The new Tucson looks a lot different than the previous one.
The previous version was serviceable and maybe a little bland.
Its pinched-snout styling was firmly rooted in last-decade Hyundai styling. Hyundai’s own research has shown the general perception to be one of fuel efficiency and practicality.
The previous Tucson was not as popular as it could have been; yearly production limits capped it at less than 60K yearly units, thanks to Hyundai‘s sedan-heavy lineup.
For 2016, Hyundai aims to broaden the Tucson‘s appeal while expanding capacity, and so it is well positioned to maximize its stake in the skyrocketing crossover market.
It all starts with a stronger face. The pinched look is out, and the gaping maw is in. Rather than looking like the Tucson is trying to avoid you, this new one looks as if it may digest you.
The overall look is one of substance and strength. Note the sharp contours and spear-like details in the Tucson’s front bumper.
Hyundai touts the forward-tilting wheel openings as a means to give the Tucson a look of motion, and the 19-inch wheels on upper-level Tucsons are beefy.
Hyundai debuted the new Tucson to four consecutive groups of journalists in Minneapolis.
Prior to the driving, there was a slide presentation on the new model’s salient details.
Cutely arranged in one corner was a mockup of a likely buyer compact crossover buyer, the college student and/or young adult. The image of a blue Tucson parked outside was a fun touch.
Elsewhere, there were cutaways of the new Tucson’s use of lighter and higher-strength steel.
The presentation started with a review of Hyundai’s US lineup through the years.
Model year 2016 marks Hyundai’s 30th year in the US market, and it’s the Tucson’s 12th.
Remember the 1990 Scoupe?
Soon we got to the heart of the Tucson’s unrealized potential; Hyundai had gone all-in with sedans after the 2008 recession, as sedans are typically more affordable than crossovers.
But now that the economy has improved, cars are down. And crossovers are on fire.
Hyundai is aiming to correct its strategy by aiming for 90,000 sales in 2016; that would be about 44,000 more than it sold the previous year.
Besides the updated design, Hyundai is bringing online a second Tucson plant in the Czech Republic. That plant will manufacture Tucsons for non-US markets, while the UK output will be earmarked for the US.
There are four groups of Tucson trim levels: SE and SE Popular, Eco, Sport and Limited and Limited Ultimate. All but the base SE are available in front-or four-wheel drive.
With the $895 destination charge added in, Tucson base prices range from $23,595 for the front-wheel drive SE to $34,945 for the all-wheel drive Limited Ultimate.
We don’t get the diesel engine the European markets have. In the US, the Tucson SE gets Hyundai’s trusty 164-hp, 2.0-liter four mated to a six-speed tranny.
Higher Tucson trim levels host the 175-hp, 1.6-liter turbo we first saw in the Sonata Eco…
…and they also get the Sonata Eco’s seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. Manual transmissions are well and truly gone from the Tucson.
Over the road, the turbocharged Tucson accelerated quickly both from a stop and in passing trucks on Wisconsin’s two-lane roads. The transmission’s gears gave firm shifts that added more confidence than some of its competitors’ CVTs would have, with their occasionally elastic responses.
I was in the third wave of journalists, and we had rain on our driving day. The Tucsons felt well-stuck to the wet roads and gravel…
….and our sloshing them around in a lake-like puddle was limited more by the Tucson’s on-road tires than anything else.
One note is that Hyundai has exempted the Tucson from three-mode steering feel it has offered on other models. There are now just two steering modes, Normal and Sport.
This is apart from the Tucson’s three drive modes, which are standard on all. Eco keeps the steering at Normal and reprograms the engine and accessories for maximum efficiency. Normal is just what it says it is, and Sport tunes all the responses for better performance.
The differences between the drive modes aren’t so dramatic that you feel like you’re driving a different car in each mode, but I found myself reaching for Sport for the slightly tighter-feeling steering and elevated shift points.
Inside, the Tucson represents a marked improvement in shaping and materials. Upper levels get stitched padded trim above the instrument cluster, and it looks great.
It’d be nice if Hyundai could imbue that kind of softness on the door panels above the armrests, which responded with a plastic ping if you elbowed them.
The center console recognizes the storage needs of two-smartphone couples; my co-driver and I could easily fit our big Androids, and there are charging and audio connections aplenty.
Hyundai notes the new Tucson has five more cubic feet of cargo room than last year’s.
The cargo area has some neat tricks. The floor can be dropped to a bit below the hatch ledge to open up more hauling heights, and the cargo cover can be plugged into divots in the cargo walls that keep it low and out of the way if you don’t want to leave it in your garage when the seats go down.
Obviously Hyundai’s engineers have been in the situation where you could carry everything if you just had that extra nth of space.
Overall, the Tucson for 2016 is exactly the up-to-date package Hyundai needs to stay competitive in the compact-crossover space.
Besides the strong styling and plethora of useful features, the upper-level Tucsons also offer a full suite of safety options, from automatic braking with pedestrian detection – along with pedestrian-friendly hood hinges that give a little if there’s an impact – to blind spot detection and lane change assist.
No adaptive cruise control, but there is a standard backup camera across the range.
And the panoramic roof extends all the way to the rear seatbacks, and the Tucson is particularly striking in its Caribbean Blue shade.
It’s little details like that will bring more crossover buyers to the Hyundai fold.
One of the company’s product specialists said that “emotional attributes are key in getting conquest buyers,” and fortunately for Hyundai, its new Tucson has plenty of those attributes.
Tell us in the comments – what do YOU think of the Tucson’s changes for ’16?
2016 Hyundai Tucson
Price range: $23,595 – 34,945
Firm-shifting automatic transmissions
Lack of an all-out sport version
No manual transmission
Stiff door panel plastic