2016 Hyundai Tucson First Drive | DINKs, busy families and empty-nesters wanted

2016 Hyundai Tucson First Drive | DINKs, busy families and empty-nesters wanted

We traveled to middle America to put Hyundai’s newest compact crossover through the paces, taking to the wide-open roads between Minneapolis and Wisconsin to test the 2016 Tucson on a variety of road conditions, including smooth-as-glass asphalt, bumpy pot-hole laden city streets and dirt roads with mud puddles big enough to perform a disappearing act.

The 2016 Hyundai Tucson in Caribbean Blue somewhere between Minneapolis and Eau Claire.

The 2016 Hyundai Tucson in Caribbean Blue somewhere between Minneapolis and Eau Claire.

The new Tucson is quite enjoyable to drive with noticeable improvements to its steering feel, cabin noise, handling and structural composition. Clearly, Hyundai has focused on the driver’s overall experience in this compact utility vehicle, which the company is hoping can become a linchpin for getting them out of stagnant sales in the biggest growing segment for the U.S. market.

Hyundai’s combined CUV and SUV sales are down compared to the rest of the industry, but not due to a lack in production capacity or other means within their control. They simply have been known among consumers for their cars, with best-sellers such as the Elantra and Accent compacts. Hyundai’s 80 percent passenger car sales mix only reinforces this perception; meanwhile, the U.S. market rests at 56 percent truck sales (which includes crossovers and SUVs).

President and CEO, Dave Zuchowski, openly discussed the brand’s challenges in a booming CUV market before a group of media at the launch event. “We are a car-centric company in a market that’s crossover centric,” said Zuchowski.

MY16 Hyundai Tucson

Exterior Updates for MY16

Hyundai gives the third generation Tucson a more refined, grown-up look with features similar to big brother Santa Fe, providing the compact ute a clearer identity within the brand’s lineup. Elements such as the broad hexagonal grille, LED headlamps and fluidic design aesthetic all bring the once-quirky Tucson into the mainstream, which we expect consumers will appreciate.

MY16 Hyundai TucsonWe like the more mature look of this new Tucson, especially the incorporation of higher-end features on the outside such as LED headlamps and lighting accents, designer wheels that don’t scream “mommy mobile” and a healthy balance of curves with edges for maximum aesthetics and aerodynamics, which a stock integrated spoiler helps to keep in check.

Also part of the Tucson’s exterior style overhaul are six new paint colors that are sure to satisfy the most adventurous of CUV buyers. Customers can look forward to selecting their 2016 Tucson in: Chromium Silver, Coliseum Gray, Ruby Wine, Mojave Sand, Sedona Sunset and Caribbean Blue. The traditional Winter White and Ash Black are also available, bringing the total of paint options to eight.

Interior Impressions

Hyundai addresses the outgoing Tucson’s shortcomings with this third iteration, notably enlarging the interior space, both visually and physically. With the help of a longer wheelbase (1.2 inches), the 2016 Tucson is three inches longer and more than an inch wider than the model it replaces.

Challenges with blind spots from the prior build seem to have been remedied with the assistance of large side-view mirrors and better technology, such as Blind Spot Detection and a rear backup camera, on the upper trim models.

MY16 Hyundai Tucson interior black

While the outside appears more refined, the interior leaves a good deal to be desired by way of fit and finish of items within arm’s reach. We were left disappointed in the lack of refinement found along the dashboard and side door panels, which were made of hard inexpensive plastic (both to the touch and glance).

Thankfully, other aspects of the interior quickly redeemed the Tucson for us. The interior feels spacious and open, providing plenty of body, head and leg room for four adult passengers in both the front and rear seats. Our copilot during the driving portion is 6 foot-3 inches and had plenty of wiggle room in all directions when seated in either the front or rear.

The 2016 Tucson surpasses expectations in the roominess department, debunking a central complaint from the version it replaces.

With this Tucson, Hyundai continues to give competitor Ford a run for its money by bringing luxury features to its entry-level vehicles. For example, the 2016 Tucson comes with both heated and ventilated front seats, a panoramic sunroof that is nothing short of impressive and the Smart Power liftgate with handsfree auto-open upon rear vehicle approach (it should take about 3 seconds to start to open when standing roughly 3 feet away).

