian supercars.
The base SE and mid-range Eco and Sport models all get projector beam headlights while the top Limited model offers two alternative lighting setups. The Tucson Limited gets LED headlamps as standard while the Limited Ultimate package ups the ante with adaptive HID lamps that turn into corners to facilitate safer night driving.
Inside the Tucson gets upgraded design and materials throughout including new seats with optional heating and cooling. The rear seats now offer adjustable recline and cargo space behind the seats is up by 5.3 cubic feet to 31.0. The default position for the rear cargo floor creates a flat surface from the rear bumper to the front seats when the rears are folded. For carrying taller cargo, an extra two inches is available by sliding the floor panel into a second lower slot.
Hyundai has added a bunch of optional technology to the Tucson including a touch screen audio system that will offer support for Android Auto shortly after the on-sale date. Apparently Apple is making some changes to CarPlay which are likely related to the upcoming launch of iOS 9 so that functionality will be added later this fall. Anyone that buys a Tucson before the smartphone integration ships will be able to get it as a download that can be loaded via a USB flash drive or they can just take it into the dealer.
A front-facing camera ahead of the interior mirror and short range radar sensor below the bumper enables lane departure warning and collision warning with pedestrian detection. If a collision is imminent and the driver doesn’t respond to warnings, the system will automatically apply full braking power to minimize or avoid the impact. Rear side radar sensors provide blindspot detection, lane change assist and cross-traffic alert when backing out of a parking space.
Under the hood, the standard powerplant is Hyundai’s carryover 2.0-liter direct injected four-cylinder, producing 164-horsepower and 151 lb.-ft. of torque. With a six-speed automatic transmission, this setup is EPA-rated at 23 mpg city, 31 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined. The Eco, Sport and Limited trims get the same 1.6-liter turbocharged four and seven-speed dual-clutch combination found in the Sonata Eco I drove earlier this year. This turbocharged mill generates 175-hp and an impressive 195 lb.-ft. from 1,500 to 4,500 rpm and with the smooth shifting DCT it provides excellent driveability.
Unlike the problematic Getrag DCT used by Ford in the Focus and Fiesta, Hyundai developed its unit entirely in-house. Hyundai’s first DCT, a six-speed unit used in the Veloster was hydraulically actuated and not nearly as precise as the new version. The result is rougher engagement and shifting, similar to the Ford system. The seven-speed is electronically controlled and offers much more precise management of the clutch actuation which yields the smooth operation that characterizes this system.
One of the advantages that Hyundai Motor Company has as part of the larger Hyundai Group chaebol is access to the technology developed throughout its sibling companies. For the new Tucson that meant the availability of new high-strength steel alloys that were used strategically throughout the structure to improve strength while managing weight. Despite the increase in size of the new Tucson and extra equipment, it has only gained about 80-pounds. The percentage of advanced high strength steels in the body has gone from 18-percent to 51-percent while 335-feet of structural adhesives are now used. As a result body rigidity has improved by 48-percent.
On the road, Hyundai has significantly improved the driving dynamics of the Tucson with improved ride quality even over badly broken pavement even with the 19-inch alloy wheels on the Sport and Limited models. The strut front suspension has been updated with the Sachs dampers now having larger diameter pistons for better damping. At the rear, the previous Tucson had different configurations for the front and all-wheel-drive models. The former used a single lower control arm while the AWD had dual arms. The new Tucson uses the dual arm layout across the board on all models. While overall ride control is good, I did get some torque steer while accelerating through a left turn at an intersection. Other than the mild torque steer in a what was admittedly a worst case scenario, the steering actually felt quite good and there was a discernable difference between the normal, eco and sport driving modes.
Both the Sport and Limited that I drove had the torquey 1.6-liter turbocharged engine which provides more than adequate performance. At one point we were stuck behind a pair of pickup trucks, each towing 20-foot travel trailers. At the first available straight with sufficient visibility, I was able to easily pull out and pass both of them in one quick run.
The new seats in the Tucson where surprisingly good with excellent lateral support. The lower cushion was sufficiently long to provide decent thigh support and the angle was even adjustable to enhance the support. While the rear seat isn’t as roomy as the larger Santa Fe, there was still plenty of space for two adults.
We only had about 40 miles each behind the wheel of the new Tucson, but my first impression was very good. This is a stylish, roomy, reasonable powerful compact crossover with ample cargo room and a very competitive price. The base SE FWD models start at $23,595 and run up through the loaded Limited AWD with the Ultimate package coming in just shy of $35,000. A more detailed review will have to wait until I can spend more time with the new Tucson, but if you are in search of a vehicle in this segment, the Tucson will be well worth a look after it goes on sale in mid-August.