From Korea. . . with sport!
The original Hyundai Tucson earned a rock-solid reputation since it’s introduction here in 2004. It was replaced with the ix35 in 2010, and this compact SUV continued the ‘solid’ legacy. Now the Tucson is, well, it’s back – and although it’s still as dependable as its predecessors, it’s taken the brand to a much higher tier of refinement, quality and, dare we say it, performance. We took it on a 1 200km adventure.
The Magoebaskloof Mountain Pass, on the R71 between Polokwane and Tzaneen, snakes through the mystic, picturesque Modjadjiskloof. It’s turn after turn, framed by some of the Lowveld’s finest greenery, plantations and jungle.
The road surface was recently recoated, we had heard. It is said to be smooth, beautiful, challenging. Pity then that we are in a Hyundai Tucson. It’s a new one, but it’s still a Tucson.
We’re on the straight and wide N1 highway, on the way to Polokwane. The suave new Hyundai has so far proved to be quite a comfortable long-distance tourer.
The Tucson had only 55km under its belt when we took off from Johannesburg, and fresh off a ship from Europe, where the latest Tucson is manufactured.
We were driving at a lackadaisical 120km/h, the standard cruise control ensuring that the magnitude of quota-chasing spietkops on the N1 did not have to get off their comfy chairs.
The straight and narrow of the N1 allows us to have a good look at the new interior. And one thing is for certain: this is a classy execution with a quality, refined feel that was previously only the reserve of way more expensive German compact SUVs.
Indeed, the Hyundai brand has come a very long way since the cute but rubbish two-door Scoupe was introduced here in 1995.
We are driving the 1.6 T-GDI Executive model. It’s the six-speed manual, and the smooth ’box with its short throws sends power only to the front wheels. The all-wheel drive derivative, living one step up the Tucson hierarchy, comes with Hyundai’s seven-speed dual clutch gearbox.
This Executive model gets plenty of standard kit, including imitation black leather trim for the seats, climate control, a good-quality sound system with Bluetooth connectivity and remote buttons on the four-spoke steering wheel, electric windows all round and an electric driver’s seat.
This is the only derivative in the new five-model Tucson range that gets Hyundai’s Flex Steer system. The rack and pinion system is linked to a motor-driven power assisted steering system (MDPS) that has two modes: Normal and Sport. The ‘Sport’ setting provides a heavier feel, and more feedback: a real sporty feel.
But remember this is a Hyundai Tucson, so how much sport can there really be, right?
The engine room
The new Tucson range only gets petrol engines. Thanks to the weaker rand the brand’s 1.6-litre turbodiesel derivative would simply be too expensive to be competitive in the local market. So petrol it is. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The range kicks off with the familiar, naturally aspirated two-litre engine that delivers 115kW and 196Nm of torque. You can have the engine with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearbox.
Our 1.6 T-GDI model is a whole different kettle of engine. The 1.6-litre mill breathes through a turbocharger and it has 130kW of power and 265Nm of torque on tap. In the city and traffic, the engine had already proven highly impressive. It’s silky-smooth and tractable, even with just 1 000r/min on the rev counter and with no apparent turbo lag. But that’s just dawdling around in the city. It’s probably much less impressive when the chips are down… it is just a Hyundai SUV.
When we first met the new Tucson on the Canary Island last year, the Korean marketers made a big song and dance about the ‘sporty’ handling of their new SUV. We didn’t ever really have a chance to properly explore the Tucson handling prowess to the limits, but it did feel very sporty on the winding, narrow island roads.
The Tucson rides on a McPherson-type strut with stabiliser bar, coil springs and high performance dampers up front, and multi-link set-up with coil springs, anti-roll bar and high performance dampers at the back.
The damping system has been completely revised and retuned in the new Tucson, and there is an additional rebound spring mounted on top of the shock absorbers.
Our model is fitted with 225/60 R17 tyres – the Elite 2.0 model comes with 18-inch wheels, and the top T-GDI AWD Elite rides on massive 19-inchers.
So far, on the straight and flat N1, the 17-inch items seem like a perfectly adequate choice, providing a smooth yet sporty ride.
But does it have… the look?
This is the first Hyundai that was designed, from the ground up, under the watchful eye of the internationally renowned and award-winning designer Peter Schreyer.
The result is an eye-catching, modern look that shares some DNA with its bigger brother, the Santa Fe, especially up front.
The tail is a particular highlight – it looks powerful, modern and, well, just right, with the two exhausts and the ‘Turbo’ badge on the boot lid adding some spice and sport to the equation.
