New Hyundai Tucson up for the challenge

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A little extra length has put the iX35's successor, the Tucson, into the medium category. Photos supplied

Ready for a clash of the Titans? It seems probable with Hyundai's newest sports utility being of a size to square up directly against the category's kingpin.

Modest size kept the previous iX35 in the compact class, thus avoiding a direct stoush with Toyota's RAV4, the country's biggest-selling SUV, but it's a different story for the iX35's successor, the new Tucson.

A few centimetres added to the length and width are enough to recategorise it as a medium model, thus placing it in the RAV4's domain.

Hyundai New Zealand believes it can push Mazda's CX-5 out of second spot in this SUV segment, but has doubts about the Tucson achieving category dominance, as the iX35 did within the babe community, saying the RAV4's success as a fleet/rental choice leaves it immune to challenge.

No matter, for however Tucson buying patterns play out, HNZ is right to have confidence in its qualities; ''No2'' or not, this is a top-class effort.

Provisioning in front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive configurations and three levels of specification - Tucson, Tucson Elite and Tucson Elite Limited - the latest car pitches positively in respect to its build, design, equipment level and dynamic quality. The only backward step is returning to a first edition nameplate; Tucson is the name last used for the iX35's predecessor.

Everything else is totally forward-looking.

It's a better driving experience than the iX35, coping more expertly with coarse chip and feeling more settled on bumpy roads. Refinement also steps up massively, with subdued levels of tyre, engine and wind noise. The four-wheel-drive models naturally have the traction advantage yet while the front-drive cars are more prone to understeer and tyre-chirping, they also have good balance and a failsafe feel. The electric steering has been sorted; there's still lightness for easy manoeuvrability but now more weight at higher pace.

Drivetrain choices include two 2.0-litre carryover units, the GDI petrol with six-speed manual or automatic transmission and the R-series turbo-diesel with automatic only. There's also a new option, in a turbocharged 1.6-litre GDI petrol with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

The latter is an intriguing glamour choice; the 9kW power gain over the 2.0-litre is neither here nor there, but the 62Nm torque benefit is obvious. It's also generally quieter and zestier, in part because the gearbox action is snappier than the traditional auto's. The diesel again makes its mark for easy driveability; you're never in doubt that it packs major muscle but it also pleases for smoothness.

The Tucson also makes a powerful impression for styling that delivers closer family association with the Santa Fe, plus improved roominess (especially for rear-seat passengers) and storage, though a high boot lip is annoying.

The instrumentation is clearly and sensibly laid out, with no hide-and-seek games for switch and button locations. Some old traits linger, though. It's another Hyundai with curiously shaped seats, some of the minor switchgear has an old-school appearance and while soft-touch plastic across the top of the dash and on the door elbow pads are appreciated, the prevalence of hard surfaces elsewhere, all in slightly different textures and shades of black, is disappointing.

A slightly conservative interior ambience deceives, as the Tucson truly stands tall for technology, not least in it being the first Hyundai product - and first car in New Zealand - with Apple's impressive CarPlay interface, designed to not only make calling simpler but also to work with specific car-oriented apps operating through the car's integrated touchscreen. Non-iPhone users needn't feel upset, as Google's Android Auto equivalent will be here from early 2016.

Intriguingly, CarPlay will be available in the base and Elite versions but not the Elite Limited, which instead continues with (suddenly old-hat) factory-fitted satellite navigation. Well, there's nothing wrong with the standard media unit: The menus are logical, the screen is clear and it's fast. But first impression is that CarPlay is easily as good.

The Tucson also loads fully in other aspects. Standard safety kit includes six airbags, electronic stability control, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors, automatic headlights, LED daytime running lights and front foglights. Other equipment includes leather-appointed seats, electric folding/heated wing mirrors, cruise control and roof rails.

The Elite adds trailer stability technology, bending headlights and rain-sensing wipers, electric driver's seat adjustment, dual-zone climate-control air-conditioning, smart key and push-button start and hands-free electric tailgate, and swaps 17-inch alloys for 18s.

The flagship goes further with advanced technology such as a lane-change assist, lane-departure warning, blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, autonomous emergency braking and tyre-pressure monitoring. It also has front parking sensors, heated and ventilated front seats and a panoramic sunroof.

There's an impact on pricing, for while the Tucson opens at entry level with the same $39,990 tag as the outgoing iX35, prices rise from there. The most expensive Tucson even cracks the $60,000 mark, and so reaches price parity with less affluently trimmed base editions of the dimensionally superior five-seater Santa Fe.

HNZ isn't too worried, suggesting some buyers will primarily want size (so it'll be Santa Fe) and others specification and latest styling sparkle (the Tucson).


New Hyundai Tucson up for the challenge
At a Glance
Hyundai Tucson

Price: $39,990 to $63,990

Engines: 1999cc 16-valve GDI four-cylinder petrol, maximum power 121kW@6200rpm; maximum torque 203Nm@4700rpm; 1591cc 16-valve turbo petrol, maximum power 131kW@5500rpm, maximum torque 265Nm@1500-4500rpm; 1995cc 16-valve turbo-diesel, maximum power 136kW@4300rpm, maximum torque 400Nm@1750-2750rpm

Transmissions: Six-speed automatic, six-speed manual, seven-speed automated manual

Brakes and stability systems: Disc brakes, ABS, EBD, BAS, AEB, LKAS

Wheels, tyres: 225/60 R17 to 245/45 R19

Fuel and economy: GDI 7.8 manual/7.9 auto, 1.6 7.7, diesel 6.4 litres per 100km on ADR combined cycle, capacity 62 litres

Dimensions: Length 4475mm, width 1850mm, height 1655mm