If you’re going to take on Honda and Toyota in the compact SUV segment – the most cutthroat one currently on the market – you better bring something bigger than a BB gun. The 2019 Hyundai Tucson isn’t a BB gun. In fact, for Hyundai, it’s the brand’s K2 Black Panther tank. But it doesn’t have the same 55 caliber 120-mm main gun, trick hydropneumatic suspension, or modular armor. OK, so the Hyundai Tucson isn’t a tank, but it is Hyundai’s heavy hitting SUV.
In 2018, the Tucson was Hyundai’s best-selling SUV and its second best-selling model behind the Elantra. Last year, the Tucson nameplate accounted for 142,299 units. That’s chump change compared to the RAV4’s 427,168 units sold and the CR-V’s 379,013 units, but everything’s relative.
While the Tucson may not be as popular as its major Japanese rivals, it’s not for a lack of trying. I mean, at this point, I’m sure the executives at Hyundai are scratching their heads asking, “What on Earth could we possibly do better?” After spending a week with the compact SUV, I really only found one area where the Tucson didn’t wow me. And I’m a grumpy, cynical millennial that’s sleep deprived. I shouldn’t be this impressed.
Consumers are really interested in edgy designs these days, but Hyundai has resisted the urge to follow the trend with the Tucson, which is classically styled. Having an older design doesn’t necessarily make the Tucson look old, though. In fact, the automaker has made some changes to keep its little SUV fresh among newer contenders.
A restyled grille featuring Hyundai’s cascading design, refreshed headlights, and a tweaked front fascia steal the show at the front. With the LED daytime running lights on, I think the front end is the best part of the SUV. The second best things are the wheels, which are 18-inch units with more edges than a moody teenager. Speaking of the wheels, the 18-inch ones are new, while the 17- and 19-inch wheels have been redesigned, too.
At the back, the Tucson wears a new rear fascia, a new rear taillight design, and a revised exhaust finisher for SEL trims and up. I can’t pinpoint what it is, but the back end seems a little odd. Maybe it’s the sharp crease connecting the taillights, or the odd proportions that make the bottom half seem longer than the top half, but the rear end isn’t the prettiest angle. Flicking the light switch brings a gorgeous taillight design through, which alleviates some of the issues.
The Ultimate AWD trim we tested was packed to the gills with all sorts of features. Going to the top nets you high-beam assist, an enormous panoramic sunroof, heated side-view mirrors, a hands-free smart lift gate, fog lights, and a chrome-tipped dual exhaust outlet.
The outside of the Tucson may not wow you, but as far as first impressions go, the SUV makes an excellent one when it comes to the cabin. Besides being aesthetically pleasing, everything just feels so good. The dashboard flows, but still manages to have a center console that maintains its usability. It may be a compact, but the Tucson also has a decent amount of space. Unless you’re part of a family of giants, everyone will be comfortable.
Hyundai made some alterations to the Tucson’s cabin to match the mildly refreshed interior. The main and most obvious change is the center console, which now sports a tablet-like touchscreen. Usually, I’m not a huge of the design, because they come off as cheap, but Hyundai’s managed to make the transition not as offensive.
Small little quibbles aside, there’s just so much to like with the Tucson’s cabin. The seats, well they’re downright amazing. After covering nearly 300 miles over the span of a weekend, I didn’t have a sore area on my body. Being able to get out of a car after a long drive and not having to hobble around for the first five minutes out of the car is something people take for granted. The cabin is downright quiet, too. It doesn’t really matter what speed you’re going, nothing, besides a tiny little clamor from the engine makes its way in.
The only real complaint the Tucson is worthy of receiving is with its cargo area. At 61.9 cubic feet of space in total, the Tucson can’t match what the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V have (69.8 cubic feet and 75.8 cubic feet, respectively). While you might not notice the extra 7 cubic feet in the RAV4, the CR-V’s extra 14 cubic feet is a major improvement.
Once again, you get an amazing amount of equipment by going with one of the Tucson’s higher trims. Heated and ventilated leather front seats, heated rear seats, an 8-inch touchscreen, a heated steering wheel, a 4.2-inch LCD gauge cluster, a wireless charging pad, and dual-zone climate control are standard.
If there’s one area where the Tucson truly falls behind its rivals, it’s in the powertrain department. The Tucson we tested was fitted with the larger 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 181 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. It may be the most powerful engine in the lineup, but the engine never feels, powerful. Sure, there’s enough power to get around town and enough to go on an enjoyable beach vacation, but if you enjoy having enough juice to accelerate in anything that might resemble sportiness, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
Not having a lot of power is fine. There’s no reason for the Hyundai Tucson to be a 400-hp brute, and the way the power is delivered matches the whole vehicle’s upscale theme well. But with only 181 hp on tap, one would expect the SUV to be somewhat decent when it comes to fuel economy. Yet again, you’ll be left wanting more in that aspect, too.
The all-wheel-drive tester we had has an EPA rating of 23 mpg combined. During our time, we managed to get 24 mpg combined. Things are better for the most efficient Tucson, which comes with front-wheel drive and a 161-hp 2.0-liter inline-four. That configuration is rated to get 26 mpg combined. In their most efficient layouts, both the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V can get up to 30 mpg combined. And that’s before you consider those SUVs’ hybrid versions.
What the Tucson lacks in performance, it happily makes up for in comfort. The ride is superb for an affordable compact vehicle of any kind. I was more than happy to take roads I know cause other vehicles to get bent out of shape at high speeds in the Tucson, because it doesn’t let anything but a slight jostle in. Railroad tracks, potholes the sizes of small dogs, and other random pieces of debris on Baltimore’s roads did nothing to throw the Tucson off. I felt none of it from the cabin.
It’s easy to hate on crossovers. But take your hater Ray Ban shades off for a second and put your realistic hat of truth on and it’s easy to see that the Tucson is great. It manages to check off so many boxes that it’s hard to fault. It’s affordable, even in its higher trims, comes with an excellent list of standard equipment – which includes even more safety features than before – and feels relatively luxurious.
If fuel economy and performance aren’t priorities – and why should they be when gas is cheap and crossovers aren’t performance vehicles anyways? – the Tucson is just such a good option. Even for someone that yearns for a stripped-out sports car with cloth seats, a manual transmission, a simple radio, and a V8, I can see that the Hyundai Tucson is a great vehicle.