Other motorists and onlookers seemed to concur with our impressions. The red Tucson drew much attention in the city, on the open road and when we stopped for lunch at a major filling station.
At that filling station we happened to park next to a first-generation Tucson. Just as we arrived back at the car after a speedy lunch, the owner of the older Tucson was busy inspecting the new car. He looked suitably impressed, sending us on our way with an approving nod of the head and a smile.
The original Tucson looked, well, okay. The second-generation ix35 is probably better looking than the original, but it, too, doesn’t really stand out in a crowd of compact SUVs.
The new model is the best looking member of its Tucson/ix35 family. By far.
Corners + Tucson = fun?
On the R71 we arrive at the start of the twisty sections, ahead of the Magoebaskloof Pass proper. The road is empty, so gradually we up the pace, exploring the relationship between the 1.6-litre engine and the slick six-speed gearbox.
And amazingly, as we push the engine closer and closer to the 7 000r/min limit, rowing the gearbox some, and pushing ever harder through the corners, the Tucson leaves us, well, speechless.
There is very little body roll, and in the corners you’d think you are driving a hot hatch, and not a compact SUV. The engine’s tractability, free-revving nature and power, and the gearbox’s beautifully weighted, short action add more hot-hatch qualities to the package. And there is also the steering – in ‘Sport’ mode the feedback is excellent, the weighting most pleasant.
Another trick is active yaw control, or AYC. This system uses an active, electronically controlled differential to transfer torque to the wheel with the most grip. It’s also called torque vectoring, and it works a right charm. Mid corner you can start feeding the power to the front wheels, and this compact SUV will sling-shot out of the corner at a surprisingly, hot-hatch fast rate.
Golly, this Tucson is really fun to drive fast, inspiring bags of confidence. As solid and dependable as the original Tucson and the ix35 were, they were never this much fun to chase through a mountain pass.
And when you do push too hard, the Tucson’s standard electronic stability program (ESP) and vehicle stability programme (VSM) discreetly intervene and bring the Hyundai back into line with minimal drama.
In fact, if it weren’t for the flashing ESP light on the dashboard, you wouldn’t even know an intervention was taking place.
The R71 is dispatched faster than expected. Sadly though, our carefully conserved fuel supply had been dealt a harsh blow by some exuberant driving.
Or so we thought.
A wild one!
The road to the Thornybush Nature Reserve near Hoedspruit is dispatched quickly, the newly discovered ‘Sport’ of the Hyundai saving a few extra minutes on the journey.
The last 10km before reaching the reserve is a gravel section. It’s reasonably smooth, with a few twists and turns along the way. The sun heading fast towards the horizon provides a perfectly legitimate reason to push along. The Hyundai doesn’t disappoint.
Again the Tucson is unflappable, and it takes everything we dish out with a proverbial shrug of the shoulders. Very impressive, it is.
We arrive at the main gate, and complete the last 8km to the Chapungu Tented Camp. This unfenced camp looks in real life like a picture out of a sales brochure – it really is a spectacular setting.
We conclude a long, lovely day with an ice-cold beer and a few lamb chops.
Roar! Or rumble! Or something!
Cederick Zitha is our own, personal ranger for the morning. He is in his game-viewing vehicle, and we are following in the Hyundai Tucson. Since this is not a 4×4, we stick to easier tracks. Despite this, there is still the odd lifting of a wheel or some traction control action in places.
The turbo engine impresses again. Driving along in first and second gear, navigating some narrow tracks, the engine’s lack of turbo lag is truly impressive. The rev counter needle can be pointing to 1 000r/min and a simple squeeze on the accelerator will see the Hyundai accelerate smoothly, powerfully.
And the gearbox is also a delight, along with the light, progressive clutch.
We soon find a herd of elephant. Or rather, they find us. Briefly. One moment we are driving along, and the next a small herd makes a beeline across the dirt road, between the Tucson and the Land Cruiser.
Not long after that we find some zebra around a corner. And a massive, grumpy elephant bull, that did not look particularly impressed by the red Hyundai. Ranger Cederick, who obviously knows about grumpy elephant bulls, quickly manoeuvres his Cruiser between the huge bull and the Tucson, and the animal moves on, soundlessly.
Later we find a lone buffalo – a big old fella that also seems to be on the grumpy side. Yep, it’s a wild and beautiful place, this Thornybush.
But the clock is ticking. After a hearty breakfast we bid the Chapungu Camp farewell, and head for home. But we have a cunning plan.
The famous ‘22’
The road between Hazyview and Sabie is known as the ‘22’. Bikers and drivers of high performance cars travel all the way from Gauteng with the sole purpose of driving this 22-mile long section of beautiful, winding road.
