The Hyundai ix35 has been a resounding success in Ireland, competing directly with the top-selling Nissan Qashqai, but 2015 is the last full year of sales of the crossover, as Hyundai revives the Tucson name for an all-new replacement, due here in the first quarter of 2016. As we don't yet know how much more expensive the newcomer will be, it's difficult to fully review the new car, but first impressions suggest that Hyundai has another winner on its hands.
In the Metal:
At a glance, the new Hyundai Tucson could be mistaken for its big brother, the Santa Fe. That's no accident, as Hyundai intends its compact SUV to be seen as a cut above the ix35 it will replace. Hence the adoption of the bold front grille and plenty of sharp detailing. It's wider and longer than the ix35 too, with 30mm more legroom in the wheelbase and a bigger boot than before. While it's undeniably an attractive shape, Hyundai's designers haven't gone overboard, so there's nothing radical about the design. In short, it has universal appeal.
Buyers won't be put off by what they see inside the Tucson either. The increased dimensions make it feel more spacious, but what's more immediately obvious is how Hyundai has raised the perceived quality. This cabin stands up to comparison with premium SUVs, certainly when kitted out with all the bells and whistles as the international launch cars were. Niceties such as supple leather upholstery, front seat ventilation and even rear seat heating are all available - at a cost no doubt.
First, the aspects of our test car that are probably irrelevant to most future Hyundai Tucson buyers in Ireland: the 2.0-litre CRDi engine is smooth and quiet, even when revved, and when paired with a manual gearbox it has plenty of pulling power. The automatic transmission tested here is a little slow-witted on a twisty road (yet, bizarrely, a fraction quicker accelerating according to the official numbers), but suits the premium feel of the Tucson for those that spend a lot of time on the motorway. The four-wheel drive system is subtle in its operation on a dry road, with all power to the front wheels unless a loss of traction is detected. Up to 50 per cent of the engine output can automatically be sent to the rear axle and, for really slippery low-speed situations, the driver can choose the lock the split at 50:50.
Most buyers will go for a front-wheel drive Tucson powered by the 1.7-litre CRDi diesel engine, which we have yet to review. Nonetheless, we expect the refinement and comfort experienced in the launch cars to carry over to all variants. That means class-leading quietness on the move. This car's refinement really stood out. Our only bugbear is with the odd-feeling electric power steering system, which has two modes of operation (Normal and Sport); we'll revisit that when cars arrive in Ireland. The chassis itself is accomplished though, in that it marries good comfort and bump absorption with decent body control through corners. It's not as fun to drive as say a Mazda CX-5, but by any other measure it's a proficient all-rounder - and tangibly better than the ix35.
What you get for your Money:
Given the continuing strong demand for the ix35, it's understandable that Hyundai Ireland is keeping its cards close to its chest on the Tucson. We don't have a launch date (other than 'first quarter of 2016') and we don't have a starting price, though it's expected that the new car will be a little more expensive as Hyundai aims to push the brand further upmarket. At the time of writing, the ix35 starts at €25,495 (excluding delivery and related charges) and that car's 1.7-litre CRDi diesel engine will be carried over and is expected to continue to be the most popular. Four-wheel drive versions are likely to be powered by the 2.0-litre CRDi engine reviewed here.
Our first drive in the new Hyundai Tucson reveals an impressive new replacement for the ix35 crossover. Admittedly, the car we tested is unlikely to be representative of the majority of examples sold in Ireland when it arrives in 2016, but if all versions feature the high quality feel and refined manners then Hyundai Ireland could have another sales success with which to continue its surge up the charts.