Oh boy. Has Hyundai gone all The Fast & The Furious on us again?
Indeed they have. The first Tucson Sport was apparently such a sales success when it hit showroom floors in 2017 that the Korean brand has built a brand-new version to appease customers who missed out.
In the spirit of its predecessor, this "sporty" Tucson differentiates itself from its lesser siblings with a bespoke body kit (side skirts and a chin spoiler) plus a set of black 19-inch alloy wheels shod with Hankook Kinergy GT tyres. So far so subtle.
Unfortunately, Hyundai lost the plot at the rear where they decided to fit two pairs of double exhaust pipes. Four tailpipes work on a Lamborghini Diablo, but on a compact SUV powered by a four-cylinder turbo engine they just look ridiculous. They also do little in terms of soundtrack - you wouldn't notice any difference.
Have they done anything to the engine or is this purely a cosmetic exercise?
Skim through the spec-sheet and you'll notice that Hyundai has actually managed to squeeze (through a few simple software tweaks, no doubt) an extra 20kW and 35Nm worth of torque from its familiar 1.6-litre TGDI engine.
This extra muscle is channelled through the firm's seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that offers manual shifting via the gear lever. Bizarrely, there are no paddles on the steering wheel which, to me, seems like a serious oversight on a vehicle being punted as a sports model. Yep, I'd rather have paddles than a fibreglass chin-spoiler.
Okay, so is it pretty awesome to drive then?
Sorry to burst your bubble but, no, it isn't. In fact, I'd say that the Tucson Sport is one of the most annoying cars I have driven since the Abarth 595 Competizione. And all for the simple reason that whoever developed this vehicle doesn't know a thing about throttle modulation.
In a normal car, engine power gradually increases as you open the throttle, meaning the more you press the accelerator pedal towards the floor, the more power will start flowing through the drivetrain.
FAST FACTS: Hyundai Tucson Sport
• ENGINE: 1,591cc four-cylinder turbo
• POWER: 150kW at 5,500rpm
• TORQUE: 300Nm at 4,500rpm
• TRANSMISSION: seven-speed dual-clutch
• 0-100km/h: 8.9 seconds (claimed)
• TOP SPEED: 201km/h (claimed)
• FUEL: 12l/100km (achieved)
• PRICE: From R654,900
In a Tucson Sport, however, there is no such linearity. Seriously, the transition from zero to full throttle happens within the first 5mm of pedal travel, meaning that no matter how delicate your right foot, this Hyundai simply squeals its front wheels and rips on down the road like it's running a drag race. And this, by the way, is in Normal Mode - switch to Sport Mode and it gets even worse.
This lack of progression makes the Tucson Sport an exasperating machine to pilot around the city, where stop-start driving conditions get very old very fast. It also makes it thirsty: 12l/100km is stupidly high for a car of this ilk.
Try to look past this throttle-mapping faux pas and you'll discover that the extra power and torque on tap does help make this Hyundai a fairly brisk thing in a straight line. Particularly out on the highway, where overtaking slower traffic is a cinch, thanks to the motor's particularly meaty midrange. However, having said this, the less expensive TGDI Elite model is almost as quick.
Sounds a bit manic. Does it handle at least?
If you're expecting a "GTI-on-stilts" then you might be disappointed. Though, to be fair, that "sport" moniker does hold water up until about 6/10ths where the car still manages to feel reasonably taut and controlled. Drive beyond this and the Tucson dissolves into a hot, understeering mess.
You don't sound particularly enamoured with this newcomer. Are you?
I'm fan of the Hyundai Tucson. As I mentioned before, I drove a garden-variety model earlier this year and thought it an extremely capable compact SUV. It looks great, drives well and packs a level of practicality that will suit most people shopping within the segment.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the range-topping Sport model, well, I just don't see the point. Especially not when you're shelling out an extra R56,000 over the 1.6-litre TGDI Elite model that might not have as much power but is smoother to drive thanks to its less aggressive engine mapping settings. Heck, for R91,000 less you can drive away in the diesel-powered R2.0 Elite.
If the Tucson Sport brought genuine driver involvement to the party then it may be worth the premium. Unfortunately it doesn't. If anything this expensive, half-baked experiment simply detracts from what is otherwise an excellent package. Avoid.