- Upscale exterior and interior design
- Quiet cabin and refined ride
- Innovative automatic liftgate at upper trim levels
- Lots of hard plastic trim at lower trim levels
- Uninspired acceleration
- Less cargo space than competitors
The 2016 Hyundai Tucson caters to drivers that put styling and features at the top of their crossover-SUV wish list.
The Hyundai Tucson is the smallest crossover SUV from the South Korean automaker—at least for the time being, in the U.S.—but this tidy vehicle is a great pick for families for a lot of reasons. It's new for 2016, and Hyundai hopes a thorough redesign that boosts economy, interior space, and handling will put the Tucson in the same league as vehicles like the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, and Ford Escape.
The first point in the new Tucson's favor is its design. From its familial hexagonal grille to the sculpted lines of its body to the visual impact of its wheel design, the Tucson has a premium look that makes the outgoing model look like an economy car. This upscale feel continues inside, where the design of the dashboard and console have an elegant simplicity, and thickly bolstered seats look expensive.
There are four trim levels—SE, Eco, Sport, and Limited—with prices that range from around $24,000 to about $34,000 with destination.
The base SE doesn't have much more than the basics. The Eco and Sport have different drivetrains and a few key features, but the Limited with the Ultimate package takes the Tucson into near-luxury territory with everything from leather upholstery to touchscreen navigation, ventilated seats, and a panoramic roof.
We were somewhat disappointed by performance from the turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-4 that's found in the top three trim levels: Eco, Sport, and Limited. Mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, the 175-horsepower engine is slow to respond under hard acceleration, regardless of the driving mode we selected. The base SE has a 164-hp 2.0-liter inline-4 that feels peppier around town, particularly when its 6-speed automatic is in sport mode.
Front-wheel drive is standard across the lineup, but all-wheel drive is optional. The system costs around $1,500 and has a driver-selectable lock that splits torque between front and rear wheels in extreme conditions, and also offers torque vectoring that improves cornering performance.
The Tucson's ride and handling is less sporty than its looks might indicate, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing for its target audience. Steering and handling are predictable and competent, the ride is refined, and the cabin is quiet at highway speeds.
The cabin is roomy enough for four adults. And while the "reclining" rear seat has a convenient lever like you'd find on a front passenger seat, its range of motion is from nearly vertical to what some may consider a normal angle.
Cargo space is up, but still doesn't match that of competitors like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Ford Escape. The floor of the cargo area can be lowered by two inches for added versatility, however. And the liftgate on upper trim levels opens automatically when the key fob is in close proximity for three seconds. (The Tucson must be locked for this feature to function; the liftgate's range of motion can be programmed to prevent hitting garage doors and other obstacles.)
Interior materials on the Limited are pleasing—there's lots of soft-touch trim, and the hard plastics aren't offensive. On the SE, however, hard plastic trim abounds. Buyers who are debating between trim levels should touch everything and determine if the trim on a non-Limited model is a deal-breaker.
The 2016 Tucson earns top five-star frontal and side impact results from the NHTSA, and the IIHS has given a Top Safety Pick+ award to Limited Ultimate models with an automatic emergency braking feature.
It doesn't matter that Tucson sales have risen from 47,306 in 2014 to an estimated 56,200 for 2015—in a booming compact crossover market, its share of the segment has dropped from 4.8 percent to 4 percent. Hyundai plans to reverse that trend with ambitious sales projections for its redesigned 2016 Tucson. The Korean automaker plans to sell 90,000 of them, and we don't think that optimism is necessarily misplaced.
An interesting note: Though the Sport and Limited share a drivetrain with the Eco, their fuel economy is slightly worse. They get 25 mpg city, 30 highway, 27 combined, while the Eco is rated for 26/33/29 mpg. This is partly due wheel size. The Sport and Limited ride on 19-inch wheels. The Eco, like the SE (23/31/26 mpg) have 17-inch wheels.