Mid-cycle refreshes are called “facelifts” because, aside from a nose job and a price hike, you don’t get much else. Every once in a while though, a car manufacturer adds a bit more spice into the mix. One such case is the refreshed Hyundai Tucson. It may look like the same one that debuted in 2009; drive one, however, and you’ll experience the difference.
As one of the first vehicles developed under Hyundai’s “Fluidic Sculpture” design philosophy, the Tucson was revolutionary when it broke cover in 2009. Penned by, bet you didn’t know—former BMW designer Thomas Buerkle, the Tucson is full of sweeping curves and a coupe-like roofline. Five years on, the design is holding up well. Taken on its own, the Tucson still looks futuristic. That in mind, Hyundai designers didn’t mess with the sheet metal for the refresh, but they did swap the lights and the wheels to blend it with the family look. The front projectors with LED park light “eyebrows” are clearly influenced by the Santa Fe while the rear LED brake lamps give off an unmistakably cool molten lava appearance when lit at night. The wheels, though keeping the same size and diameter as before, are now painted in gunmetal gray.
Like the exterior, the 2014 Tucson’s interior is almost untouched from when it launched. For the refresh, Hyundai revamped the climate control buttons (now finished in rubberized matte plastics) and the shifter (from a gate-type to a more conventional setup). Overall, the interior remains a modern and sleek design, particularly in the X-shaped center console, but the choice of materials is now lagging behind the competition, especially in the expansive use of hard, scuff-prone plastics. The leather/fabric combination seats are generally comfortable but the ideal driving position is more upright than usual because of the lack of a telescopic steering column—something that’s standard in every other compact crossover now. Space-wise, the Tucson is still up there. Those in the back will enjoy comfy seating for three complete with their own aircon vents.
For 2014, Hyundai upped the entertainment system of the Tucson by swapping the OE radio for an aftermarket job from DVD/GPS-go-to-guys, AVT. Though it does give the Tucson much more entertainment options (and a built-in Bluetooth hands-free and rear parking camera to boot), the interface is clunky with a display that washes out at the slightest hint of sunlight. Plus, it leaves an unsightly panel gap.
Now to the part you’ve all been waiting for: performance. The biggest headline for 2014 is that Hyundai has swapped the 2.0-liter Theta-II engine for the Nu engine. On paper, it seems would-be owners just lost the lottery with a power decrease from 165 to 158 hp and torque decrease from 197 to 192 Nm. But based purely on seat-of-the-pants experience, the Tucson feels perkier from a standstill. Perhaps the power curve is less peaky or the majority of the power is available down low, but whatever the reason, there’s good pull. The new engine is noticeably quieter, smoother, and slightly more fuel efficient than its predecessor. Where the old Theta-II mustered only 8.26 km/L in in city driving, the Nu-powered Tucson does it at 8.85 km/L or (a 6 percent improvement).
In terms of road manners, the 2014 Tucson is already feeling its age. The electric power steering has almost no feel and is rather slow responding near the center. This has been purposely done probably to improve its highway behavior, but in reality, it’s still susceptible to crosswinds and road undulations. And it’s a shame given it’s one of the quietest compact crossovers in the market today. The suspension is on the firm side and this makes the Tucson a surprisingly spirited and agile crossover to take into corners. On the flipside, because this suspension is paired with a not-so-stiff body structure, it tends to send every road imperfection straight into the cabin.
What does the price of the new drivetrain cost? P1,288,000. This price hike of more than P 100,000 would be easier to swallow if Hyundai put more standard equipment apart from the new engine. Alas, Hyundai has kept everything steady. The 2014 model loses the steering wheel controls in favor of a back-up camera and a GPS navigation system. The rest of the equipment is the same: dual SRS airbags, ABS, rear parking sensors, multi-information display, and leather/fabric combinations seats. And there’s the rub. In its new price range, the Tucson is already precariously close to the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, and the Mazda CX-5—much more polished, more refined, and certainly newer crossovers.
The verdict? The Tucson will still sway buyers who are after fuel efficiency and its curvaceous styling, but time is catching up to it.