Here’s the problem with most new compact crossovers: they’re too damn good. Subaru’s Forester will surprise you with its outstanding fuel economy, the Mazda CX-5 wins votes with its handling and the Jeep Cherokee’s looks are a real head-turner. OK that last one isn’t necessarily a compliment, but the point is that it’s hard to be a memorable quarterback when you’re sitting in a room filled with first stringers.
|1. Pricing starts at $22,305 and climbs to $31,205 fully loaded.
2. Engines include a 2.0-liter and 2.4-liter direct injection four-cylinder.
3. Those engines make 164 and 182 hp respectively.
4. Official estimates suggest 20/25/22 mpg city/highway/average.
5. Five-speed manual disappears for 2014 model year
That’s a problem that Hyundai – like many others – is stuck dealing with.
In its first generation, the Tuscson had several aesthetic similarities to the Ford Escape. It was sort of boxy looking albeit with chunkier body pieces than small crossovers streaming from the Blue Oval brand’s factories in Ohio and Missouri.
Starting with the 2010 model year, Hyundai abandoned the old Tucson in favor of a model carrying the kind of streamlined style seen across the current product line. Its sales more than doubled in the first year. Now, more than ever, people buying compact crossovers have their pick of an incredibly competitive product range.
Time to be Picky
Like a well-to-do real estate investor right after Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae imploded, the market is your oyster. With the power of choice in the palm of your hand – or computer screen as the case may be – it seems silly to settle for less. But listen, folks, I’m no well-heeled cheapskate searching for McMansions on the cheap. I’m more of the first home type, hoping to score something affordable that won’t embarrass me after a first date.
So, take a moment to think of the Tucson as if it’s an entry-level condo instead of a crossover. It’s affordable, functional and stylish. It’s also impractical for a big family and unsuited for intimidating criminals. The last two are better left to something like a Chevrolet Suburban and Jack Bauer.
The point is, car companies are a lot like people trying to sell homes in a down market. Little touches can make all the difference and Hyundai gave its Tucson a major spritz for 2014. New projector headlights with LED daytime running lights are like a bowl of mints in the foyer. Optional LED rear lamps make the caboose nicer to stare at and re-designed 17-inch wheels (18’s if you upgrade) help the car look fresh even though it’s been on the market for a few years.
“NU” Metal Makes Driving Nicer
Any real estate agent worth their “commish” will tell you that new appliances are another big selling point and Hyundai has that covered here, too. This year, the company scrapped its outdated 2.0- and 2.4-liter four pots in favor of direct-injected mills with the same displacement. The 2.0-liter “Nu” engine is one pony weaker with 164 hp, but gains five lb-ft of torque. Its 2.4-liter “Theta II” cousin offers 182 (six more than the old 2.4) and nine lb-ft of twist for a total 177. More importantly, the engines offer broader powerbands, meaning their output is more accessible than before.
Both of those engines come mated to a six-speed automatic transmission in front- and all-wheel drive configurations. That’s right, Hyundai dropped the five-speed manual for this year.
Now, you might expect the new engines to offer improved fuel efficiency and in the base 2.0-liter model that assumption is correct. Official estimates call for a single MPG improvement in the city to 23 while highway and average fuel economy remain at 25 and 29 MPG respectively. That still trails others in the segment like the Forster’s 27 combined MPG. Mazda’s 2.0-liter CX-5 does even better with an average 28.
Hyundai provided a fully-loaded “limited” model as the test car, and it came with the 2.4-liter engine and all-wheel drive. In that configuration, the friendly feds suggest an average 22 MPG, which is actually a downgrade by one mile per gallon over last year. In the city, you’re supposed to see 20 MPG while the highway stickers at 25. The bulk of our week with the Tucson involved short trips in the city and the car reported a regrettable 15 mpg, although that should come with a disclaimer. It rode on winter tires in weather cold enough to make Rudolph’s red nose call in sick. Only a few individual trips lasted much longer than the car took to properly warm up, so you can probably expect to beat that abysmal figure by a wide margin.
Small Changes to Cabin Equipment
The cabin also comes with new standard features like artificial leather trim on the door panels in all models, although Hyundai removed the leather-wrapped shift knob from the mid-grade Tucson, instead restricting it to the top “limited” trim.
Seat upholstery remains the same this year with cloth on the base car, a mixture of cloth and leatherette for mid-level models and leather for the highfalutin limited trim. That’s not all Hyundai keeps for its most expensive version, either. There’s also a technology package that costs $2,650 and adds the LED rear lamps mentioned earlier along with a panoramic sun roof, seven-inch touch-screen navigation system with traffic updates and a premium stereo.
The “infotainment” system is intuitive albeit weak at searching for destinations. Pre-programmed points of interest and intersections are one thing, but more obscure locations like a nightclub might be more challenging.
The panoramic sunroof is also disappointing. Half the fun of having a big-ass glass panel overhead is how much light it lets in, but the headliner cover is manually operated and split in two parts. You won’t be able to reach the back half while driving and to a certain extent that defeats the purpose. For the price, I’d steer clear of the tech package.
Cramped Cargo Area
In all cases, the Tucson has an ergonomic, intuitive cabin complemented by comfortable seats. With all the seats raised, there are 25.7 cubic feet of carrying space, which is far cry from the Subaru Forester’s 34.4. It’ll get the job done, but don’t try loading any big boxes back there without lowering the rear seatbacks. With such a sloping rear end, the cargo hold proved to be just big enough to fit one very disgruntled golden retriever. On a side note, Resolve Dual Power carpet cleaner works wonders on dog vomit. Sorry, Hyundai…
It could have been the cramped critter cabin cargo area that prompted Buddy the dog to lose his lunch, but that’s not the only possible culprit.
The Tucson isn’t “sporty” by any means, but its small size and competent engine make it engaging enough. Feedback from the electrically boosted steering can feel artificial if you’re a professional child (read car reviewer), but it really isn’t anything to fuss over.
For 2014, Hyundai is offering premium Sachs dampers across all models rather than just the mid- and top-tier variants. Macpherson struts in the front and multi-link equipment in the rear are standard fare for vehicles like this and corners feel appropriately unremarkable.
If anything, the suspension is too stiff. With an egalitarian approach to transmitting bumps, all sorts of pavement imperfections are perceptible through the posterior, big or small (the bumps, not the bums). Maybe this is where some of the blame for Buddy’s barf belongs.
In typical Hyundai fashion, the Tuscon is priced to be cheaper than most of the vehicles it competes with. A base two-wheel drive GLS model starts at $22,305 including an $855 delivery fee. Our limited model with the optional technology package came to $31,205 including the same freight charge.
Hyundai’s refreshed Tucson gets just enough to continue competing, but it’s a far cry from being a segment leader. Sub-par fuel economy and questionable cargo practicality in the name of style would be enough to drive us to another open house before signing on the dotted line.