2016 Hyundai Tucson: Bones to Stand Out

By Frank A. Aukofer, October 3rd, 2015

You can't quite call the 2016 Hyundai Tucson "luxurious." In its price class, it doesn't have to be. Still, in Hyundai's latest effort to alter the pecking order in the compact crossover sport utility segment, the 2016 Tucson does tantalize with premium touches.

Manufacturer photo: The 2016 Hyundai Tucson offers an edgy exterior design, a pair of fuel efficient drivetrains and a stylish interior that is roomier than its predecessor
Manufacturer photo: The 2016 Hyundai Tucson offers an edgy exterior design, a pair of fuel efficient drivetrains and a stylish interior that is roomier than its predecessor

Check out the fine leather and stitching on the steering wheel, or the armrests softly padded to caress your calloused elbows. For appearance, how about those classy 19-inch alloy wheels? That's not your usual fare in a popular priced vehicle.

The new 2016 Tucson makes its debut against some of the toughest competitors in an emerging vehicle class that has overtaken midsize cars in popularity. This is no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention: Compact crossover utility vehicles deliver about the same passenger space as midsize sedans and at least twice the cargo space -- a whopping 31 cubic feet in the Tucson.

Compact crossovers have tidy dimensions for ease of handling and parking, a higher seating position for a better road view, and the choice of front- or all-wheel drive.

Sales of compact CUVs are exploding across the spectrum from inexpensive economy to pricey luxury vehicles, including Lexus, Porsche, Lincoln, and others. There's a whole clutch of them: the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, RAV4, Nissan Rogue, Mitsubishi Outlander, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Subaru Forester, Jeep Cherokee and Renegade, Fiat 500X, and Mini Cooper Countryman.

Manufacturer photo: The 2016 Hyundai Tucson offers an edgy exterior design, a pair of fuel efficient drivetrains and a stylish interior that is roomier than its predecessor

To entice buyers, Hyundai offers two powertrains, a suite of advanced safety and connectivity systems, and four trims: SE, Eco, Sport, and Limited, with prices ranging from $23,595 for the front-drive SE to $34,945 for the all-wheel-drive Limited with the Ultimate option package.

The base SE is powered by Hyundai's 164-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a six-speed automatic transmission. It is rated at 23/31/26 mpg on the EPA's city/highway/combined cycles.

The test subject here is the $27,145 Tucson Sport with FWD, which, along with the Eco and Limited, is equipped with a newer 175-hp, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine rated at 25/30/27 mpg. Power moves through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with a manual shift mode.

Dual-clutch transmissions are finding favor because they combine the fuel economy of manual gearboxes with clutches that engage pre-selected gears for rapid shifts. The drawback on the Tucson's is a slight hesitation, similar to turbo lag, when accelerating from a stop. However, it is a minor hiccup that soon disappears into the quicksand of the overall acceleration experience. Also, the Tucson's shifts are soft, as befits a family oriented vehicle.

Three selectable drive modes adjust transmission shift points as well as steering feel. Eco shifts early for fuel economy, Sport holds the gears to higher rpms, and Normal is, well, normal. Most drivers likely will use the last because it is comfortable and they can get maximum performance anyway by simply flooring the accelerator pedal.

Manufacturer photo: The 2016 Hyundai Tucson offers an edgy exterior design, a pair of fuel efficient drivetrains and a stylish interior that is roomier than its predecessor

On the road, the new Tucson delivers a pleasant motoring experience. It is uncommonly quiet with little mechanical, road, or wind noise. The suspension system is supple, soaks up most road imperfections, and delivers flat and controlled cornering.

Quality cloth-covered seats are standard on the Sport model and deliver support and comfort; leather is available with the upscale trim levels. Neat features include an optional power tailgate that opens automatically when you approach it, two-position reclining rear seatbacks, and a cargo floor that can be adjusted a couple of inches to divide space.

Though the Tucson won't catch up to the CUV sales leaders any time soon, it's got the bones for continued upward mobility.

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