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Driving impression: Hyundai Tucson

8 March 2016

Personally, one of the most appealing things about Hyundai is knowing how far the brand has come in a relatively short amount of time. Growing up, my parents owned one and if memory serves me well, not a month has gone by without it needing some form of repair. Now, though, it appears to be nothing short of bulletproof, as the newest Tucson has proved on its official South African launch.

The semi-parched landscape and yellow vineyards of the drought-stricken Western Cape played host to the official unveiling of the Hyundai Tucson.

The Tucson was a refreshing sight on an otherwise vindictive landscape. It looks striking by contrast, in a polished, grown-up sort of way. It features the new design language from Hyundai which uses a single unit hexagonal grille at the front, opposed to the two-tier grille found on previous generation models. A sleek side profile is also present with an attractive horizontal LED taillight arrangement which lights up like the northern lights when braking.

Interior styling-wise it’s relatively conservative and straight forward with no excessive bits taking up unnecessary space. This well thought out cabin manages to accomplish maximum functionality without the clutter.

Quality “soft-touch” plastics was used to clad the better part of the facia with the odd brushed chrome effect popping up around the cabin. Although it doesn’t come with an inherent exoticness associated with using materials from rare trees found on a small island just off the Indian Ocean, it keeps the price down and the resale value up as it ensures durability.

Driving both the Executive and the range-topping Elite on launch, the surprises were far from over. Both the above-mentioned models are sold with the 1.6-litre turbocharged engine and produces 130kW at a moment’s notice.

One of the more noticeable aspects of these powertrains is the non-existent amount of turbo lag. We had to refer to the turbo badging on the boot lid (which comes standard for bragging purposes) to establish if it is indeed fitted with a fancy breathing apparatus.

Don’t, however, jump into the Tucson expecting to feel like the king of the concrete jungle. Yes, it has ample interior space like you would expect from a small SUV, but it feels no bigger and just as agile as a family hatchback.

This clever trickery also trickles down to the open road. It handles corners with a purposeful grace thanks to the Vehicle Stability Management system which aids stability during simultaneous braking and cornering action.

The Elite All-wheel drive derivative also has the added advantage of Hyundai’s Advanced Traction Cornering Control which works in unison with the differentials to provide torque to the wheels that have the best grip, while also braking the inside wheels for optimum cornering ability.

On the transmission side, the 6-speed manual gearbox is smooth sailing with a short throw in between gears and an early grab which improves the dynamic feel of the car. The 7-speed DCT in the Elite model also does a fine job, however, getting on the power, it feels slightly lethargic.

The Executive model comes standard with “Flex Steer” which makes the steering heavier for a sporty sensation. The Elite model, on the other hand, comes standard with “Drive Mode” select which enhances the torque curve for a noticeable difference in power delivery.

Don’t let that suave looks and the fancy tech fool you. This new model is no less tough than the original. Encountering what should have been a crippling bump on a gravel road to Riebeek Kasteel, the Tucson bravely soldiered on without a single rattle – a testament to the quality of this vehicle.

The Tucson has done nothing but impressed us so far – even driving the pre-launch model (see the April edition of Leisure Wheels) it was near impossible to find a fault in this overall good package. We had a bit of a grumble concerning the pricing, but considering the impressive list of standard features and safety levels, this can almost be considered a bargain.