For most of its 35-year history selling vehicles in the United States, the funk laid heavily over Hyundai. Excels, Tiburons, Scoupes, Azeras, XG350s—some utterly awkward-looking machinery wore the italicized H badge. But lately the company has been on a design tear. Under Belgian-born chief designer Luc Donckerwolke, stalwarts like the Sonata sedan have hammocked between avant and garde, new vehicles like the blocky Palisade SUV have been runaway hits, and even the cheap twerps like the Venue have some class. But all that seems like mere prelude to the faceted, distinctive design of the new 2022 Tucson compact crossover. In a market segment dominated by play-it-safe designs like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, the Tucson will be polarizing. And sometimes, polarizing is good.
In general profile, the new, larger Tucson isn’t that much different than the outgoing model. It’s the details that make it a standout. The exaggerated bulge of the fenders, the razor-edge line that runs through the doors, and the Hyundai logo sequestered under the rear-hatch glass speak to design ambitions beyond the genre standard. Granted, it’s a small crossover, and there’s only so far that form factor can be pushed. But somehow it feels like the designers were liberated here. Love it or hate it, the Tucson isn’t boring.
Of all the exterior design elements, the ones bound to attract the most attention are the daytime running lights. DRLs aren’t usually of much interest, but Hyundai made the creative decision to incorporate LEDs into the grille itself. When the Tucson is shut off, the DRLs practically disappear. But when the car is running, the stacked lights look like wings spreading from the lower grille up toward the headlights. Some of you will find a reason to hate this, but find something else worthy of your irrational wrath.
As impressive as the exterior is, the interior is better. There are some echoes of Honda in there, some touches of Lexus, and a big chunk of Audi, but it all works together. Just to show that Hyundai hasn’t abandoned the funk altogether, the steering wheel has a goofy design with four spokes in the lower third of the wheel. But it is well sized, and its rim has a nice squish to it.
The stars here are the twin 10.3-inch screens. The one in front of the driver is brilliant enough that it doesn’t require a hood over it to provide shade, and the center screen has a more or less intuitive interface. (And in the context of current infotainment systems, “more or less” is a synonym for “pretty good.”) What’s missing? How about a volume knob for the sound system? Come on, it’s easy. Hyundai also claims the new Tucson has some neat interior ambient lighting, but the press preview drive was conducted in daylight, so that remains to be seen.
With a 108.5-inch wheelbase and 182.3-inch overall length, the Tucson grows significantly in size from the 2021 model. Its dimensions now put it right alongside the 182.1-inch-long Honda CR-V. And the Hyundai’s 108 cubic feet of passenger volume beats the CR-V by a few cubes. That’s three more cubic feet you could use to store, say, a small poodle or a sushi bento box. Your move, Honda! Hyundai may be pushing the style edge with the Tucson, but from a practical standpoint it’s going cube for cube with the class leaders.
Interestingly, the Tucson sold in the U.S. (and made in Alabama) enjoys a languid 108.5-inch wheelbase, but many other markets will get a version that’s three inches shorter between axles. According to Hyundai, no market will get both wheelbases. Apparently, Europeans just don’t like rear-seat legroom.
The Tucson’s base 2.5-liter inline-four is rated at 187 horsepower, which is pretty much the industry standard for this class. It’s powerful enough to get the 3550-pound front-drive Limited version moving well, if not hastily. The eight-speed automatic transmission that goes with it counts as a big plus, with gear ratios well spaced for around-town puttering and computer logic that has the decency not to go hunting for the higher ratios at the slightest opportunity. It also shifts decently when operated manually.
The console-mounted shifter itself is a push-button thing similar to that now used by Honda. The Tucson’s sibling, the Santa Cruz truck, uses a conventional lever shifter. Hyundai should offer the lever as an option on the Tucson if it can. Maybe it will show up on the sportier N Line version of the vehicle that was on display but not available to drive.
Hyundai’s HTRAC all-wheel-drive system uses a clutch-pack coupler to divvy up torque between the front and rear axles. The system operates in Normal, Sport, Smart, and Snow modes. Why Normal, Sport, and Snow can’t also be Smart is a mystery.
Fuel-economy estimates rubber-stamped by the EPA come in at 26 mpg city, 33 mpg highway, and 29 mpg combined for two-wheel-drive models, with the all-wheel-drive versions sacrificing 2 mpg combined. Like the engine itself, that’s competitive but not exceptional.
Hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions will also be available. Both of those lash a 180-hp, turbocharged 1.6-liter four to an electric motor and a six-speed automatic transmission with all-wheel drive. The hybrid uses a 59-hp electric motor, with the plug-in upsizing to a 90-hp motor. During the brief drive, the hybrid system was unobtrusive. With the torque-rich turbo four and electric motor combining for 226 horsepower (the PHEV generates 261 horses), the electrified Tucson feels more casually powerful than the non-hybrid. It’s no RAV4 Prime but likely good enough. Hyundai promises an all-electric range of up to 32 miles, and the PHEV will also qualify for a healthy federal tax credit—$6587, based on battery capacity.
Naturally, the Tucson will be offered with either front- or all-wheel drive. On the easygoing fire roads that were part of the press drive, the differences between all-wheel-drive and front-wheel-drive models were hardly tested. But Hyundai, at least on initial impressions, seems to have done an excellent job with suspension tuning for both models. The steering is decently weighted, turn-in is reasonably crisp, and not even once did the Tucson spontaneously levitate. In terms of driving experience, it’s exactly the crossover that customers expect. And right now, this already vast and ever-expanding class is what standard family transportation in the U.S. looks like.
Press previews like this one usually feature highly optioned, zippy top-of-the line models, the better to show off all available finery. Meanwhile, the bulk of sales are likely to be midrange versions that are well-equipped but hardly lavish. Thus, it’s commendable that Hyundai has endowed the Tucson with a lot of standard safety features, including lane-keeping assist, driver-attention monitoring, lead-vehicle-departure sensing, and forward-collision avoidance. All good stuff for life in the nip, tuck, and thrust of suburban distracted driving—particularly when the kiddies are aboard and fighting, the dog is shedding his winter coat in the cargo area, and an annoying in-law is riding shotgun and offering real estate advice.
The 2022 Tucson should be on sale in June, with prices starting at $26,135 for the base SE model with front drive and ranging up to $37,285 for the Limited with all-wheel drive. The SEL, starting at $27,685 seems destined to be the bestseller. Hybrid models will start at $30,235 and go up to $38,535 for the Limited.
With the new Tucson, Hyundai has pushed the style envelope in some ways but gone strictly conventional in others. The Tucson is, based on worldwide sales, the company’s bestseller. Hyundai can’t afford to screw this up. And it hasn’t.
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