MY16 Hyundai Tucson cargo spacePerhaps most impressive of all is the growth of the Tucson’s cargo capacity by 5.3 cu. ft. for a total of 31 cu. ft. with the rear seats upright (61.9 cu. ft. with rear seats folded down), which the company notes is better than that of SUVs in a larger class. Additionally, Hyundai has creatively enabled the cargo floor to be dropped by two inches for better height clearance. Think of it like moving a rack in your oven down one notch as to allow for that big turkey on the third Thursday in November. This is the same concept. Hyundai wants you to be able to fit in that amazing plant you just purchased without its soil spilling all over the back of your new ride. We think that’s incredibly considerable of them, not to mention a good use of what would otherwise be wasted space.

Engine & Fuel Economy

The 2016 Hyundai Tucson comes with two engine offerings, a 1.6L tubrocharged Gas Direct-injection (GDI) for the ECO, Sport and Limited trim levels and a standard 2.0L for the SE base model. The larger engine, while not turbocharged, gets mated with a 6-speed automatic transmission with Hyundai’s electronic shift system. The 1.6L engine is undoubtedly more robust despite the smaller figure that represents it, boasting 175 hp (10 more than the 2.0L) and 195 lb. ft. of torque. The turbo offering also gets paired with a CUV segment first, a dual clutch seven-speed automatic transmission.

MY16 Hyundai TucsonWhile a fuel cell Tucson exists, Hyundai’s primary focus for this compact crossover will be on the ICE, namely its new efficient 1.6L 4-cylinder DOHC engine, which was first introduced on the 2015 Hyundai Sonata ECO and gains 5 miles per gallon in efficiency over the last gen Tucson. When pressed about whether or not a hybrid could be in Tucson’s future, the company was mostly mum on the subject.

Fuel economy varies across trim levels and engine offerings, with the SE base version coming in with the lowest MPG ratings of 23 city / 31 hwy / 26 combined for the FWD model. The ECO earns the best award for fuel economy with 26 city / 33 hwy / 29 combined. We spent most of our time in a 1.6L Limited with FWD, and our numbers aligned with the EPA’s estimate of 25 city / 30 hwy / 27 combined for that particular setup.

Price & Competitors

Hyundai has priced its 2016 Tucson to compete against the likes of the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Kia Sorento, Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5 and Subaru Forester. The list alone is evidence of a robust market for crossover utility vehicles with matched functionality and affordability.

Consumers can get their new Hyundai Tucson SE starting at $22,700 and option it to $32,650, which will get you the maxed-out Ultimate Limited package. Both figures are exclusive of the $895 destination charge.

The wait for the MY16 Tucson will soon be over; new models should arrive at dealerships across the country as early as the end of this month.

MY16 Hyundai Tucson rear

Final Thoughts

Hyundai emphasizes three key elements in the 2016 Tucson: its fluidic sculpture design, efficient dynamics and advanced safety technologies. The new ute comes packed with everything consumers love — LED and HID optional headlights, fashionable 19-inch allow wheels, handsfree liftgate and automatic emergency braking (a feature introduced on the Genesis flagship sedan last year).

Equally impressive are the upgrades to the Tucson’s underbody, one that now includes 51 percent high-strength steel with 335 feet of adhesive tape versus 18 percent high-strength steel and zero adhesive tape on the outgoing model. Hyundai has certainly prioritized safety and ride comfort, working diligently to eliminate unnecessary weak points in the case of an accident and road noise wherever possible.

But at the end of the day, for Tucson, the focus is on the family — whether that family consists of a couple, a growing family who may require a third row for seating or an older couple who are choosing to down-size now that the nest is empty.

As Mr. Zuchowski put it, consumers are buying crossovers more than ever before, and he wants to make sure that the Hyundai Tucson is top-of-mind.

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This article was written by

Melanie Batenchuk founded Be Car Chic in 2009 as a way to help consumers make smart decisions when buying and selling their cars. Her prior work at the dealership, trade association and manufacturer levels has provided her a deep understanding of the complex facets within the auto industry, making her a leading woman in her field.