Review: Tuscon SUV's merits lie in the small print

Hyundai UK sales have crept forward this year but not by as much as those of its sibling in South Korea's Hyundai Group, Kia. The group make their cars around the world and give them exotic names like Sorento (sic) and Santa Fe and Tucson and odd names like ix35 and cee'd and Optima and Niro and Getz.

The Tuscon has a flashy grille, but its performance is as unexciting as its smart interior
The Tuscon has a flashy grille, but its performance is as unexciting as its smart interior

The Tucson is Hyundai’s best seller in Britain. It is a stocky five-seater SUV. I am the only person in this room who has been to Sorrento and Santa Fe and Tucson. The room is actually empty (except for me, of course) but it’s a fair bet that most Tucson owners have never been to that Arizona border town, nor to Santa Fe nor Sorrento.

Kia’s nearest version to the Tucson is the Sportage, built in Slovakia. The Tucson sold in Britain comes from its factory in the Czech Republic. There are some sizing and styling distinctions, notably at the front, where the Tucson has a larger and more imposing slatted air intake. In size the Kia sits between the old Hyundai ix35 and its replacement, the Tucson. Sportage shares the same wheelbase as the ix35.

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After you’ve done the appropriate horse-trading with the dealers, the choice may come down to warranties and money. Kia offers a seven-year term or 100,000 miles. Hyundai gives you five years with unlimited mileage so how far you drive will determine which is the better deal for you.

These cars are in the sub Audi/VW price bracket which gives them a popular appeal. The Tucson costs from £19,000 with a 1.6 petrol engine. It takes 27 per cent of Hyundai UK sales and of those sales one in two go for the mid-range SE Nav, from £21,645 with front wheel drive and a 130bhp 1.6 petrol engine. For that you get a flashy-looking front-wheel-drive SUV. Prices with 4x4 drive start at £26,175 for the 134bhp 2 litre diesel SE Nav.

The Tucson is slightly bulkier than the Sportage, with more luggage capacity, is heavier and has a higher towing rating. Choices, more choices.

Kia has put its sponsorship money into football. Its name was plastered along the side of the coach carrying off the hapless but very wealthy England team who lost to rather poorer Iceland in Euro 2016. Hyundai also puts money into soccer, as well as backing Sir Bradley Wiggins’ cycling squad. There is a Team Wiggins version of its largest SUV, the Santa Fe. His team is using Hyundai vehicles this season, having started with the Tour de Yorkshire in May.

This funding points to the audiences Hyundai wants to reach. Year to date its sales are still slightly ahead of Kia, but as noted earlier, Kia is closing fast.

My week in the Tucson was unremarkable. The test car was the Premium, which takes 17 per cent of sales and costs from £25,395 with a revised 139bhp 1.7 “blue drive” diesel carried over from the ix35, fitted with a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic gearbox and front-wheel drive.

My plush demo car was fitted with the higher torque 134bhp 2-litre diesel with manual gears and 4x4 drive – front drive is not offered in Premium trim with this engine.

It was one of those cars which was perfectly acceptable but not riveting. It did everything well enough. It took me on a long motorway drive south, where the speed limiter was useful in the seemingly everlasting 50mph sections. Cruise control is also fitted but in those 50 zones (and other busy sections) braking is often necessary – as when drivers overtake you and then, obtusely, drop their speed.

In the Tucson class you’ll be looking also at Nissan’s big-selling, slightly smaller Qashqai from Sunderland and Renault’s very brightly styled Kadjar version from Spain. The Tucson scores if you want a commanding design, taking cues from the flagship Santa Fe.

The inside is smart rather than exciting (Kadjar) – but neither of these Renault-Nissan Alliance rivals can match its standard warranty, which means a lot to private buyers. Mazda’s CX-5 (three-year warranty) is also worth looking at. It’s not as well-known but owners love it and it is fun to drive.

Performance from the Tucson 2-litre diesel was good enough. Its 0-62mph time of 10.9 seconds means you’ll not be racing away from the lights: it’s not that sort of contender. There is always the 183bhp diesel engine for faster movers.

Typical fuel consumption was in the low 40s, well below its official average. Strangely, the bar chart showing instant fuel consumption only went up to 50mpg – well below its factory figures.

Verdict: One of those cars which left me lukewarm, but its unlimited mileage five-year warranty counts if you do well above average mileage. Otherwise Kia’s seven-year warranty may appeal.