Review: 2016 Hyundai Tucson drives like a Euro sedan

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Hyundai has hit a high mark with this new Tucson
(Credit: Aaron Turpen / Gizmag)

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Hyundai completely revamped the Tucson for the 2016 model year and improvements have been made at every point. With a new engine, a new dual-clutch transmission, and a much-improved interior experience, the 2016 Hyundai Tucson is more like a Euro sedan than it is a crossover.

The five-passenger compact crossover market is hot, and most manufacturers are bringing their A-game to market. Up to now, Hyundai has not been a favorite in this segment because the Tucson just wasn't keeping up with the crowd. Now, the company is on a new mission to not only catch up, but to set new standards. It's done so with the new 2016 Tucson.

The new Tucson is a bit larger than before, but still straddles the line between compact and subcompact, staying below Hyundai's true compact crossover, the Santa Fe Sport. The 2016 Tucson is larger than most of its contemporaries in the subcompact market, but still retains the nimble, easy-parking appeal of the segment. The extra bulk in the Tucson greatly benefits the interior experience, though, giving it an edge over most of the subcompacts it competes with.

Further adding to that is a new engine that's standard in all but the base trim. The base model SE continues with the somewhat forgettable 2.0-liter four-cylinder that powered the last-generation Tucson. Producing an adequate 164 horsepower (122 kW) and 151 pound-feet (205 Nm) of torque, this engine runs through a six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive is optional. There is little to be gained with this engine and its frankly boring performance, as EPA ratings are only 26 mpg combined (9 l/100km) in FWD and 23 mpg combined (10.2 l/100km) in AWD.

The Eco, Sport and Limited trim levels upgrade the engine to a new 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that puts out a much more energetic 175 hp (130 kW) and a quick 195 lb-ft (264 Nm) of torque. This runs through a new seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission designed in-house by Hyundai. It feels very similar to dual-clutches often found in European vehicles, with precise shifting without lag.

Fuel economy ratings range from 29 mpg combined for the Eco model (8.1 l/100km) in FWD to 26 mpg combined (9 l/100km) in the Sport and Limited trims with AWD. Most can expect to get somewhere around 30 mpg (7.8 l/100km) in any of these trim levels when driving on the highway. During our week with the 2016 Hyundai Tucson Limited in AWD, we managed an average of 27 mpg all told.

On first glance, the new exterior design of the 2016 Tucson didn't stray far from the previous generation, but closer inspection shows several differences. The new Tucson is a full three inches longer and just over an inch wider. Ride height and roof height are about the same, but subtle changes to the body's design are also seen. The sloping roof and up-tilted beltline continue to emphasize the sporty nature of the Tucson. The front fascia is larger and puts more emphasis on the Hyundai "dutch oven" grille design (Hyundai calls this "trapezoidal") with three horizontal stripes and flanking split foglamp bezels.

The headlights are noticeably more narrow and peering, and the hood is a bit flatter with more well-defined side ridges to lead into the fenders. At the rear, the sharp headlamps are mirrored in the tail lamps and the rear spoiler minimizes the effect of the abruptly rounded tailgate. Integrated (and in some models, functional) roof racks finish the sport utility feel. The major exterior difference between trim levels are the wheel sizes, which are 17-inch for the SE and Eco and 19-inch for the Sport and Limited.

During a Hyundai-hosted event last year, we drove most of the trim levels of the 2016 Tucson, getting a feel for the different offerings and accommodations. We noted a few things about the interiors, which is where each model differs the most as one progresses through the four trims.

On the inside, the new Tucson is almost unrecognizable from the previous generation of the crossover. Even at the base level, it's much more upscale and appealing with a visually lighter weight and less cramped look. Materials seem of higher quality, and storage space for gadgets and gear is plentiful. A five-inch touchscreen is standard issue in the 2016 Tucson, offering a user-friendly (though basic) interface. Only the Limited trim gets the larger 8-inch touchscreen with all of its upgraded apps and functionality.

Seating is good, though we found that the cloth seating in lower trims was actually better than the leatherette found in the others. The real noticeable improvement is in the rear seats, which are now fully adult-friendly and large enough that even tall people won't feel too cramped. Cargo space is likewise improved with a full 31 cubic feet available behind the rear seats, which fold to expand that to nearly 62 cubes ( and liters respectively).

We also found the rear cargo floor mat's ability to change position to be useful. It can be positioned in a top slot which puts it flat with the entry, making loading large objects easy. It can also be lowered down to create a sort of "trough" out of the space behind the rear seats, making loading groceries and other items easier as they can be more easily contained. The Limited trim's automatically-opening liftgate, which opens when the keyfob is near it for a few seconds, is another bonus for those with full arms.

On the road, the 2016 Hyundai Tucson is very fun to drive, which is why we compare the feel to a European sedan. Hyundai went to great lengths to improve body stiffening, chassis ride quality, and steering adjustment. A much higher use of high-strength steel along with more weld points resulted in a better-handling little crossover. The improved 1.6L engine and dual-clutch transmission ice that cake beautifully. Outside of the premium segment, it's hard to name a competing crossover that is as much a joy to drive as is the 2016 Tucson.

Around town, the 2016 Hyundai Tucson is punchy and quick, but not overbearing. On the highway, it's relatively quiet (especially in the Limited trim) and has no problem speeding into a merge or accelerating around to pass. In inclement weather and on questionable roads, the Tucson remains composed as well.

Overall, the 2016 Tucson is a well-rounded package that retains the primary appeal of the compact crossover segment (drive-ability) while adding the versatility of useful day-to-day spaciousness. Hyundai has hit a high mark with this new Tucson.

Product page: 2016 Tucson

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