SINGAPORE - Not many mass-market cars elicit a "wow" the moment you get behind the wheel. Hyundai's new Tucson Hybrid happens to be one of them.
The car sports a design theme first used on the Hyundai Avante sedan, with sharp origami-like creases on its body panels portraying dynamic tension. It works better on the Tucson, as the creases fold around pronounced wheel arches to accentuate the sport utility vehicle's ruggedness.
Its front is dominated by a louvred grille which blends seamlessly with the light assemblies. From a distance, you cannot quite tell where the grille ends and where the lights begin.
Its rear is a study in minimalist chic, with a double-wrench tail-lamp assembly and Hyundai's emblem encased in the rear windscreen, floating like a fly in ember.
The sophistication continues inside. The Tucson's fascia is as smooth and round-edged as a macaron, with pillar-to-pillar air-conditioning vents (all real, by the way), a sizeable infotainment touchscreen taking up almost the entire centre console and a tablet-like digital instrument panel which is unhooded and yet glare-free.
The smart styling is backed by functionality and purpose. For instance, the air-condition system has a diffuse mode which works better than diffuse modes in cars without the Hyundai's array of vents. The car's wireless phone-charging cradle is angled so you cannot see the screen (to minimise distraction), while allowing easy retrieval.
At the helm, you feel like you are in a truly new vehicle and not a yawn-inducing me-too clone.
As soon you as you hit the Drive button to move off, another surprise awaits. Like better hybrids, the Tucson starts off in electric mode. It is equipped with a powerful 44.2kW motor, which offers meaningful acceleration even in this fuel-saving mode.
When its 1.6-litre turbocharged engine joins in, the Tucson is formidable. The hybrid's output of 230hp is high for a 1.6-litre, allowing for breezy progress even in Eco mode. In Normal mode, it has no trouble keeping up with the swifter cars in the pack.
Hyundai says torque remains at 265Nm - unchanged from what the previous non-hybrid Tucson produced. The car feels significantly punchier, though. This is because the motor produces instant shove from 0 to 1,500rpm, but starts to taper off thereafter. From 1,500rpm, the engine's peak torque arrives.
Its stated eight-second century sprint is also conservative, as the hybrid is evidently quicker than that. Meanwhile, the car is refined, handles well and is reasonably comfy.
What is overstated is perhaps its efficiency. The test car averages 6.2 litres/100km, which is noticeably higher than the declared 4.8 litres/100km. On this front, Hyundai still lags behind Toyota, the hybrid pioneer and champ.
But in the driveability department, the Tucson certainly has the mettle to go toe to toe with the best, including the more technologically fanciful plug-in variety from the premium makes.
When cruising, the car readily goes into emission-free mode, but switches seamlessly and instantly to engine motor mode the moment you touch the throttle.
Unlike the previous Tucson, which had a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, this new car relies on a six-speed conventional autobox. This works well with the front-powered Hyundai and, unlike the continuously variable transmission favoured by Toyota for its hybrids, gives it the ebb-and-flow characteristic which old-school driving enthusiasts appreciate.
This is well worth the efficiency deficit, which, to be fair, has also partly to do with the Tucson's dimensions. The Czech-built car is a short wheelbase version which prioritises agility and yet is still bigger than the previous Tucson.
There is adequate space in the second row as well as in the boot. Levers in the boot flip the split backrest of the second row down to free up more cargo space.
As with many Hyundai cars, the Tucson Hybrid is good value. If you discount the difference in certificate-of-entitlement premiums, this punchy, economical car is merely 4.5 per cent costlier than its smaller non-hybrid when it was launched three years ago.
The car is generously equipped too. Premium amenities include memory seats, paddle shifters, adaptive cruise control, active lane-keeping and a panoramic sunroof.
ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Hyundai Tucson Hybrid
- Engine: 1,598cc 16-valve inline-4 turbocharged paired with 44.2kW electric motor
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic with paddle shift
- Power: 230hp at 5,500rpm
- Torque: 265Nm at 1,500-4,500rpm
- 0-100kmh: 8 seconds
- Top speed: 193kmh
- Fuel consumption: 4.8 litres/ 100km