It’s almost become as much of a cliché to say ‘Hyundai actually do rather nice cars’ as it was a few years ago to be that bore who pointed out that under Volkswagen ownership Skodas are no longer unreliable and cheaply made. Along with Kia, which Hyundai owns, the cars you find in showrooms today are a far cry from painfully bland and bargain basement models it churned out in the 90s. No model exemplifies this evolution quite like the 2021 Hyundai Tucson. This fourth generation is virtually unrecognisable compared to even the generation which came before it, with a concerted focus on style and design for the first time.
This revamp squares the new Tucson off firmly against other mid-priced SUVs which have premium aspirations when it comes to design, such as the Peugeot 3008 and Seat Ateca. Some may think the strategy risky, as for all its lacklustre looks the Tucson is still Hyundai’s biggest selling model up until this point. Its selling points of functionality, reliability and five-year warranty have been enough to persuade plenty of people to look past its drab design, leading to more than seven million sales since it arrived in 2004. In this review we’ll be finding out if the improvements made for the 2021 Hyundai Tucson are only skin deep, or if it really has done enough to broaden its market.
If you think you can skip this part because, after 17 years on sale, you know what a Hyundai Tucson looks like, think again. This fourth generation is virtually unrecognisable compared to the last: a complete exterior overhaul has moved it on from fuss-free but bland budget wagon to style-centric school gates fashion accessory. For starters, it’s grown by 15mm in width and 20mm length, but probably the most prominent design feature is that new ‘paramatic jewel’ front grille. Lord knows how Hyundai came up with that name, but it does looks incredibly slick and futuristic. When the lights are off it looks like a dark space, nothing of note about it, but when the LED headlights are turned on the grille sparkles as if made of gemstones, an effect created by encrusting the indents with mirrors.
From the side the Tucson has more than a whiff of the Lexus RX about it, using a heavily-raked A-pilar and muscular crease lines to sculpt the front and rear doors. From the back the design isn’t quite as flamboyant, with a fashionable strip light which merges into blade-shaped LEDs. On the whole we think the Tucson is a handsome SUV and is certainly as future-forward in design as something like the Peugeot 3008.
As you would expect the Tucson’s increased size has benefitted the interior, passengers now have an extra 26mm of legroom and boot space is up to 620-litres. The cabin has an airy feeling of roominess and in terms of cabin storage driving the Tucson is like wearing a large pair of dungarees: everywhere you put your hands there’s another pocket of space to put your clutter. The seats are comfortable and Hyundai offers the option of a heated rear bench, although the driver’s seat feels a little lacking in support, which becomes noticeable on longer drives. Visibility is just okay: while the driver’s position is lofty enough to command a good view of what’s ahead, the thick C and D-pillars encroach on visibility when reversing or checking your blind spot.
While it’s obvious the interior has been designed to appeal to the US-market in many ways – note the blobs of brushed silver and gloss black trim - the quality of materials used is of a high standard: they feel both robust and pleasing to the touch. The centrepiece is a 10.25-inch touchscreen which is a vast improvement over the last Tucson’s system (but that wasn’t hard). The screen blends with a control panel from which you can manage key functions like the climate, but this thoughtfulness is undermined slightly by the use of touch-sensitive buttons. While they add to the cutting edge design of the car, they can be tricky to use while driving, unless you’re prepared to take your eyes off the road.The driver also gets a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster which offers a generous amount of information and helps lift the Tucson into a much more premium segment than before.
The pretty-looking 10.25-inch infotainment system comes as standard on all trims and hosts Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, DAB and smartphone mirroring. When you consider the bottom SE Connect trim starts at £28,495 that’s impressive and evidence Hyundai is still doing what it does best: offering as much as it possibly can for the keenest price. The system itself is intuitive to use, with individual buttons to toggle through the nav, media, radio and so on, and the volume gets its own buttons too. It isn’t as responsive as the system which comes in the Seat Ateca, but at the same time it’s slicker than that found in the Peugeot 3008. The graphics are pin-sharp, although the screen itself gets a bit lost set against the shiny panel beneath it and, again, we wish some functions were given physical rather than touch-sensitive buttons.
Adding the Tech Pack to your Tucson brings with it a very clear and sharp 360 degree camera which also, when you indicate, beams a video stream of what’s in your blind spot on the side you are turning. It’s a great piece of kit which has the potential to prevent many accidents with cyclists and motorcyclists.
Predictably, the test car we were sent was in the top Ultimate trim. Starting at £32,895, at first glance seems pretty pricey for a Hyundai, but in actual fact it represents good value for money when you see what it comes with: fully ventilated front sears, heated rear seats, 19-inch alloy wheels, an ambient lighting package, leather steering wheel, smart adaptive cruise control, heated steering wheel, keyless entry and a Krell sound system. Even the entry SE Connect trim has dual zone climate control, high beam assist and a reversing camera with sensors. All trim levels have the forward collision avoidance assist system which can spot cars, pedestrians and cyclists.
The engine options are extensive, including a 148bhp standard 1.6-litre petrol, two 48v mild hybrids and a 227bhp full hybrid which has a battery capable of covering the slow stuff without having to engage the engine, and replenishes itself on the go. A plug-in hybrid version will be available any day now. We drove the full hybrid and enjoyed the eight seconds 0-62mph time afforded by the extra boost from the electric motor, it really does feel very eager off the line for such a big car. Our car had a six-speed normal automatic gearbox, but a seven-speed dual clutch is available and would probably negate the very slight sluggishness to downshift that our car was prone to.
Away from the spritely off-the-line performance, the driving experience is unremarkable but at the same time perfectly pleasant. With no adaptive damping the default suspension is tuned for all-round performance, and it handles lumps and bumps in a calm and unflappable manner. The trade-off of course is a tendency to roll and wallow a bit when carving hard through corners but it is no way near the worst car in the class for this. The Tucson has clearly been engineered for those who want a serene, uncomplicated driving experience, and it achieves this extremely well. The steering is light and responsive but devoid of any feel, but here at YesAuto we don’t mark family SUVs down on that. Anyone looking for a car which offers plenty of communication with the road via the wheels is not looking at a Tucson, period.
Hyundai has reinvented the Tucson, a car which already sold extremely well. We don’t think the new image will damage its popularity in any way whatsoever, in fact it will almost certainly recruit plenty of new customers to the brand. We live in an age where style is as important as substance, especially when it comes to the heavily-congested SUV market. The Tucson represents the start of a new era for Hyundai, and pretty soon we will have forgotten that they once made cheap, unimaginative cars at all: in the same way as no one brings up Skoda’s dreary previous life anymore.
Consumers are spoiled for choice when it comes to SUVs, but the Tucson can no longer be considered as the boring choice. The build quality is as good as anything from Volkswagen and the design will no doubt have Peugeot a little concerned, and with a focus on still giving customers as much equipment as possible for the price, the Tucson is one of the best value SUVs money can buy.
Price: As tested £37,195
Engine:1.6-litre turbocharged petrol four cylinder with full hybrid system
Top speed: 120mph