2018 Hyundai Tucson Review

Liz Kim | Feb 26, 2018

Introduction

Crossover SUVs (CUVs) are swarming American roadways, with no signs of letting up. Especially on the more affordable end of the spectrum, the segment is expanding at a seemingly exponential rate as car buyers ditch sedans in favor of more practical CUVs.

Until its new Kona subcompact crossover arrives in the spring of 2018, Hyundai straddles the line between tiny and compact CUVs with the Tucson. Bigger than a Honda HR-V, but smaller than a Honda CR-V, the 2018 Hyundai Tucson aims to be the automotive equivalent of a "just right" solution to your Goldilocks-style requirements and preferences.

What Owners Say

2018 Hyundai Tucson front quarter left photoFor this review, J.D. Power evaluated a 2018 Hyundai Tucson Value Edition equipped with all-wheel drive and floor mats. The price came to $29,025, including the $950 destination charge.Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Hyundai Tucson, it is helpful to understand who buys this Small SUV, and what they like most and least about their Tucsons.

More men are attracted to Tucson ownership compared to the small SUV segment as a whole (47% vs. 45%), and they are older in terms of median age (58 years vs. 54 years). Generationally, just 33% of Tucson owners are members of Generations X, Y, or Z, compared to 45% of Small SUV owners. Median annual household income, however, is about the same ($80,714 vs. $80,425).

Tucson owners rarely deviate from all Small SUV owners when it comes to sentiments related to vehicle ownership. They are less likely to agree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (38% vs. 52%), but that is not surprising. Tucson owners are also less likely to agree that they prefer a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (62% vs. 67%) and are more likely to agree that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (50% vs. 45%).

People who own the Tucson are more likely to strongly agree that they avoid vehicles with high maintenance costs (71% vs. 65%), their choice in a Small SUV perhaps reflective of Hyundai's comprehensive warranty and roadside assistance plans. Tucson owners are also less likely to pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (48% vs. 55%).

Owners report that their favorite things about the Tucson are (in descending order) the exterior styling, interior design and seats in a tie, driving dynamics, and visibility and safety. Owners indicate that their least favorite things about the Tucson are (in descending order) the storage and space, climate system, infotainment system, engine/transmission, and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says

In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own perceptions about how the Hyundai Tucson measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2017 APEAL Study.

Exterior

The Tucson's exterior appearance is the number one thing that satisfies owners, and it's for good reason. Hyundai's comparatively mature and sophisticated design lacks the funky weirdness embraced by most subcompact crossovers, giving the Tucson a grown-up appearance. Handsome without overtly seeking attention, pleasing many while offending few, the Tucson is a good-looking CUV with upscale appeal.

Interior

With its black-on-black interior color, my test vehicle's cabin seemed plain and minimalistic in almost every way. Silver plastic trim surrounding the vents and some of the other controls is the only relief from the monotony. Some people prefer this uncluttered look, with no seams around the dashboard top or any variances in textures, but I'm not among them. Choose a gray or beige interior if you seek greater contrast.

While I've been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the interior materials in Hyundais I've driven as of late, the Tucson's cabin clearly didn't reach for higher aspirations than what its price point would suggest. The plastics looked inexpensive and felt insubstantial, and several controls suggested an unbecoming flimsiness. As such, the Tucson is competitive with subcompact CUVs when it comes to refinement of interior materials, rather than traditional compact models.

Seats

Up front, the Tucson's seats are flat and mildly bolstered, with decent cushioning. Heated cloth seats are always a pleasant surprise, too, and if you get Gray or Beige cloth, it features stain- and odor-resistant fabric.

I was able to find a good driving position thanks to the 8-way power adjustable seat, but my long-limbed husband couldn't get the right combination of height and distance from the steering wheel that he prefers. The test vehicle's front passenger's seat lacked a seat height adjustment, supplying too low a position. Choose SEL Plus or Limited trim to obtain an 8-way power adjustable front passenger's seat.

In the rear seat, there's good room for two people, but three will have a hard time fitting. Thigh support is decent, and features like an available panoramic sunroof and rear air conditioning vents should prove appealing.

Climate Control System

Upgrade to SEL Plus, Value Edition, or Limited trim, and a dual-zone climate control system comes standard.

The test vehicle had this setup, the temperature controls comprised of two knobs with buttons for other functions arrayed between them. Everything was clearly marked and easy to use, and the Tucson includes a Clean Air ionizer feature. In my experience, I've found this fairly ineffective in controlling odors, whether they come from outside or from my children.

During testing under mild weather conditions, the system had no trouble warming or cooling the cabin as was needed.

Infotainment System

My Value Edition test vehicle didn't have all the bells and whistles that come with upper trim levels, so I could not assess the navigation system or the Infinity premium sound system that are included with SEL Plus and Limited trim.

It did, however, have a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, providing access to navigation and communication through my iPhone and data plan. Also, the standard sound system's quality was good enough for me. Therefore, I didn't feel the upgrade available in top trims was necessary.

