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Hyundai Tucson 1.6 TGDI Executive Sport

11 December 2017

With its latest Sport version, Hyundai has upped the ‘cool factor’ of its Tucson SUV. It’s quicker, sounds rowdier and looks meaner, but is it still the solid all-round SUV it used to be, or has Hyundai overreached?

The design and production of a new vehicle is tricky. It’s all about finding a balance between comfort, performance, reliability, economy and practicality. And of course, this well-balanced vehicle also needs to be built in a way that is financially viable on a large scale. To accomplish this, manufacturers spend years (and a fortune) fine-tuning a new vehicle, balancing the scales to create a product that makes sense both on the road and the balance sheet.

Because of this, aftermarket modifications to production vehicles almost always demand compromise. They can improve the performance of a vehicle in a specific arena, but the delicate balance is inevitably disrupted. Care only about speed? A supercharger will make your vehicle go faster, but chances are the brakes, tyres, chassis and suspension won’t be able to keep up. The same is true of 4×4 modifications. A lift kit, off-road suspension and mud-terrain tyres will make your 4×4 better on a tough trail, but its day-to-day performance will suffer. That balance so carefully created by OEM engineers will be gone, and sadly, it’s almost impossible to unring that bell. You have only three options: accept the compromise, restore the vehicle to standard, or delve ever deeper into an ‘improvement’ process that will cost you an arm and a leg and deliver diminishing returns.

How is the above discussion relevant to the Hyundai Tucson 1.6 TGDI Executive Sport, you ask? Well, as you’ve undoubtedly gleaned from those four exhaust pipes and body kit, this isn’t exactly a factory-spec SUV. The Tucson Sport is essentially an aftermarket creation, but one developed by Hyundai South Africa itself. Manufacturer don’t often meddle with their own vehicles in this way, but that’s exactly what Hyundai SA has done. “It was not really market research, but more of a gut feeling that comes from many years in the automotive business,” says Stanley Anderson, sales and operations director of Hyundai Automotive SA, when asked why the decision was taken to dress up the Tucson.

“We knew we already had a most attractive SUV – the sales figures prove that – and we were able to create a Tucson Sport that is bold in a classy way, without being overly arrogant, but certainly with the looks that draw a lot of attention. The 1.6 turbocharged engine also delivers more than enough power to suit the sporty looks.” But what about that balance? The standard Tucson 1.6 TGDI Executive model is a practical and well-rounded vehicle that is both fun to drive and easy to live with. Is the modified Sport still as good, or does it feel overcooked?

How does it perform?
The 1.6-litre turbo engine driving the standard Executive delivers 130kW of power and 265Nm of torque. With the Sport, however, Hyundai South Africa has managed to squeeze 20kW and 30Nm more, meaning that the vehicle offers 150kW and 295Nm. That’s enough to make the Tucson feel truly sporty and aggressive. Mated to a six-speed manual transmission, and with very little lag to speak of, the Tucson Sport has the performance needed to back up its aggressive looks. It’s definitely not a case of ‘all show and no go’. The grunt of the Sport is sure to surprise you the first time you take it for a spin. Moreover, the presence of a manual shifter ups the fun factor and makes it even more involving to drive.

On the downside, though, the 2WD Sport sometimes feels as if it’s unable to put down the power and torque with efficiency. Launch the vehicle off the line with determination, and the tyres will spin, even causing the traction control to kick in. Some torque steer will also be present. But as you move up the gears, the Sport starts feeling much more comfortable, and at the top end there’s wonderful tractability, with the Sport cruising and accelerating effortlessly in its top gears. It’s not a precision driving tool, but it isn’t supposed to be. It’s a nippy SUV that’s perfectly docile when you drive it normally, but will also allow for a bit of hooliganism when you’re in the mood.

How’s the ride?
The chassis and suspension of the Sport is the same as that of the regular model. However, it does have large 19-inch rims with low-profile tyres that could potentially wreck the ride of the Tucson, but thankfully this isn’t the case. The Sport has that same comfortable ride that the Tucson is known for. At the same time, the suspension feels firm enough to deal with the sporty nature of the SUV. Chuck it into a corner and it remains composed. The steering can feel somewhat vague in standard mode, but switch to Sport and it’ll firm up. Once again, you’re not dealing with sports car precision, but it’s good enough to provide a sporty feel.

What’s the cabin like?
While quite a bit has been done to the exterior of the vehicle to give the Tucson a sporty look, the cabin has been left untouched. That’s disappointing, since the cabin of the Sport feels drab and austere once you’ve set eyes on that aggressive body kit and quad exhausts. The cabin is comfortable and well equipped, but unremarkable. It offers just about everything you could ask for in terms of modern conveniences, but lacks a bit of pizzazz, especially for a sporty and aggressive vehicle. Another issue is the exhaust drone that’s audible from inside the cabin.

Those four exhausts give the Tucson Sport a smile-inducing roar when you set off, but cruise for an extended period at around 120km/h, and you’ll hear a drone that becomes annoying. But it’s not all bad news. As with the others vehicles in the Tucson range, the cabin of the Sport is spacious, practical and durable. Ignoring all those flashy bits on the outside for a moment, the Sport is a sensible choice for a family vehicle. Luggage space is respectable (488 litres–1 478 litres) and build quality is good.

Stanley Anderson’s hunch that there would be a market for a sporty Tucson has been proven correct. Since going on sale, the Tucson Sport has been selling well. In fact, it’s done so well that Hyundai South Africa has released a similar version of the AWD Elite Tucson. Is the Sport as well balanced as the standard Executive? No, it’s not. However, the Tucson Sport offers decent performance and great looks at a competitive price, and it does so without ruining a winning recipe completely. At times, it feels as if the Sport is being pushed slightly beyond its limits, but never to the point where it feels annoying or frustrating.

For those looking for a mid-level SUV that adds a good dollop of fun to a sensible package, the Sport could be a tempting proposition. Add a seven-year/200 000km warranty, roadside assistance for five years or 150 000km, and a five-year/90 000km service plan, and it starts looking like a really good deal indeed.

Hyundai Tucson 1.6 TGDI Executive Sport
Engine 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol
Maximum power 150kW
Maximum torque 295Nm
Transmission Six-speed manual
4×4 system None (2WD)
Luggage space 488–1 478 litres
Price R499 900
Service plan Five-year/90 000km service plan
Warranty Seven-year/200 000km