Hyundai Tucson — Moving to the head of the class

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The all-new 2016 Hyundai Tucson is the smallest crossover in the Hyundai garage, but one that puts a convincing up-market spin on Hyundai’s value for the money formula. It wears sleek new styling that will turn heads, but it's what's under the glamorous skin that makes Tucson a segment game changer including a performance-oriented new direct-injected 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine mated to a seven-speed dual clutch automatic, cutting edge safety, the latest in technology features, and a roomier interior than the outgoing edition.

Fit and finish have improved moving the Tucson to the top of the current class of small crossovers, and it’s possible to carry four average-size adults without anyone threatening mutiny. The Tucson is 3 inches longer and 1.1 inches wider than before, enough to make it considerably more competitive in the segment.

Cargo space has increased by 5.3 cubic feet to 31 cubic feet, and the rear seats have a greater recline capability. Hyundai’s hands-free liftgate is available as an option, and automatically opens the hatch when the key fob is behind the hatch and within three feet for three or more seconds.

There are a lot of new upscale features, including Hyundai's latest 8-inch touchscreen interface, LED headlights and safety features like lane departure warning and a frontal collision intervention system.

Adding to the new-found sophistication is a stiffer chassis, and a number of measures taken to reduce noise, vibration and harshness. — things like larger engine mounts; more bushings in the rear cross members; additional sound insulation material in the roof pillars, transmission tunnel, instrument panel and inner fenders; 335 feet of structural adhesive increasing body rigidity while quelling road noise; and the lowering of the drag coefficient from 0.35 to 0.33 for reduced wind noise and better fuel economy.

Perhaps more than anything, it's Hyundai's new turbocharged 1.6-liter engine — now being used in several cars across the lineup — that sets the Tucson apart from the outgoing model and from other players in the segment. Its small twin-scroll turbocharger is sized for quick response rather than maximum output. While it's 175 horsepower trails such popular nameplates as the Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5 2.5-liter and the Ford Escape's 1.6-liter EcoBoost, the Hyundai bests the field with prodigious torque of 195 pound-feet.

To emphasize the Tucson's edge over the competition is its seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with crisp well-managed shifts that get the most out of the torque band giving the small crossover an energetic feel at virtually any speed. Its 0-to-60 time of 7.6 seconds easily bests all of the aforementioned competition.

The 1.6-liter can be ordered in all but the base SE trim level. The base engine is the carryover 2.0-liter four making 164 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. We recommend a slight stretching of the budget to the tune of $1,450 and move up to the Eco trim — trim levels are SE, Eco, Sport and Limited — and get the new turbocharged engine, which is standard equipment. The Eco, which features smaller tires with less rolling resistance, is EPA-rated at 26 mpg city, 33 highway and 29 combined. Mileage falls off slightly for the Sport and Limited editions to 25/30/27.

Standard equipment across the lineup starting at $23,595 including destination charge includes automatic headlights, full power equipment, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, five-inch touchscreen, rearview backup camera, and a six-speaker sound system with CD player and satellite radio.

Inside the Tucson, the occupants will find an attractive dashboard display with easy-to-use controls. While our Limited test car came with such necessities as padded dashboard and door insets with accent stitching, the other trim levels have a lot of hard plastic surfaces. Front seating is comfortable and rear seat passengers sit up higher than before. Unfortunately, the rear seats cannot be moved fore or aft eliminating the ability to create additional legroom if needed.

On the safety front, blind spot detection, lane change assist and rear cross-traffic alert are standard on the Sport and Limited while lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and backup warning sensors are only available as options on the Limited. None of these technologies are offered on either the SE or Eco models. Projector beam headlights are standard across the board, and the Limited can be ordered with LED headlights or HID headlamps that follow the road.

Pricing is fully competitive, especially when you take into account the equipment that is either standard or optionally available on the Tucson that isn’t found on the competition. Our Limited test car carried a well-equipped bottom line of $32,510.

Base price: $23,595; as driven, $32,510
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 175 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 195 pound-feet @ 1,500 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
Length: 176.2 inches
Curb weight: 3,499 pounds
Turning circle: 34.9 feet
Luggage capacity: 31 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 61.9 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 1,500 pounds
Fuel capacity: 16.4 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 28 highway, 24 city, 26 overall
O-60: 7.6 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Ford Escape, Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V

The Good
• Energetic turbocharged engine
• Good fuel economy
• Advanced safety features available
• Excellent backseat space

The Bad
• Base SE gets old 2.0-liter engine

The Ugly
• Many desirable features only available on top trim