The 2015 Hyundai Tucson is a replacement for the outgoing Hyundai ix35. It takes a new name (or at least re-adopts the name it had up until 2009) because Hyundai claims it represents such a step forward that it wanted to launch it without the baggage associated with the laudable, but not especially likeable, car that went before it.
Where the ix35 stood out for being spacious, well priced and laden with standard kit, the Tucson is designed to add a level of lustre to the equation, from its more expressive styling to its more luxurious, tech-laden interior, and the engine combinations and gearboxes that are as frugal and refined as the best.
These are bold claims, but absolutely necessary ones if the Tucson is to compete with the class-leading Nissan Qashqai, a former What Car? Car of the Year, and newcomers to the class like the Renault Kadjar.
Inevitably, all this comes with a price hike. The entry-level S trim model now starts from £18,695 - up from £17,000 now, but not a fair like for like comparison - and prices rise all the way to £32,345.
Our test car, driven in Germany on roads smoother than those found in the UK, is a late prototype, meaning that it is only 80-90% representative of the final product, according to engineers - although it’s worth noting that any assessment now should only improve in the run up to the car’s launch this autumn.
What's the 2015 Hyundai Tucson like inside?
Although the UK specs won't directly match this European model's, our high spec car offered a tantalising glimpse of how far Hyundai has come in a relatively short amount of time. The fit and finish of the cabin is first-rate, and the wide range of materials are well placed so that the harder, less appealing plastics are either out of sight or in areas where durability is of more concern than look and feel.
Getting comfortable is easy: the steering wheel adjusts for reach and rake and the driver’s seat - electrically controlled on our test car - had a wide range of adjustment. The cabin is also spacious, with enough room for five adults, even if they're all six-footers.
The Hyundai Tucson will be sold with the choice of some high-level technology, including the kind that is more normally associated with premium cars. Both Nissan and Ford have made great strides in offering big car technology on more mainstream models, and highlights of the Hyundai range include heated and ventilated seats, a self-parking system and lane keeping assistance. The sat-nav is also a significant improvement on the old system.
There are plenty of storage areas, and the boot space significantly exceeds that of the Qashqai seats up, and is also greater than that of the ix35. Fold the seats and you are presented with a large load bay, although the backrests don’t lie flat and, in this guise, space is not quite up to the Qashqai’s.
What's the 2015 Hyundai Tucson like to drive?
Performance is brisk enough, especially given the Tucson weighs more than two tonnes in this guise. The engine is eager and the gear shifts smooth and slick unless you're pushing on, when there is a tendency for the gearbox to hold revs for a fraction too long, and change more abruptly.
Wind and road noise were extremely well suppressed, as were vibrations coming through the pedals. However, the refinement of the turbocharged 173bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and four-wheel drive was not, with noise levels becoming intrusive even around 2500rpm. It’s worth noting, though, that this powertrain combination is unlikely to be anything other than a fringe seller.
However, in this format the engine doesn’t make a great financial case for itself. An official average of 37.7mpg and CO2 emissions of 175g/km are reasonable for a car of this type, but for all but a few the pick of the range will come from elsewhere in the line-up. Alternatives are a 133bhp naturally-aspirated 1.6-litre petrol engine or 1.7 and 2.0-litre diesels. The 1.7-litre unit produces 113bhp, while the 2.0-litre engine can be bought with either 134bhp or 181bhp. The 2.0-litre option will also be available with four-wheel drive.
The ride is also impressive. Although the suspension felt a fraction too stiff on the bumps we encountered, the pay off is impressively solid body control, which means there is little roll in bends and that any road imperfections are quickly dealt with.
While the Tucson is always predictable and safe in its handling, the shortage of steering feel is disappointing, as there is no real connection between the driver and the road surface. While that is likely to be a side issue for most buyers, it is a rare shortfall in the car’s dynamic make up.
Should I buy one?
It is too early to say for sure, but on this early evidence our advice would be to hold off laying down a deposit on a rival if you can wait for a few more months. The Tucson is certainly impressive, but until we get the chance to drive it in the UK and sample more representative engines and trim levels, it is impossible to properly gauge where it sits against its impressive opposition.
That said, it is clear that Hyundai has delivered on its promise of continuing its rapid gains against more established opposition, most notably in terms of cabin quality and technology and, to a lesser degree, dynamics. Most significantly, the Tucson has appeal well beyond the belts and braces attractions of decent quality at a decent price, which in itself marks another step forward for Hyundai.
What Car? says...
Hyundai Tucson 1.6 T-GDI