The first Hyundai I ever road-tested was a model called Excel (badged Accent in other markets) in Australia back in 1998. It was flimsy and rough around the edges, but one of the cheapest new cars available at the time in the Australian market, so it sold like hot cakes.
Fast-forward to 2021 and Hyundai has evolved into a completely different company. The South Korean manufacturer has made giant strides over the past two decades, and its modern-day offerings are just as well screwed together and thoughtfully engineered as any of their Japanese or German counterparts.
More resounding proof of Hyundai’s meteoric progress is provided by the fourth-gen Tucson, which recently launched in the Middle East.
The newcomer competes in the cut-throat compact SUV segment that’s populated by the likes of the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5, Volkswagen Tiguan and Kia Sportage – not to mention an assortment of Chinese upstarts from MG, Haval, Geely, Chery, Changan et al.
Tucson pricing starts at Dh83,900 for the entry model, rising to Dh129,900 for the fully loaded Premium 2.5 AWD flagship, which is the model we tested.
If it were purely down to a styling contest, one could argue a strong case for the latest Tucson as it’s by far the boldest and edgiest-looking contender in its class. The external surfaces are defined by an assortment of creases and bulges, and there’s no way you could mistake that face – in which the grille and headlights are artfully integrated – for anything else.
The design flair carries through to the cabin, which is attractive and sensibly laid out. The range-topping model comes with plenty of goodies, including nicely crafted leather seats, a gigantic sunroof, 10.25-inch infotainment screen, stylish 19-inch alloys, black-chrome grille and LED headlamps.
Perched in the driver’s seat, you’re faced with a Mercedes-esque rectangular instrument cluster with virtual dials. All the instrumentation and switchgear is neat and functional, so there’s little to fault so far. The eight-speed auto has push-button controls – rather than a conventional gear lever or steering column stalk – and although I would have preferred either of the latter, it’s hardly a deal breaker.
The Tucson’s engine line-up includes a 1.6 turbo motor with 180hp and 265Nm, plus a naturally aspirated (non-turbo) 2.0-litre motor with 156hp and 192Nm. However, the flagship variant we tested scores a 2.5-litre unit with 190hp and 241Nm.
On paper, these are respectable numbers, yet I found the Tucson distinctly sluggish on first acquaintance. The culprit is, in fact, the eight-speed auto, as it’s been programmed to upshift at the earliest opportunity in the chase for fuel economy. One way to overcome this is to select Sport mode via a switch on the centre console – or use the paddles on the steering column to shift manually.
Other than its leisurely performance, the Tucson is an agreeable chariot. Ride quality is supple, it’s respectably agile and refinement levels are as good as anything else in its segment. The Tucson also fares well in terms of practicality as you can stash up to 1,167 litres of paraphernalia in the luggage compartment with the rear seats in situ. Fold down the rear pews and this extends to a cavernous 2,274 litres.
As with pretty much everything in this vehicle category, the Tucson isn’t a bona fide all-terrainer – especially not when equipped with road-biased tyres on 19-inch rims. Even so, all-wheel-drive Tucson models (base versions are front-wheel drive) are certainly up to the task of traversing gravel tracks, hard-packed sand and shallow wadis. Buyers in this segment rarely venture beyond the blacktop, so the Tucson offers as much versatility as is required for a vehicle of its type.
All in all, the fourth-gen Tucson is a compelling addition to the compact crossover class, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more attractively packaged SUV at this price point. It’s hardly surprising there’s a waitlist on deliveries.
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder
Power: 190hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 241Nm at 4,000rpm
Transmission: 8-speed auto
Price: Dh129,900 (as tested)
On sale: now