It’s not the kind of road you’d particularly look forward too if you drive a first generation Tucson or an ix35. But a new Tucson Turbo… well, that’s another matter.
And it doesn’t let us down. Chuck it into corners and this SUV sits like a hot hatch, sticking tenaciously to the chosen line, the yaw control system doing the business.
The engine and gearbox partnership is as good. Probably the most surprising is the engine’s power delivery… it performs from 1 000r/min all the way to 7 000r/min, without any noticeable on-off turbo boost scenario.
And despite our spirited driving, the ESP light on the dashboard only blinks once – that’s how composed and solid this Hyundai is in the done.
The highway to home
We eventually join the main N4 drag back to Gauteng. It’s also time for a refuel. And after the mountain passes we feel a bit guilty – we maybe did get a bit carried away, which will probably not go down so well when the fuel consumption numbers are added up.
The attendant fills the 62-litre tank, and we crunch the numbers: 8.7 litres/100km! That’s impressive considering the hammering we gave it in the twisties. It really is.
A parting shot
We drive a lot of different vehicles. Sometimes you get into a new vehicle expecting something, and it gives you completely the opposite.
The new Hyundai Tucson is like that, in a very good way. Sure, we knew it was sporty, that it looks pretty good, and that 130kW sounds pretty impressive on paper. But the reality of the matter is that this Hyundai surprised us no end.
Exceedingly sporty with the handling of a hot hatch, beautiful, modern, classy, fast… it even has a five-year/150 000km warranty. It’s a massive step up from the ix35.
We also reckon this specific model is the pick of the new Tucson range, especially if you are after an involving vehicle to live with, rather than just an A to B appliance.
All things considered, Hyundai have nailed it with the new Tucson.
If you’re in the market for a compact SUV, you’d be smart to include this Korean on your test drive list.
The (amazing) Chapungu experience
The Thornybush Nature Reserve is located on the border of the Kruger National Park, and includes the Chapungu Luxury Tented Camp, which is part of the vast Thornybush. This tented camp harks back to days of five-star camping in the bush, back in the 19th century.
There are eight luxury tents, each with en-suite facilities. Each unit is luxuriously kitted out with only the finest trim and finishes. All the units have their own air-conditioners too.
It’s an unfenced camp with no wires between the Big Five and the guests, and no kids under 12 are allowed.
The exclusive Chapungu Tented Camp is obviously not in the same league as your typical Formula One hotel – it’s an exclusive, luxurious experience. The rates, which start just under R4 000 per person per night, include all meals and game drives.
A trip down history lane
2004 – The first generation Hyundai Tucson is launched with petrol and diesel derivatives: a two-litre four-cylinder petrol (104kW) a 2.7-litre V6 petrol (129kW), and a two-litre turbodiesel (82kW). Both front-wheel drive and AWD models were available.
To this day a mint-condition, first generation Tucson remains in very high demand.
2010 – the ix35 range is launched here, also with petrol and diesel and 2WD and AWD options. The V6 petrol had long since been dropped from the range, but the two-litre petrol and diesel versions continue.
2016 – The all-new Hyundai Tucson is launched here. It represents a huge leap forward in overall design, refinement, quality, safety, performance – any parameter you can care to mention, really.
Specifications: Hyundai Tucson 1.6 T-GDI Executive
Engine Four-cylinder, turbo, D-CVVT, 16-valve
Capacity 1 591cc
Power 130kW @ 5 500r/min
Torque 265Nm @ 4 500r/min
Gearbox Six-speed manual
Suspension (front) McPherson-type strut, stabiliser bar, coil springs and high performance dampers
Suspension (rear) Multi-link with coil springs, anti-roll bar and high performance dampers
Driving aids Electronic stability programme (ESP), vehicle stability management (VSM), active yaw control (AYC), downhill brake control (DBC) and hill start assist control (HAC)
Ground clearance 172mm
Warranty Five-year/150 000km
Service plan Five-year/90 000km
Price R419 900
The Hyundai Tucson range:
Hyundai Tucson 2.0 Premium 4×2 R359 900
Hyundai Tucson 2.0 Premium 4×2 AT (six-speed) R379 900
Hyundai Tucson 2.0 Elite 4×2 AT (six-speed) R439 900
Hyundai Tucson 1.6 T-GDI 4×2 Executive R419 900
Hyundai Tucson 1.6 T-GDI AWD Elite DCT (seven-speed) R499 900
Text: Danie Botha
Photos: Deon van der Walt