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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.

Hyundai buyers may ultimately demand the same, but the Tucson's design is more elegant than the Honda, so we'll see. For now, the driver can easily adjust volume using thumb tabs on the steering wheel while the passenger can poke at the screen's up-and-down volume arrows.

The design theme continues through the lower console with the transmission function actuated through a (rectangular, natch) push-button shifter. The space-saving device opens acres of room for console storage and cupholders.

Room is the priority beyond the front seats. Every compact SUV wants best-in-class claims, and Tucson drops the mic with class-leading leg and cargo room. Rear seats are pickup-roomy. I easily sat behind my big 6'5" self with inches to spare before my knees met the front seat.

Continuing the Tucson's appeal to giant Yankees, the cargo area is also best in class. Flatten the rear seats and you can transport a jumbo LCD television screen back there to go with the tiny LCD instrument display up front. If you have a family that spends a lot of time in the back, Hyundai offers option like heated rear seats, multiple USB ports and a panoramic roof.

Once an attractive, conservative family hauler, the Hyundais have been dressing to the nines for the roaring '20s. Tucson follows the Hyundai Elantra, Veloster and Sonata with extreme wardrobe makeovers. The racy styling has been complemented with more pep under the hood, too. The Sonata, Elantra and Veloster have all received N-badged performance versions with taut suspensions and more ponies under the hood.

Tucson is content to leave the fast footwork to its siblings.

The compact SUV options an N-line trim, but it's a showpiece only with blacked-out trim and bigger wheels. Crack open the hood and you won't find a 295-horse (Sonata N) or 275-horse (Veloster N) furnace within — just a pair of reliable, sippy four-bangers. That's in keeping with the Tucson's determination to get you to your destination unruffled.

I tested both the 187-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-banger and 227-horse 1.6-liter turbo 4 hybrid, and they are almost indistinguishable (save the hybrid's better low-end torque) under the cane given the cabin's boardroom quiet. Credit slavish attention to detail as engineers have applied triple-layer lamination to the front windshield, a beefy firewall, and extensive sound-deadening throughout the cabin.

The compact yacht doesn't encourage heavy left foots anyway. This is no Mazda CX-5 or Chevy Equinox with corner-carving ambitions. The Tucson wants you to admire its wardrobe as it saunters by.

Tucson competitors Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape have big hybrid ambitions in the compact SUV space, with both targeting 30% hybrid sales. Hyundai won't give any sales goals, but don't expect the usual Hyundai price bargain. The 37-mpg Tucson hybrid — Hyundai's first effort in this segment — is priced right on top of ($32,835) the 41-mpg Ford Escape hybrid ($32,990) when equipped with my essential features (AWD, blind-spot assist, adaptive cruise control).

 

It's just a $1,250 premium over the standard 2.5-liter, meaning you'll get your money back in under four years at $3 a gallon of gas courtesy of the hybrid's 30% better fuel efficiency.

Given the cabin quiet, I'd be content with the 2.5-liter. In keeping with its smartphone-like LCD screens, the Tucson boasts wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Climb into the comfy front thrones and the Tucson recognizes your phone. Simply bark your destination to Google Maps and you're on your way to the next destination.

In Tucson, my destination was Arizona Zipline Adventures in the middle of the desert. Like Michigan winters and sandy coastlines, its slippery terrain rewards a good all-wheel-drive system, and Tucson comes equipped with an electronic transfer case that is lockable for maximum traction below 20 mph.

Like a Jeep, the Tucson's four wheels churned happily away in unison in order to maintain traction. And like a Lambo, I couldn't stop looking at its angles.

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2022 Hyundai Tucson

Vehicle type: Front engine, front- and all-wheel-drive, five-passenger SUV

Price: $26,135, including $1,185 destination fee ($37,454 2.5-liter Limited AWD and $38,704 Hybrid Limited as tested)

Powerplant: 2.5-liter 4 cylinder; 1.6-liter turbo-4 mated to an electric motor and 13.8 kWh lithium ion battery

Power: 187 horsepower, 178 pound-feet torque (2.5-liter); 226 horsepower, 195 pound-feet torque (hybrid)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic (2.5-liter); 6-speed automatic (hybrid)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.5 seconds (2.5-liter, Car and Driver est.); towing capacity, 2,000 pounds

Weight: 3,651 pounds (2.5-liter Limited)

Fuel economy: EPA mpg 24 city/29 highway/26 combined (2.5-liter); 37 city/36 highway/37 combined (hybrid)

Report card

Highs: Daring exterior; spare, high-tech interior

Lows: No volume knob; no FWD option for hybrid

Overall: 4 stars

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