2016 Compact SUV Comparison – Part 2: Hyundai Tucson Eco

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As I explained in my review of the Nissan Rogue SV, over the next few months I’ll be reviewing 7 different compact SUVs that sticker for around $26,000 (including destination/handling): The CR-V EX, Rogue SV, Rav4 LE, Tucson Eco, Equinox LS, CX-5 Touring and Escape SE. I’ll compare everything from styling and standard features, to price and physical dimensions. Then, after all that, I’ll purchase the winner. Next on my agenda is the Hyundai Tucson!

The 2016 Hyundai Tucson is completely redesigned from bumper to bumper. The compact SUV segment has gotten very competitive and Hyundai is doing their best to claim market share. The sheet metal changes are obvious, but underneath there’s also a new turbocharged powertrain. In terms of pricing, it was difficult to choose between the Eco and Sport models. The Eco has the lowest total MSRP of the bunch ($25,045), while the Sport would have had the highest. Since I’m buying the winner, and I’m relatively frugal, I included the Eco model. But if you feel so inclined, the Sport model has an impressive list of standard equipment for an additional $2,000 (heated seats, hands-free liftgate, safety features, etc.).

The 17″ wheels are attractive without being audacious, which can’t exactly be said for the shuriken 19″ wheels on the Sport model.

EXTERIOR

From the outside, it’s obvious that the Hyundai Tucson is an “all new” model. Its exterior looks sleek, sculpted and modern, which is par for the course with Hyundai’s fluid design language. The front fascia, which was butt-ugly on the previous model, now has a particularly aggressive appearance. Hyundai replaced the odd look of multiple small grilles with one large imposing grille. Despite being the least expensive competitor, Hyundai also packed in the latest trends in lighting design. The Tucson Eco checks ALL the boxes for exterior features: Automatic on/off projector headlights, daytime-running LED accent lights, roof rails, fog lights and side mirror turn signals. Impressive.

The rear fascia is similar to the outgoing Tucson, but they tweaked it just enough to keep it fresh. The 17″ wheels (pictured on the black Tucson) are attractive without being audacious, which can’t exactly be said for the shuriken 19″ wheels on the Sport model. The high wheel arches give the Tucson a very athletic stance albeit with a little too much plastic. As a whole, its sleek exterior is more aggressive and sporty than most other SUVs in this group. Good job, Hyundai!

Hyundai Tucson

INTERIOR & SAFETY

Coming off the heels of my review of the Nissan Rogue (one of the largest “compact” SUVs), it’s obvious that the new Tucson is smaller. Actually it’s the smallest of the group in terms of total length and cargo space. We’re only talking about a few cubic feet difference, but it is noticeable. Still, there’s plenty of leg room, and with the seats up, 31 cubic feet should be enough for all your family’s stuff (about double the cargo volume of a Hyundai Sonata’s trunk).

The interior standard features won’t blow you away, but they are competitive. A power driver’s seat, steering wheel controls, one-touch window controls and a very good backup camera just to name a few. If you live in the great white north, the Sport model might be worth the extra money solely for the heated seats. Speaking of seats, they are comfortable both in the front and the back. I was particularly impressed by how far the rear seat reclines. I imagine that would be particularly nice on long road trips.

The quality of finish materials is slightly above average, but not great. Most of the dash is plastic. On the plus side, the controls feel solid and are laid out ergonomically. The audio system has an intuitive layout and a 5″ touchscreen packed with all the tech we’ve come to expect. Also, the menus can be navigated from the steering wheel and having the touch capability helps reduce button clutter. One minor yet particularly helpful graphic shows the individual tire pressure at each wheel. Most competitors just give you a dash warning light.

The comparison-leading 195 torque output is readily apparent when you hit the gas.

As I mentioned with the Rogue, almost all the participants in this comparison are IIHS Top Safety Picks with good crash scores across the board. The new Hyundai Tucson is no exception, with all “good” ratings. If you’d prefer not to experience the crumple zones and air bags, the aforementioned Sport model includes some neat crash avoidance technology to help you with lane changes, blind spots, and rear cross-traffic. The Eco does not include these goodies, but still has all the more common safety features like traction control, ABS and a plethora of air bags.

Hyundai Tucson

PERFORMANCE

If the Rogue’s interior made the Tucson seem small, then the opposite is true for the powertrains. In fact they’re almost diametrically opposed in terms of strengths and weaknesses. The Tucson Eco has a very capable powertrain. Hyundai offers the only 7-speed transmission in this comparison mated to a new 1.6L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. The comparison-leading 195 torque output is readily apparent when you hit the gas. When accelerating, the turbo lags for a brief moment and then (as Bud Light would say) it’s up for whatever. The 7 gears help keep the turbo in its happy place and improve fuel economy as well. It offers very competitive gas mileage of 26 city/33 hwy, but only if you leave the transmission in the less-fun “Eco” mode. Still, it’s nice to have the “Sport” option if you’re in the mood for adrenaline.


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(+) A dynamic turbocharged 1.6L paired with a smooth 7-speed transmission.

(+) Fantastic sporty exterior design.

(+) Eco and Sport models are both great values.

(-) The smallest SUV in this comparison in terms of cargo volume.

Under the assumption that a more engaging driving experience comes at the expense of comfort, the ride of the Hyundai Tucson is well balanced between the two. The suspension seems a little sensitive to pot holes, but under the majority of driving conditions it performs well and tolerates uneven pavement. I didn’t drive the Sport model, but I’m sure the 19″ wheels would only accentuate that suspension behavior. Meanwhile, handling is sufficiently engaging without being overly firm (or cushy). Overall, the Tucson’s ride and handling doesn’t surpass the benchmark of this segment, the Mazda CX-5 (review coming next week), but I certainly wouldn’t file it under the Tucson’s “weaknesses.”

SUMMARY

If you are on a tight budget, but still want a stylish and athletic compact SUV to haul your family around with a superior warranty to boot, the 2016 Hyundai Tucson might be your best bet. As I said before, it’s the least expensive vehicle in this comparison, but still offers a cutting-edge powertrain and a fair amount of technology and standard equipment. If you want more features, upgrade to the Tucson Sport (or check out the CR-V EX and CX-5 Touring). If I had to nitpick, I could ask for a more refined suspension, additional cargo volume and some upscale dash materials, but those are very minor complaints. With two contenders in the books, the Tucson is out to an early lead. It has almost everything you could want in this segment, without any glaring weaknesses. Come back to Dad Kingdom soon for more installments in this comparison!

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