FIRST DRIVE | Sharp suit and sorted chassis makes new 2022 Hyundai Tucson a winner
The new Hyundai Tucson is a polarising machine. Just like the Staria multi-purpose vehicle that joined the market some months ago, or the Kona crossover that came before that.
Luc Donckerwolke, chief creative officer for the entire Hyundai operation (which includes Kia and Genesis) has adopted a decidedly aggressive approach towards the visual identity of the South Korean brand.
It seems to be paying off. The Belgian automotive designer recently won the title of 2022 World Car Person of the Year for his efforts. The accolade is bestowed by the World Car Awards jury (of which this scribe is privileged to the part of), representing 102 journalists from 33 countries.
Donckerwolke was celebrated for his role in models such as the radical Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6 electric vehicles, the Genesis GV60 luxury car, as well as charming modern adaptations of the Pony and Grandeur models from yesteryear.
His legacy at the namesake brand will be associated with extroverted silhouettes, futuristic frontal cues with gratuitous lighting elements and rears that are more dynamic than any generation of models to sport the upper-case H emblem.
The newest Tucson has all those attributes. It was launched locally last week and we sampled the model on a route that began in Kempton Park, taking us through the fringes of Gauteng and back. We drove the range-topping Elite model.
Our route included dirt road sections through agricultural regions, where the only other vehicles we saw were pick-ups. A true test of the ride quality and refinement of the Hyundai — one that left us suitably impressed. But more on that in a bit.
While Donckerwolke is chief creative head at the manufacturer, SangYup Lee is the senior vice president and overall head of the Hyundai Global Design Centre. He describes the new aesthetic identity as one of “Sensuous Sportiness”, but you would be forgiven for taking that with a pinch of salt because the Tucson looks downright angry, for the most part.
If the court of Twitter opinion is anything to go buy, sentiments towards the styling of the new Tucson are best described as mixed. Some exclaimed favourably over the rear lights, which seem to have taken inspiration from a certain American muscle car. Others were a tad less beguiled by the “Parametric Hidden Lights” on the face of the model and integrated into the grille.
Polarity aside, there is no doubt the Tucson will stand out against the likes of more conservative peers like the Volkswagen Tiguan. The imminent new Kia Sportage, relative to the Tucson, also takes a rather expressive line in terms of its outward appearance. While the Toyota RAV4 and Mazda CX-5 are not what you would call bland, they might appear so when parked directly alongside the Hyundai.
As it is 150mm longer, 15mm wider and with an 85mm increase in wheelbase, there is more interior space. The luggage compartment has a 539l capacity, or 1,860l with the seats folded. If you were expecting flamboyant cabin to match the daring outward flavour, you might be disappointed. Everything looks, well, normal, with a sort of reserved sophistication. Quality is superb and no visible corners were cut in the use of materials that are pleasant to the touch. Even the perforated leatherette upholstery has a luxurious feel befitting a car from a loftier price bracket.
You will find the thick-rimmed steering wheel that does duty in a variety of new Hyundai models, which offers a meaty grip and an assortment of buttons, including those for the adaptive cruise control. Incorporating a lane-keep assist function, which uses steering intervention, the Tucson Elite lays claim to having a degree of semi-autonomous driving capability. Autonomous emergency braking and adaptive headlamps that activate and cancel high beams in reaction to oncoming traffic are also part of the deal. A five-star was awarded to the model by EuroNCAP in October 2021.
Overseas, the Tucson is served with the 1.6 T-GDI engine, as well as mild-hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions. Hyundai SA has opted for a two-engine range.
At the high end is a 2.0-litre, turbocharged-diesel, four-cylinder unit. Its 137kW and 416Nm of torque are easily summoned via a slick-shifting eight-speed automatic gearbox. The motor delivers a stress-free cruising ability on the freeway.
Nor is it a slouch in the urban environment, where the transmission shows little hesitation on kick-down manoeuvres to seize gaps. It is only available in Elite specification, not lower Executive and Premium grades.
The other choice is a normally-aspirated petrol version (also 2.0-litre, four-cylinder). It makes 115kW and 192Nm using a six-speed automatic. Both models are front-wheel drive.
The body of the vehicle is purportedly more rigid. At the rear, a multi-link suspension setup is used with a MacPherson strut variety at the front axle.
While we did not miss all-wheel drive capability on our stint, the addition of four-wheel traction would certainly complement the deftness of the chassis. Especially on dirt and gravel conditions, where the exceptional ride quality and sorted damping characteristics of the suspension were proven.
According to Hyundai, the Tucson had been tested in a variety of environments, from the Nürburgring Nordschleife to snowy Sweden and punishing hot weather settings. You can believe that when you experience the breadth of capability it boasts, taking heavy-handed, dynamic driving in its stride as easily as it does when the asphalt ends.
Enjoyable to drive, built to a high standard and with aesthetics that are (at the very least) interesting, the new Tucson is another fascinating point on the Hyundai timeline in its evolution from humdrum economy car brand to producer of desirable metal.
2.0 NU Premium AT: R519,900
2.0 NU Executive AT: R569,900
2.0 NU Elite AT: R634,900
R2.0 Elite Turbodiesel AT: R699,900
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