The Sabbanahalli reservoir, located about a couple of hours north of Bengaluru, is filled to the brim—southern Karnataka received good rainfall this year. It is also an oasis of peace, compared to India’s Information Technology capital whose denizens complain about manic traffic every single day of the week on various social media platforms. The road to the reservoir is also a lovely place to experience new vehicles and I was there earlier this week to test drive the new Hyundai Tucson.
As I drove the car, I could not help but think about how this vehicle, rather this nameplate, Hyundai’s long-serving nameplate in India, is symbolic of just how far the Korean carmaker has come in the past two decades. Back in 2001, when Hyundai brought in the first Tucson, India was yet to really catch the ‘SUV fever’. The Tucson was brought alongside the Terracan, a fully-fledged off-road capable SUV, but the former was brought in as a vehicle to not only give a taste of Hyundai’s capabilities as a carmaker but also bring in an SUV for those who didn’t want or could not afford the Terracan. The Tucson cost just over Rs 10 lakh back then, a substantial sum of money.
And frankly, the first-generation Tucson was not only quite an ugly vehicle, but also drove pretty badly. The heavy engine up front, coupled with the front-wheel drive system, gives the first-generation car massive amounts of understeer, a condition best explained as a vehicle refusing to turn as hard as you would like it to. But it was not just the Tucson, there was an old Hyundai Accent in the family and that car also used to wallow around corners. And then there was the original Santro, which didn’t have some of these issues because it could not go fast enough, but the less said about its looks, the better.
Twenty years is a long time and Hyundai has surely come a long, long way. Just look at the new Tucson—the parametric design on the grille with the hidden daytime running lights, the dual-taillights and the creases and curves across the side profile of the car. The new Tucson looks properly good and has a road presence. Inside it is more of the same, two large 10.25-inch displays dominate the front—one as the instrument cluster and the other as the infotainment panel. In the past two decades, Hyundai Motors has clearly spent money on its ergonomics department. The front seats are comfortable and the legroom in the second row is pretty darn good. Boot space is more than sufficient for a family holiday.
Then there is the matter of the way the new Tucson drives. Add to that the road to Sabbanahalli, which had it all—parts of it had a fresh black top and was twisty, and another section was under water, with the overflow from the reservoir. There was also the highway. One thing I genuinely do not understand is the propensity of the local authorities in Maharashtra and Karnataka to put speed breakers on high-speed roads. But the new Tucson handled it all—no matter what the surface or how twisty the road. As for speed, particularly on the diesel, the high-speed performance of the Tucson was impressive—the 186 PS two-litre diesel with the eight-speed gearbox is identical to that on the outgoing Tucson. And it is a solid engine and gearbox combination. Hyundai has deliberately tuned down the performance on the petrol two-litre ‘Nu’ engine that just produces 156 PS, and that was evident on the highway. The petrol motor doesn’t have the get-up-and-go of the diesel.
Features justify Tucson’s price
Despite the fact that the new Tucson is longer, wider and taller than the outgoing model, many found the price of the new iteration to be unpalatable because the engine options are the same. The price for the base model petrol at Rs 27.7 lakh is a straight Rs 5 lakh premium on the outgoing model but both the Platinum and Signature trims of the new Tucson offer an eight-speaker BOSE audio system and a panoramic sunroof as standard, as well as the signature lights.
The Signature variant through, which has a Rs 2.5 lakh premium on the Platinum model, comes with Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). As I wrote a couple of months ago, I’m not such a huge fan of ADAS, but while driving down National Highway 44 this time using the ADAS, the adaptive cruise control was quite nifty in adjusting your speed. You can also adjust the distance you wish to keep from the vehicle ahead. This, along with the lane-keeping assist, can be quite useful. The Tucson is the first vehicle wearing a Hyundai badge to provide ADAS and it will not be the last. The top-end diesel variant with Hyundai’s all-wheel drive and terrain management system will cost a pretty penny at Rs 34.3 lakh, but it’s loaded with ADAS and other features. Hyundai officials say that even that variant will hit Hyundai’s ‘value for money’ reputation straight dead and centre.
That said, the Tucson has never been a big seller for Hyundai. The first model came well before the age of SUVs and subsequent models have been seen to be expensive compared to what they offered. Even today, a fully-loaded Hyundai Alcazar, which is based on the Creta platform, is less expensive and slightly larger than the Tucson. But Hyundai executives claim that the first 2,000 units are already spoken for before the price announcement and they expect to sell 5,000 of these cars every year. This is a lot for a Rs 30+ lakh vehicle, especially since the outgoing model only occasionally sold a hundred units per month. But it is a good car to drive and does come loaded to the gills. And when you remember where Hyundai came from, this is a tremendous machine.
@kushanmitra is an automotive journalist based in New Delhi. Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)