The Tucson's trendy European-inspired styling works well in this segment.
The Tucson's trendy European-inspired styling works well in this segment.
"It's like a comfy pair of slippers” we concluded after spending some time with the Hyundai ix35 1.7 CRDi two years back.

With that kind of heritage, its Tucson successor would be just perfect for the annual mad rush to the coast, I surmised as one magically appeared in our basement at the beginning of December for an extended holiday-period test. Ok it didn’t magically appear, rather some Hyundai staff members dropped it off in the hope that we wouldn’t bother them for more test cars while they were sipping cocktails on the beach, as we all should be at that time of the year.

As for the comfy slippers thing, I’m pleased to report that the new Tucson is all that and more. Let’s just say that they’ve added some extra padding and hired a trendy European stylist (you might have heard of Peter Schreyer by now) to make it look so good that you’ll happily go out in these slippers too.

Our subject here is the new 1.7 CRDi derivative that was announced late last year. An older version of this turbodiesel was offered in the ix35, but the diesels did a brief disappearing act when the Tucson range was launched earlier in 2016. This latest 1.7-litre oil burner boasts a lighter cylinder block and improved 2000-bar high-pressure injection system. Maximum power remains the same at 85kW but there is 20Nm more twisting force, with 280Nm available from as low down as 1250rpm.

Power goes to the front wheels via a very slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox and the engine is at the sophisticated end of the diesel spectrum. It gets off the mark with no discernible lag and puts its power down smoothly right through the rev range.

Performance is sprightly in town and the engine ticks over very quietly and unassumingly at cruising speeds, but it does feel a little short of breath when faced with steeper hills, necessitating a down-change or two. But it is at least impressively economical for a vehicle of its size and weight, sipping 5.8 litres per 100km on the 600km trip down to Durban and then later returning 7.5 * /100km around Joburg, in a mixture of urban and freeway driving.

But here’s the rub. The Tucson 1.7 CRDi Executive costs R449 900 and for the exact same price you could have the 130kW/265Nm 1.6-litre turbopetrol version, which offers totally effortless performance but with an obvious thirst penalty. Speed or economy, then? It’ll probably come down to how much petrol money you can put aside in your monthly budget, but if you opt for the diesel you can rest assured that it’s still a very satisfying all-rounder. Let’s not forget that Hyundai also offers a 2-litre diesel, with 131kW and 400Nm and some extra interior kit, but having the best of both worlds will mean stretching your budget to R519 900.

As you can see, the Tucson is no longer from the bargain bin, but the SUV has come extremely far from an engineering perspective and can hold its head up high among any of its rivals. In fact, the Tucson is so superbly insulated and rigidly engineered that you’ll feel like you’re behind the wheel of a truly premium product. Its quietness and rock-solid feel really stood out for me.

This SUV rolls on an all-new, and rather top-notch chassis featuring fully independent multi-link rear suspension and as a result it rides very comfortably and feels surefooted around corners, more so than you’d expect from a high-riding soft-roader like this.

Yet can it pull off the premium interior act? One thing’s for sure, it is very solidly built and you’ll never accuse it of looking cheap or nasty. They’ve even bathed big chunks of the dashboard in soft-touch slush-moulded plastic. It all looks rather smart and businesslike, but ultimately lacking in charisma. The overall atmosphere is just a little grey and sombre.

That said, the optional (as in R15 000 extra) 20cm touch-screen infotainment system with 3D navigation and Mirror Link smart-phone integration, did bring some high-tech ambience, and extra functionality, to the cabin. Yet while the conventional Bluetooth phone-pairing system worked rather painlessly, all of us had issues getting the cable-based Mirror Link system to work effectively.

The 1.7 TDCi is only offered with the mid-range Executive grade, but it is well appointed, with standard leather seats, dual zone climate control (including rear-seat ventilation) and cruise control fitted as standard, while those not opting for the touch-screen still get a decent six-speaker sound system and Bluetooth.

The Tucson is also comfortably sized for families, with acres of rear legroom, reclining rear seats, ample head space and a 513-litre boot.

VERDICT

Good looking and superbly engineered, the latest Tucson can count itself among the very best in its class, and the new 1.7-litre diesel version is economical, refined and adequately-powered for most situations. It is pricier than some rivals though, albeit still undercutting the latest Tiguan by a decent margin.

FACTS

Hyundai Tucson 1.7 CRDi Executive

Engine: 1.7-litre, 4-cylinder turbodiesel

Gearbox: 6-speed manual

Power: 85kW @ 4000rpm

Torque: 280Nm @ 1250-2750rpm

0-100km/h (claimed): 13.7 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 176km/h

Price: R449 900

Warranty: 5-year / 150 000km (7-year / 200 000km for drivetrain)

Service plan: 5-year / 120 000km

ALTERNATIVES

Nissan X-Trail 1.6 dCi XE - 96kW/320Nm – R408 900

Renault Kadjar 1.5 Dynamique - 81kW/260Nm – R394 900

VW Tiguan 2.0 TDi Comfortline - 81kW/250Nm – R469 500

IOL Motoring 

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