Hyundai Tuc­son geared up to play with the big boys

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - AUTOS -

WHEN folks tell me they’re look­ing for a new mid-sized cross­over and ask for rec­om­men­da­tions on what to test drive, the Hyundai Santa Fe of­ten tops the list. Hyundai has been pro­duc­ing lead­ing ve­hi­cles in this seg­ment for years; in fact, my sis­ter is on her sec­ond Santa Fe since 2007 and couldn’t be hap­pier with her 2015 XL Lim­ited.

Prob­lem is, even though the Korean brand has been putting out very good prod­ucts for more than a decade, many peo­ple have trou­ble di­gest­ing the thought of spend­ing $40,000 or more on a Santa Fe. Or on any Hyundai, for that mat­ter. It’s im­por­tant to note Hyundai’s strat­egy has changed — and it’s tak­ing some time for many con­sumers to come around. No longer is there a 15 per cent price ad­van­tage when buy­ing a Hyundai. The value propo­si­tion is now to be com­pet­i­tive with other lead­ing brands on qual­ity and price, then throw in slightly more con­tent for the same dol­lars. Hyundai has the goods, and to prove it they’ve just an­nounced their own Ge­n­e­sis lux­ury brand that should have a full com­ple­ment of pre­mium ve­hi­cles by 2020.

What does this all have to do with the new­for-2016 Hyundai Tuc­son you see here? Let’s give away the end­ing right now: our all-wheel drive Lim­ited 1.6T car­ries a sticker price of $36,649. And the top-line Ul­ti­mate model kisses the $40,000 mark. And re­mem­ber folks, this is the Tuc­son. Hyundai’s en­try-level compact cross­over.

Hyundai’s third-gen Tuc­son starts at $24,399; some $2,400 higher than last year’s model. Which means that there’s a siz­able hole in Korea’s No. 1 au­tomaker’s cross­over lineup — one that’s about the size of a sub­com­pact cross­over. Word has it there’s a new sub­com­pact on the way to bat­tle the likes of the Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V (both of which start be­low $21K), but for now a Hyundai cross­over starts in the mid-$20s.

That base price nets a front-drive model with a 2.0-litre en­gine. Stan­dard equip­ment in­cludes 17inch wheels, a six-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, a touch­screen user in­ter­face, cruise con­trol, Blue­tooth con­nec­tiv­ity, air con­di­tion­ing, key­less en­try, three 12V power points, map lights, fog lights and LED run­ning lights. With 164 horse­power and 151 pound-feet of torque, the base en­gine is fine, but it’s the 1.6T model that really piqued my in­ter­est.

Start­ing at $31,299, the 1.6T Pre­mium AWD model ben­e­fits from the gut­sier en­gine, 19-inch al­loys, rear-view cam­era, heated seats front and rear, wind­shield wiper de-icers, and many other good­ies. The Lim­ited de­mands a fur­ther $5,350 and in re­turn sup­plies its buyer with adap­tive HID head­lights, LED tail­lights, leather up­hol­stery, up­graded au­dio with nav­i­ga­tion and an eight-inch touch­screen, park­ing sen­sors, dual-zone cli­mate con­trol, a heated steer­ing wheel, panoramic sun­roof, hands-free power lift­gate (just stand be­hind the Tuc­son and it lifts) and push-but­ton start.

With all the kit of the Lim­ited one might won­der what more the nearly $40K Ul­ti­mate could pos­si­bly of­fer. Not much more, it turns out: vented front seats, LED head­lights, fog lights, chrome ac­cents, lane de­par­ture warn­ing and au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing.

But it’s the ad­vanced pow­er­train that I find to be par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing in the higher-trim Tuc­son mod­els. Tuc­son shares its 1.6T en­gine with the quirky Veloster Turbo. This direct-in­jected, forcefed mill pumps out 175 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. Com­pared to last year’s 2.4 non-turbo, we’re down a few horses and up by a few pound-feet of twist. On pa­per, that’s not a big deal. But that slightly higher torque value is present nearly through­out the en­gine’s op­er­at­ing range, which makes a big dif­fer­ence in the daily drive. Fuel consumption im­proves too: 9.9 L/100 km on the high­way and 8.4 in the city vs. 11.6 and 9.3 for the old en­gine.

Plus, 1.6T mod­els get Hyundai’s new seven-speed dual-clutch trans­mis­sion (DCT). At its most ba­sic def­i­ni­tion, this is an au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. Just put the gear lever in D and drive around. But be­hind the scenes, a DCT is built more like a man­ual trans­mis­sion with two com­puter-con­trolled clutches that do the leg­work (lit­er­ally) for the driver.

The ben­e­fits: no power-sap­ping torque con­verter of a con­ven­tional au­to­matic, and faster, smoother shift­ing than a man­ual gear­box. Th­ese trans­mis­sions are cur­rently bat­tling those of the con­tin­u­ously vari­able va­ri­ety as an al­ter­na­tive to con­ven­tional au­to­mat­ics, but for me it’s no con­test: DCT all the way.

DCTs are not new on the mar­ket, but they are news for this seg­ment and in the Tuc­son’s case the DCT makes for a more en­gag­ing drive.

Pas­sen­ger vol­ume has in­creased marginally in the new car; 2,894L vs. 2,885. But small fam­i­lies will ap­pre­ci­ate that cargo vol­ume is up from 728L to 877L with the rear seat up; a no­table dif­fer­ence and one that al­lows the Tuc­son to creep closer to Santa Fe ter­ri­tory. Yet de­spite it look­ing very sim­i­lar to the Santa, there’s enough of a size dif­fer­ence to pre­vent it from can­ni­bal­iz­ing many of big brother’s sales.

The Tuc­son may not carry a pre­mium name­plate, but it has the tech­nol­ogy, per­for­mance and re­fine­ment (and price, don’t forget) to play with the big boys in the compact cross­over seg­ment.

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