Forget the old Tucson’s humdrum worthiness – this generation of mid-size Hyundai SUV is dripping with desirability.
Compromises rarely work to anyone’s satisfaction – attempting to balance the needs of all parties while simultaneously sugaring the pill that has to be swallowed often results in an outcome that’s never as well-honed as it could have been, resulting in all-round apathy.
Few cars typify the notion of compromise like a plug-in hybrid. Small batteries mean short zero-emission ranges compared with fully electric cars, plus when they’re drained you’ve got a relatively small internal combustion engine hauling around the car and the heavy electrical hardware, increasing consumption of fossil fuels in the process. Good for on-paper low CO2 emissions, but as welcome as an Everton merchandise seller pitched-up outside Anfield in most other respects.
Nobody appears to have shared this chapter from the current edition of The Way The World Works with Hyundai’s engineers because – and I make no apologies for skipping straight to the back page here – the Plug-in Hybrid Tucson is one of the best family cars on sale. No qualifying statements or caveats required; it’s right up there. So much so that we awarded it our coveted Car of the Year award 2021, despite there not being a diesel variant in the UK line-up.
How so? Well, this is Hyundai’s second-generation plug-in hybrid at a time when other car manufacturers are just getting around to releasing their first. That’s not to say the compromise has been eradicated, but it does feel much more like the 1.6-litre petrol engine and electric motor are working in unison. Typically, I’m seeing 22 to 25 miles electric-only range out of it, depending on how cold the weather is outside. Not sparkling figures, but very good when you factor in much of my daily school run driving is on 60mph roads, with lots of slow speed corners followed by lengthy acceleration zones.
Occasionally in EV mode the engine will cut in with a booming din, to help power the heating, but it soon cuts out again to restore the peaceful balance. Inevitably, I’ve managed to average nowhere near the official claim of 201.8mpg, but in more than a thousand miles of driving it’s averaged a smidgen over 90mpg. Show me a diesel SUV of this size that comes close to that figure. Illustrated another way, the Tucson arrived with a full tank of unleaded and over the course of my time with it so far, I’ve refilled it once and still have half a tankful left.
Inside the Tucson there are few signs of compromise. Okay, it’s not as slickly minimalist as the Ioniq 5, but it feels largely constructed of high-quality materials – plush yet robust – and it’s tastefully styled. It certainly feels like a step up from a comparable Kuga. Personal preference would sway me towards a paler interior colour scheme, but the glazed panoramic roof on this range-topping Ultimate specification makes it feel airy, nonetheless.
Rear seat space is adequate rather than generous, with taller passengers’ knees glancing against the back of the front seats when they’re slid back, while whoever’s on the middle perch had best be of slender hips and hope they’re not sat there too long. Nevertheless, overall it’s a comfortable place for four adults to travel, aided by the trick cushiony suspension that yields a softer ride quality than might otherwise be expected for a car wearing 19-inch alloy wheels, yet doesn’t impinge on the overall neatness of the handling. Okay, it’s not exactly a fun car to hoon around, but neither is it forgettably unengaging – another agreeable compromise.
Some may prefer the Ford Kuga’s more sobre styling – although I’m a huge fan of the Hyundai’s multi-faceted appearance – and £3,000 lower price tag in Vignale form, but that ignores the Tucson’s far punchier, more economical and refined drivetrain, higher levels of standard kit and longer warranty.