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2016 Hyundai Tucson SE Review and Road Test by Steve Purdy +VIDEO


By Steve Purdy, Senior Editor
The Auto Channel
Michigan Bureau

We had a close look at Hyundai’s thoroughly refreshed Tucson compact CUV earlier this year at the company’s tech center near Ann Arbor along with a half-day drive through the verdant back roads of southern Michigan. The new Tucson is a tad larger than the outgoing model, with fresh styling outside and in. Both standard and optional content get a boost bringing it up to date with all the other great products in the compact CUV class. And, many upgrades beneath the skin make this a significant refresh. Now that we’ve spent a week with the new Tucson our first-blush appreciation is confirmed.

Our tester this week is the base model SE with front-wheel drive. It has carpeted floor mats as the only option but comes standard with all the stuff we’ve come to expect with a modern car and a bit more like 17-inch alloy wheels. Another quality we’ve come to expect from both Hyundai and Kia is lots of basic content and we’re not disappointed here. With destination charge our bottom line on the sticker shows a mighty reasonable $23,720.

Four trim levels are offered – this SE, Eco, Sport, and Limited – beginning at $22,700 for the SE and ranging to $31,00 for the very-well equipped Limited.

Outside we find more distinct character lines all around than the outgoing model. The bolder hexagon grille, LED daytime running lights and available door handle lights provide an updated look. The rear view, while freshened, provides less extra drama. Hyundai’s design language has officially been called “fluidic sculpture” since the full redesign of the Sonata some years ago. Now they refer to it as “fluidic sculpture 2.0” building on the swoopy, crisp lines with enough complexity to be distinctive. This new Tucson adds asymmetrical wheel arches you might not notice if not pointed out but they give the car a more forward-leaning look. For the first time 19-inch alloy wheels are available for Tucson. Some of these changes along with improved underbody cladding and other tricks improved the coefficient of drag 0.33 but that is really nothing to write home about.

With the addition of 1.2 inches of wheelbase, 1.1 inches of width and 3 inches in overall length the inside gets incrementally bigger. You might be surprised how much difference a few inches can make. The cargo area behind the second seat measures a good 31 square feet, up 5.3 from the last model. Hyundai will offer an optional hands-free, adjustable-height rear lift gate (just stand near it with the fob in you pocket for 3 seconds for it to open) and an adjustable cargo floor. /p>

Inside, the refresh is less obvious but still much improved. You would almost need the old and new side by side to see the changes. The top trim level gets leather and stitching in the IC brow. Higher quality materials are used throughout the interior and they’ve added a nice center knee panel for the driver. The design remains simple, functional and reasonably attractive. It reminds me of the Mazda CX5 inside, that is, clean and simple without being too plane.

Our test car SE with AWD gets a carryover powertrain – the 2.0-liter, direct-injected, 4-cylinder making a modest 164 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque mated to a nicely balanced six-speed automatic transmission. The EPA estimates 23-mpg in the city, 31 on the highway and 23-mpg combined using regular grade fuel. Our mixed driving environment this week netted a 27.8-mpg average. I found the powertrain surprisingly quick and competent given the less than impressive numbers.

The new seven-speed transmission and 1.6-liter turbo engine come in the top three trim levels and make selectable driving modes possible– Eco, Normal and Sport – that can maximize efficiency or driving dynamics, whichever you prefer. It does this primarily by changing the shift algorithms and steering characteristics.

Also new with this update is the use of more high-strength steel – now 50% compared with 18% for the outgoing model. Most auto companies increase the percentage of this material to reduce weight and strength of the chassis at the same time. Hyundai has a bit of an advantage in that they founded their own steel company about 10 years ago to both R&D and production of the steel. Our friends at Hyundai say the A-pillar is stronger and the B- and C-pillars are tied together improving rigidity. The disadvantage is for first responders who might have to cut someone out of the car. It’s tough to cut through the high-strength steel.

Under the skin we find more sophisticated suspension dampers and stabilizer bars, bigger brakes, better bushings and a bunch of other enhancements too esoteric to detail in this forum. Our test car does not have the new torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system or other proactive systems like hill-start and downhill brake control that are offered with higher end models.

All Hyundai vehicles sold in the U.S. come with a full 5-year, 60,000-mile warranty and powertrain coverage of 10 years or 100,000 miles along with 5 years of complimentary roadside assistance.

So, what did we think of the new Tucson on the road?

My week with the basic Tucson confirmed my original impression of the Tucson as a competent, good-looking, high-content compact CUV that will continue the Korean automaker’s reputation for providing a good value. If you compare feature-for-feature with all its competitors you’ll probably conclude it should be on your shopping list. While the untrained eye will struggle to distinguish it from its predecessor this represents a major advancement for the model in just about every way.

On the fun-to-drive quotient, it won’t get your attention but you’ll find it comfortable and competent. Everything works well together dynamically. Power is pretty good but not impressive. Most folks looking for a compact CUV are not expecting something with a particularly sporty character so that is probably not an issue. The base Tucson SE 5-passenger compact crossover compares well with anything in its class. And, by the way, it took first place in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey for 2015.

ęSteve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved

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