Hyundai is thinking big at the moment. The company is currently the seventh-largest carmaker in the world, with 1.96 million sales worldwide in 2003. The target for 2004 is 2.15 million.
‘We are consciously building a world class brand,’ Kwang Heum Um, president of Hyundai Motor Europe told journalists at the European press launch of its latest model the Tucson sport utility vehicle (SUV).
Inevitably, thinking globally means following the latest worldwide market trends and with the launch of the Tucson (pronounced Too-son) in August, the company is doing just that. The global demand for compact SUVs is expected to grow at twice the rate of the overall car market for the next few years, at some 6.6% a year.
Hyundai plans to be selling 200,000 Tucsons a year by 2006, with some 65,000 destined for Europe. For the UK, around 3,500 sales are expected next year.
The Tucson brings Hyundai’s tally of 4x4 models to three. The Santa Fe appeared in 2001, followed last year by the heavyweight Terracan. Since the Santa Fe seemed to be happily grazing in Land Rover Freelander/Toyota RAV4/Nissan X-trail territory, the question is, where does the Tucson fit into all this? Both the Tucson and Santa Fe are based on a modified Hyundai Coupe platform, just to add to the confusion.
The difference is that the Tucson boasts shorter overhangs and a different four-wheel drive system, but some overlap with the Santa Fe is inevitable in other areas. Whereas the Santa Fe has permanent four-wheel-drive with the drive split evenly between the front and rear wheels, the Tucson uses a ‘torque-on-demand’ system, favoured by most of the soft-roaders. Normally, all drive is directed to the front wheels as in an SUV like the X-trail, but sensors around the car detect wheel slip and can divert up to 50% of the drive to the back wheels. The system is fully automatic, but at speeds below 25mph, the 50/50 drive split can be locked on.
The Tucson draws on Santa Fe styling but is less controversial than its curvy big brother, with crisper lines all round. Not surprisingly, a few things are common to both.
The engines for instance. Both the 2.0-litre common rail diesel and 2.7-litre petrol V6 are shared, but the 2.0-litre petrol only appears in the Tucson. The diesel is still Euro-III, so attracts the usual 3% BIK tax penalty. But given the likely price, it will still prove tax-efficient compared with more expensive rivals. Trim options follow established Hyundai practice, with GSi as the entry-level model and CDX with more kit.
Standard equipment will include front, side and curtain airbags, ABS brakes, traction control, front foglights, an alarm and immobiliser, electric windows, door mirrors and sunroof, roof bars and a CD player. UK specifications have yet to be finalised, but it doesn’t look as though GSi buyers will be short-changed.
In fleet terms, Hyundai does not anticipate much from the Tucson, predicting relatively small sales. User-choosers looking for something a bit different on a budget are the likely clientele.
Product manager Tina Dexter said she expected the 2.0-litre diesel to be the best selling model, probably in GSi spec. Diesels are expected to account for around 60% of all sales initially, with the 2.0-litre petrol mopping up most of the rest. The V6, only available with a four-speed automatic gearbox, will take the remaining few per cent.
Prices have yet to be announced but they will fall below the Santa Fe, putting them in the £15,000 – £17,000 bracket. That’s good value compared with its soft-roader rivals, where the Toyota Rav4 starts at just over £16,200, the Nissan X-trail at 16,700 and the Honda CR-V at just under £17,000.
Hyundai does not yet have a forecast for residual values, but the Santa Fe is probably a good indicator. Glass’s Guide suggests that 2001/40,000 mile diesel examples are hanging on to around 50% of their value. No doubt the five-year unlimited mileage warranty helps matters along.
Behind the wheel
Inside, the instrument cluster looks quaint, but otherwise the dash styling is crisp and modern, while build quality is sound if you don’t mind grey or beige plastic everywhere.
The auxiliary controls – heating, ventilation and audio – are grouped centrally, with the gear lever sitting on an extension to the centre of the dash. The driving position isn’t bad and the seats proved comfortable after a morning’s drive, despite the limited steering wheel movement and fussy seat adjustments.
What impresses is the interior space, front and back. There’s plenty of leg and head room for adults in the back, behind adults in the front. On a practical note, the back seat folding system is commendably simple.
The seat backs simply drop down at the release of a catch, with head rests retracted. They then lock into place in the down position, released again by the seatback catches. The resulting surface is a flat floor extending forward from the boot with plastic lined seatbacks offering a wipe clean finish.
The boot net can be used vertically or horizontally too. Boot space is not great, but comparable with the Freelander and RAV4.
The diesel engine is good rather than outstanding, delivering similar power to the RAV4 and Freelander. It’s offered with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, the same box that’s standard with the 2.7-litre V6. That engine was silky smooth and powerful – although the auto ‘box could be hesitant and jerky. Unfortunately, there were no two-litre petrol models available to drive.
The chassis is certainly not disgraced compared with more expensive rivals. Like most of those, steering responses are dulled, designed to avoid kick-back over ruts and bumps. Apart from that, handling is tidy and the ride good – pleasantly firm but not stiff. The car had no difficulty with the country tracks on our test route, just what it’s designed to deal with.
The Tucson may lack the finesse of most rivals, but none of them can match its expected price. For some that will be good enough, but add in generous specifications, including impressive safety credentials and good build quality and the Tucson makes a sensible case for itself.
|2.0 CVVT||2.7 V6||2.0 CRDI|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||139/6,000||173/6,000||111/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||136/4,500||178/4,000||181/4,000|
|Max speed (mph):||108||112||104|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||34.4||28.2||39.7|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||194||237||187|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||75/16.5|
|Transmission:||5-sp man/||4-sp auto|
|Service intervals:||10,000 miles|
|On sale:||Aug 14|