Versus the competiton:
The 2016 Hyundai Tucson is a comfortable, stylish and quiet vehicle that’s sure to excite shoppers and make segment rivals more than a bit nervous.
Compact SUVs are hot, but Hyundai’s entry has historically left many shoppers cold. The 2015 Tucson SUV didn’t compete in the most recent Cars.com $28,000 Compact SUV Challenge, but if it had, its loud, rough ride would have earned it a spot among the losers. A redesign for 2016 adds some much-needed ride refinement.
Changes include more dramatic styling, a new turbocharged engine option that’s potent and efficient, additional cargo room, and a host of new safety and convenience features. Compare the 2015 and 2016 models here.
The 2016 Tucson competes against the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape, just to name a few best-sellers. Compare them here.
The Tucson’s new look is bold and brawny. The previous model’s cute-ute styling is replaced by a more upright, squared-off front end and sloped roofline. A larger grille and stylish LED-accented headlights anchor its more commanding face.
The Tucson has grown in both attitude and size. Overall length is up 3 inches, it’s 1 inch wider and the roofline is less than an inch lower than the outgoing model’s.
My first drive was in the midlevel Sport and top Limited versions of the Tucson through the narrow, crowded streets of downtown Minneapolis and the sweeping, pastoral hills of western Wisconsin; it easily maneuvered both.
I tested the new 175-horsepower, turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder that comes standard on Eco, Sport and Limited trims. It replaces the older 2.0-liter four-cylinder that still powers the base SE trim level. With 195 pounds-feet of torque from the new engine, acceleration from a stop was hearty.
The biggest surprise, though, 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 many dual-clutch transmissions. In fact, it feels so normal shoppers will likely not be able to tell the difference between Hyundai’s dual-clutch and a traditional automatic.
Fuel economy with the new powertrain is competitive: Front-wheel-drive Eco models are EPA-rated 26/33/29 mpg city/highway/combined (Sport and Limited models get a bit less), which is much better than the SE’s 164-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder (23/31/26 mpg). All-wheel-drive (AWD) is still an available option. In the Eco trim, the new turbo’s economy is in line with the Honda CR-V (27/34/29) and better than the Toyota RAV4 (23/30/26). The Tucson also beats the Escape on efficiency: Base Escapes get 22/31/25; the Ford’s optional turbo 1.6-liter is rated 23/32/26, and the turbo 2.0-liter is rated 22/30/25.
Two drive modes are selectable via a button near the shifter: Sport and Eco. Accelerator response and transmission timing are adjusted depending on the mode, though neither had a big impact. In Sport mode, the accelerator pedal was a bit more sensitive; in Eco, it was slightly dulled. I spent most of my drive time in the default, normal mode.
The previous generation Hyundai 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 with an uncomfortably brittle, jittery feel.
The Limited trim’s interior wears plenty of padding and upscale touches, such as leather seats and a stitched dashboard. The Sport model’s cabin is noticeably more modest, with more hard plastic surfaces and cloth seats, though it doesn’t look or feel as cheap as lower Escape and RAV4 trims.
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, so spilled liquids bead up instead of seeping into the fabric, minimizing cleanup, stains and mysterious odors. As 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 ample in both rows. By the numbers, the Tucson offers 39.2 inches of rear headroom. That’s a smidge more than last year and more than the RAV4 (38.9), CR-V (38.6) and Escape (39.0).
Backseat passengers will have enough legroom on comfortable, bolstered outboard seats; rear legroom is down less than an inch this year. With 38.2 inches of rear legroom, the Hyundai Tucson still offers more than the RAV4 (37.2) and Escape (36.8) and almost matches the CR-V (38.3). The middle position is not ideal, however: The seat is narrower and harder, and the shoulder portion of the seat belt retracts from the ceiling, impacting the driver’s rearward visibility.
The Limited model’s standard 8-inch touch-screen multimedia system responded quickly, had simple menus and was easy to use. Clear buttons below the screen and handy volume and tuning dials make the system a no-brainer.
The standard 5-inch touch-screen looks dinky but functions just fine. The audio system has a different menu structure, but it’s just as simple. It has the same handy button/knob setup as well.
Hyundai launched the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration systems on the 2015 Hyundai Sonata, but the systems aren’t yet available on the 2016 Tucson.
Small-item storage in front is excellent. There’s a medium-sized center console (not quite large enough for my big purse, however), a large uncovered bin under the climate controls, a smaller one near the center cupholders and a narrow, magazine-sized cubby at leg level on the front passenger side.
Much of the 2016’s 3-inch length increase translates into more cargo room, though it’s still shy of what competitors offer. This year, the Tucson has 31.0 cubic feet behind the rear seats, which is 5.3 more than the outgoing model. Fold the seats down and there’s 61.9 cubic feet of space. The CR-V has 35.3 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 70.9 after they’re folded. The RAV4 has 38.4/73.4 and the Escape 34.3/67.8.
The Hyundai Tucson’s cargo area has a dual-level floor. It can be raised 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 an 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 after the Tucson issues a warning by beeping a few times. Ford offers a foot-swipe-activated liftgate on the Escape that’s also helpful, but requires good balance.
The 2016 Hyundai Tucson has not yet been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Tucson has easy-to-access lower Latch and top tether anchors and room for two child-safety seats. Read more in our Car Seat Check.
A backup camera is standard across the lineup. New active-safety features like blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert are standard on Sport and Limited models, but unavailable on lower trims. Other new safety systems, like lane departure warning, a forward collision prevention system with pedestrian detection and a dynamic bending light system (which swivels the headlights around curves), are available as options but only on Limited models. Click here for a full list of safety features.
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 all three main competitors. Standard features on the base Hyundai Tucson SE include a backup camera, automatic projector headlights with LED accents, satellite radio, iPod and USB inputs, and Bluetooth connectivity and streaming.
To get the more efficient powertrain, however, you’ll have to opt for the Eco model, which starts at $25,045. For the active-safety features detailed above you’ll need to move up to the Sport model ($27,045), where you’ll also get new convenience features like the hands-free power liftgate. Annoyingly, the navigation system is available only on the most expensive trim, the Limited ($30,795), where it’s standard.
The 2016 Hyundai Tucson is a big improvement over the outgoing model and does many things well. When there’s a Compact SUV Challenge rematch, the 2016 model is almost certain to claim a spot on the podium.