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Auto review: That's a Hyundai? Tucson SUV is hi-tech head-turner

Henry Payne, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

The 2022 Hyundai Tucson might have been designed after the jagged edges of the Santa Catalina Mountains that surround the compact SUV's Arizona namesake. Or the chiseled stones that flood the street markets of Tucson's annual Gem and Mineral Show. Or maybe the Lamborghini Aventador's dramatic lines, since Hyundai's design chief Luc Donckerwolke once penned the Italian sports cars.

Whatever its inspiration, the Tucson is one of the most striking compact utes in the U.S.'s biggest volume, non-pickup segment.

From its big front grille to its sculpted flanks to the crazy quilt of shapes out back, the Hyundai looks like it was pieced together with shards of glass. Linger over the triangular shards in the big grille. Or the pie-piece taillights. Or the triangle-choked mesh below the rear bumper. The tri-theme reminds me of Ford's oval obsession with the 1996 Taurus, one of my favorite wagons from last century.

"You have to take a risk to get noticed," said Hyundai chief designer Chris Chapman, a Yankee whose Los Angeles studio was tasked with designing the brand's biggest U.S. seller.

Hyundai's U.S. team also knows the segment's formidable competition and American customers' habit of living in their cars for long commutes and trips. Segment leaders like the Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue and Ford Escape not only offer unique exteriors but roomy, livable interiors.

Now that Tucson's gemstone exterior had my attention, the interior is a study in Home & Garden practicality. Unlike the aforementioned Taurus, which carried its oval exterior theme inside, the Hyundai's exterior and interior designs are apples and oranges.

 

Make that triangles and rectangles.

The interior is built from simple, practical right angles. A pair of chromed lines border the cabin like a picket fence around an Arizona horse ranch. It's lovely, and — but for the console — uninterrupted.

Look closely, and that's because there isn't a hood over the instrument cluster. Like a Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Tucson's standard liquid crystal display screen (LCD) goes hood-free since it doesn't reflect the sun's glare. It makes for crisp digital graphics as well as a less-cluttered cabin. Slick.

Hyundai's obsession with simplicity continues into the console with twin, stacked rectangular touchscreens. The upper (expandable to 10.25 inches on upper trims) handles infotainment functions, the lower takes care of climate. Engineers and designers are always at war over ergonomics, and the designers won this battle with a clean, touch-only interface. Honda tried this in its last-gen CR-V and ultimately caved to consumer preferences for a volume knob.

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