Better yet, traditional power/volume and tuning knobs flank the large main menu buttons under the screen, and everything is intuitive and easy to use while driving. Hyundai also provides SEL Plus and Limited trims with free Blue Link subscription services for three full years.

Frankly, I don't know why so many Tucson owners appear to be unhappy with their infotainment systems. I think it's great.

Storage and Space

If you choose a small vehicle, you're going to get a small cargo area, so I'm a bit confused as to why Tucson owners give their SUVs middling marks for storage.

While it can't match compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, or Toyota RAV4 in terms of space (get the Santa Fe Sport if you want something that size), I thought the Tucson's cargo area was both roomy and flexible. Behind the rear seats, the Tucson provides 31 cu.-ft. of volume. Fold the rear seats to access 61.9 cu.-ft. of space.

My test vehicle was equipped with a hands-free power opening rear liftgate that activates when you stand near the rear of the Tucson with the key on your person. It's a convenient feature if your hands and arms are full of parcels and bags, and you don't have to wave your feet around in an awkward dance, which can be downright dangerous on ice and snow.

Inside, Hyundai provides storage bins and cubbies throughout the cabin, and while they weren't big, there were enough of them to keep small belongings in check.

Visibility and Safety

Based on my time with the Tucson, the only noteworthy visibility issue related to the SUV's thick rear roof pillars that make it harder to see out.

Good thing, then, that my Tucson had a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist. That latter feature is relatively new to Americans, sounding an alarm when a vehicle is approaching from behind at a comparatively rapid rate of speed, which would make a lane change unwise. Hyundai includes this feature with SEL Plus, Value Edition, and Limited trim.

In crash testing, the Tucson earns a "Top Safety Pick" from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and a 5-star overall rating from the NHTSA. In order to help prevent a collision from occurring in the first place, an automatic emergency braking system with pedestrian detection is available for the Tucson, but you need to get the Limited trim and upgrade it with the Ultimate package.

Engine/Transmission

J.D. Power data shows that aside from fuel economy, the Tucson's drivetrain is the source of the greatest dissatisfaction with ownership, and I think I know why.

The standard engine is a relatively underpowered 164-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, and all-wheel drive is an option.

Upgrade to Value Edition or Limited trim, and you'll get a turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder supplying 175 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque. That's satisfactory, but it comes only with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT), which can cause consternation if you're unfamiliar with a DCT's quirks. Personally, I'm not a fan of DCTs, as they tend to lurch and behave less smoothly than traditional automatics.

Front-drive is standard with the turbocharged engine. My test vehicle had the optional all-wheel-drive system, but as with most crossovers the front wheels get the power the majority of the time. Hyundai gives you a "Lock" mode that distributes the power evenly for improved traction in the slippery stuff.

The turbocharged Tucson does feel livelier than many competitors, but delivery of that power isn't as linear as you'd expect. Turbo lag is evident in the lower end of the rev range and the DCT is characteristically hesitant upon launch, so you'll have to adjust to its unique traits in order to find happiness.

Fuel Economy

One reason Hyundai uses a DCT with the turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder is to maximize fuel economy. Does it do the trick? Not according to my experience.

The EPA says that a turbocharged Tucson with AWD should get about 24 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the open road, with a combined average of 25 mpg. I got 23.3 on my test loop, which is comprised of various types of driving conditions.

Usually, test vehicles match or exceed their combined rating on my loop. In this case, the Tucson Value Edition didn't even hit its city number. Therefore, its no surprise that Tucson owners complain the most about their car's spendthrift ways. Hyundai needs to do better with regard to delivering on its promises.

Driving Dynamics

Composed and zippy around town, the Tucson delivers a smooth ride and nimble urban handling. You will notice quite a bit of road and engine noise, especially on the highway, but vehicles in this category tend to be quite loud inside.

Though Hyundai doesn't tout the Tucson to be an athletically inclined crossover, it more than holds its own in a set of twisties. Body motion is well controlled and the driving dynamics inspire confidence. Unfortunately, the experience lacks engagement, as the steering feels a little loose and sloppy while the brakes lack natural progression (although they are very effective and exhibited zero fade.)

Tucson owners may disagree with me, but nothing about driving it makes you succumb to the siren call of a road trip. This is an automotive appliance, wrapped in a good-looking package.

Final Impressions

Crossover vehicles are here to stay, and its little wonder, as they deliver all the advantages of a car combined along with the cargo space and versatility of a traditional SUV.

The 2018 Hyundai Tucson does a good job of straddling various permutations of the small CUV, and thanks to appealing design, modern technologies, impressive safety ratings, and affordable pricing, it competes handily in the little crossover category. Plus, like every Hyundai, the Tucson gives owners peace of mind thanks to generous warranty and roadside assistance coverage.

All that's missing from this recipe is an emotional reason to choose a Tucson over a seemingly limitless number of alternatives.

Hyundai Motor Co. supplied the vehicle used for this 2018 Hyundai Tucson review.









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