Gran Canaria, Spain – You’d hate to be Hyundai… The outgoing ix35 has been an unqualified sales success, often topping the charts in South Africa among compact SUVs (and only recently relinquishing the sales crown to the Ford Kuga) and becoming the Korean manufacturer’s best-selling model overall in the combined Africa and Middle Eastern region (last year, nearly 60 000 buyers signed on the dotted line for one). There’s therefore a lot riding on the shoulders of its replacement…
Eschewing the ix suffix generally applied to Hyundai’s SUV and crossover models in favour of the name Tucson, shared with the first-generation model of 2004, the new model instantly appears classier than the ix35. It’s larger, too, thanks to an increase of 65 mm in length, 30 mm in width and 30 mm between the axles. Chrome trim is applied subtly across the vehicle (except for the front grille, which errs on the garish side), deep scallops on the sides add visual interest and the lights are adorned with bright, intricately designed LED elements (this lighting tech is also used for the headlamps, most likely optional in some models in our market). Hyundai claims the scythe-like 19-inch alloy wheels on top spec versions are the largest in the compact crossover class, as is the panoramic sunroof (which loses the previous version’s obstructive middle bar).
BEHIND THE WHEEL
More substantial changes have been wrought inside. The previous version attempted to create a sense of sophistication and material richness, but failed to achieve this due to cheap plastics in places (most notably below the shoulder line) and dated display screens. The Tucson, conversely, has one of the best cabin’s in this class. The door tops and dashboard are covered in a dense, slush-moulded plastic, while instrument and controls lighting is uniform and subtle throughout. The leather feels natural – unfortunately not always the case in Eastern vehicles – and understated brightwork highlights the main function areas on the facia.
Sadly, though, SA-bound vehicles won’t look quite as good inside as the one in the picture gallery above. Our vehicles won’t have the crystal-clear eight-inch touchscreen system that incorporates sat-nav. In an exclusive interview with CAR following the launch drive, Hyundai’s vice-president and head of operations in Africa and Middle East, Jin Kim, confirmed that our region is high on the priority list to get integrated communications and entertainment systems. He did not want to give a date, but suggested implementation later next year.
Space-wise, the Tucson’s increase in body length and wheelbase pays dividends – rear-seat passengers have oodles of legroom, while headroom even with the panoramic sunroof installed is ample. Likewise, the boot – now accessed through an electrically operated tailgate and over a lower sill – is larger than before; it consumes 513 dm3 of luggage, which expands to 1 503 dm3 with the rear seat backs folded forward.
It’s not near enough to the local launch – set for January 2016 – for Hyundai SA to confirm local specs and pricing, so it’s unclear whether new safety additions such as autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot assist and lane-departure warning will form part of the local offerings. But, judging by the strong specification of the ix35, we’d be surprised if these items, as well as park assist, electric adjustment for the driver and passenger seats and heating and ventilation of those pews, aren’t offered to local buyers.
UNDER THE BONNET
The South African Tucson line-up will include the current 2,0-litre naturally aspirated petrol and 1,7-litre turbodiesel engines, but will add a new 1,6-litre turbopetrol mated with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. This engine delivers a stout 130 kW and 265 N.m from just 1 500 r/min, and feels very well suited to the Tucson’s lifestyle application. It’s smooth up to about 4 500 r/min, after which some boominess enters the otherwise refined cockpit; there’s so much torque on tap that the transmission very rarely allows the engine to turn at those speeds, instead preferring to shift closer to 3 000 r/min.
On the topic of the transmission, I noticed some hesitancy in kicking down when the Drive Mode system was left in normal mode. Only judicious use of the throttle alerted the gearbox that additional momentum was required. Set to sport mode, however, and this hesitancy faded. Shifts are generally smooth throughout the spread of ratios.
ON THE ROAD
I mostly dislike the way the ix35 drives. The ride is too easily troubled by road scars and the steering is far too light and indirect. The new version feels a world apart. Even shod with 19-inch wheels wrapped in 45-profile tyres, the suspension breathes with the road. The ride is firm, yes, but damping is very good so there is little crashiness. Hyundai has also fixed the steering – it’s heavier than before, but feels direct and sensibly geared. I haven’t driven a Hyundai that’s felt more “together” than this one, which is a great achievement considering the quality of the company’s latest products.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD YOU KNOW?
We’ll get Tucsons with front- and all-wheel-drive configurations, the three engines mentioned and six-speed manual and automatic gearboxes in conjunction with the seven-speed dual-clutch version. The ix35 is still on sale until December, and the carmaker is sure to have great run-out deals, so if you can’t wait until January for a new Hyundai crossover – or you’re worried that the poor exchange rate will hike prices of the new range – get one of those. I would advise against buying a new ix35, however; the Tucson is such a leap forward that it’s worth the wait. A contender for Top 12 Best Buys honours in the compact SUV sector? Definitely.