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2016 Hyundai Tucson First Drive

There’s a cute saying on T-shirts and bumper stickers around Chicago: Midwest is Best. Driving Hyundai’s new compact SUV through the streets of Minneapolis and western Wisconsin, the Tucson fit right in. The 2016 Hyundai Tucson is a comfortable, stylish and quiet vehicle that’s sure to make segment rivals more than a bit nervous. 

Related: Redesigned 2016 Hyundai Tucson Starts At $23,595, Goes On Sale Late July

Compact SUVs are hot; sales of the segment are up this year and according to Hyundai, one in every three vehicles sold in the U.S. is an SUV. The automaker has impressive entries in the midsize SUV class with the Santa Fe Sport and the three-row segment with the Santa Fe, but its weak spot was its aging compact SUV, the Tucson.

A redesign for 2016 fixes that; the new Tucson shed its perky, cute-cute persona for a brawny, more upscale look and has the goods to back it up: It gets a new potent but efficient turbocharged engine option as well as additional cargo room and a host of new safety and convenience features.   

How It Drives

I drove the Tucson in midlevel Sport and top Limited trims through the narrow, crowded streets of downtown Minneapolis and the sweeping, pastoral hills of western Wisconsin; it easily maneuvered through both.

The 164-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine carries over from last year and is again standard on the base SE trim. I tested the new 175-hp, turbo 1.6-liter, standard on the Eco, Sport and Limited trims. With 195 pounds-feet of torque, power from a stop was hearty, but the biggest surprise was the new seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. It paired seamlessly with the turbo, ticking off snappy shifts from a stop and furnishing smooth, timely power on the highway. It exhibited none of the telltale bogging and lurching common with other dual-clutch transmissions. In fact, it feels so normal that shoppers will likely not be able to tell the difference between Hyundai’s seven-speed and a traditional automatic.

Fuel economy with the new powertrain is competitive: front-wheel-drive Eco models are EPA-rated at 26/33/29 mpg city/highway/combined, which is much better than the base engine (23/31/26 mpg) and in line with the Honda CR-V’s mileage (27/34/29).  Sport and Limited versions are rated a bit less at 25/30/27 mpg.  

Two drive modes are selectable via a button near the shifter: Sport and Eco. Acceleration tuning and transmission timing are adjusted depending on the mode, though neither had a big impact. In Sport mode, the acceleration’s response was a bit more aggressive; in Eco, it was slightly dulled. I spent most of my drive time in the default normal mode.

The outgoing Tucson’s two biggest weaknesses were ride quality and noise. A firm ride and poor road isolation transmitted every bump through the cabin, and it was one of the loudest compact crossovers in the class with high levels of wind and road noise. The new version is much quieter and its more compliant ride and better bump absorption make it long-drive comfortable. The Limited model impressed with its smoothness, but the Sport model’s sport-tuned suspension reminded me of the old Tucson: It rides too firmly, hopping over bumps for an uncomfortably brittle, jittery feel.

Interior

The top Limited trim’s interior wears plenty of padding and upscale touches such as leather seats, a stitched dashboard and large 8-inch touch-screen multimedia system with navigation. The Sport model’s cabin is noticeably more modest with more hard plastic surfaces, a tiny 5-inch touch-screen audio system and cloth seats.

However, one of my favorite features is the standard cloth upholstery; OK, that sounds really boring but stay with me. It’s YES Essentials stain- and odor-resistant fabric. Spilled liquids bead up instead of seeping into the fabric, minimizing cleanup, stains and mysterious odors. As both a mom and a clumsy coffee drinker, this stuff is brilliant. Can I get it on a couch?! 

Hyundai lowered the Tucson’s roofline by less than an inch for 2016, but headroom is still ample, front and back. Backseat passengers also will have plenty of legroom on comfortable, bolstered outboard seats. The middle position is less ideal: The seat is narrower and harder and the shoulder portion of the seat belt retracts from the ceiling, impacting the driver’s rearward visibility.

Cargo

Small-item storage in front is excellent with a medium-sized center console (not quite large enough for my purse, however) a large uncovered bin under the climate controls, another smaller one near the center cupholders and a narrow, magazine-sized cubby flanking the instrument panel at leg level.
Though it’s Hyundai’s smallest SUV, there’s nothing compact about the Tucson’s cargo area. For 2016, overall length is up 3 inches and much of that translates into more cargo room: There’s 31.0 cubic feet behind the rear seats, 5.3 cubic feet more than the outgoing model. By comparison, Honda’s CR-V offers a bit more cargo volume with 35.3 cubic feet behind the rear seats.

The Tucson’s cargo area has a dual-level floor. It can be lowered by 2 inches, which doesn’t sound useful but in its highest position the cargo cover slides easily under the load floor for handy storage when carrying bulky items. Also convenient is the available hands-free smart liftgate; stand within 3 feet of the vehicle’s rear with the key fob in your purse or pocket and the liftgate will open automatically.   

Value

The 2016 Hyundai Tucson starts at $23,595, including an $895 destination charge. That’s about $1,000 more than the outgoing model and a smidge less than the 2015 Honda CR-V’s base price of $24,325. Standards on the base Tucson SE include a backup camera, automatic projector headlights with LED accents, satellite radio, and iPod and USB inputs plus Bluetooth connectivity.

To get the more efficient powertrain, however, you’ll have to opt for the Eco model, which starts at $25,045. New safety features like blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert are standard on the Sport model ($27,045), along with new convenience features like the hands-free power liftgate. Annoyingly, the navigation system is only available on the most expensive Limited trim ($30,795), where it’s standard. Other new safety systems like lane departure warning and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection are available as options, but — again — only on Limited models. 

We’ll have more Tucson impressions, details about its features and trim levels as well as how it measures up to more competitors in the upcoming full-length review.    
 

 
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