By Brady Holt @BradyHoltAutos
Ask most automotive journalists to name the best compact crossover, and you’ll likely hear one of several names. The Honda CR-V offers tremendous interior space and fuel economy, along with pleasant driving dynamics. The Mazda CX-5 is sporty and luxurious. The newly-redesigned Subaru Forester brings new refinement to a highly-functional, user-friendly package.
But perhaps you’re looking to spend a little less. With the newly-updated 2019 Hyundai Tucson, the Korean automaker has just boosted its standing as a value leader among compact crossovers.
Priced from $24,245 with generous standard equipment and a long warranty, the new Tucson offers up-to-date technology and comfort, but less luxury, sportiness, interior volume and fuel economy than the pricier class leaders.
For 2019, Hyundai has given the Tucson a suite of advanced safety features as no-cost standard equipment on every model. These include a forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, a lane-departure warning with automatic steering corrections, and a driver attention monitor.
Previously, the Tucson offered the best technology only on the fully-loaded Limited model with an optional Ultimate package — for well over $30,000. That issue was keeping the Tucson’s value down compared to competitors that offered the same features as standard, such as the Toyota RAV4, or made them widely available, such as the Honda CR-V. Now, the Tucson competes well on safety as well as price.
(The most advanced system, though, remains only on the Limited Ultimate — a radar-based system that features automatic cruise control that responds to the speed of the vehicle in front of you, and that can alert you to pedestrians as well as other vehicles, compared to a camera-based system on other trims.)
Other notable standard equipment on the base Tucson SE includes a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, 17-inch alloy wheels and body-colored exterior trim — rather than the chunks of black or gray plastic that scream “I bought the base model” on some competitors.
For $1,450 more, the appropriately-named Value trim adds a blind-spot monitoring system, heated front seats, a power-adjustable driver’s seat and LED headlight accents.
Even the tested Ultimate with the $1,400 all-wheel-drive system was a reasonable $34,120, a figure that includes leather upholstery, heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel, cooled front seats, a panoramic sunroof, an eight-speaker Infinity sound system, and a power liftgate, among others. You’d spend several thousand dollars more for most competitors. One niggle: You can’t get a sunroof except on that fully-loaded model.
Regular readers might note that the Auto Drive column doesn’t usually include these long lists of standard features. That’s because features are often pretty common among similar vehicles, and it’s more worthwhile to spell out how competing vehicles differ from each other.
But a long list of features for the money is central to the Hyundai Tucson — the main way it stands out from the competition.
That’s not to say the rest of the car is hopeless. Not at all. The ride and handling are fully competitive with the class, making the Tucson easy and pleasant to drive. The seats are comfortable. The interior isn’t luxuriously finished, but the overall ambiance doesn’t scream “cheap” at this price point, and the Tucson’s controls are especially user-friendly. There’s also decent interior space, though some competitors have even more room for rear-seat passengers and cargo.
But the Tucson’s powertrains are a weak point, especially the 2.0-liter engine on the SE and Value trims. With just 164 horsepower, it trails most competitors’ acceleration. At the same time, fuel economy lags are the class norm with ratings of 26 miles per gallon in mixed driving with the standard front-wheel-drive and just 23 mpg with all-wheel-drive. Upper trims have a more powerful 2.4-liter engine with 181 horsepower and similar fuel economy: 25 mpg with front-wheel-drive and 23 mpg with all-wheel-drive. A more advanced but sometimes finicky powertrain, a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, has been discontinued this year.
For comparison, the Honda CR-V gets up to 30 mpg in mixed driving, and the Nissan Rogue and Subaru Forester get up to 29 mpg — all with respectably powerful and quiet engines.
Especially considering the Tucson’s lesser fuel economy, its value for the money is essential to its appeal. So if it sounds appealing, be sure to shop it carefully against whatever strong deals the marketplace is presenting.
As of this writing, there are particularly big discounts on the 2018 Toyota RAV4, as dealers clear out space for the upcoming 2019 redesign. While the RAV4 doesn’t handle with great agility or offer stellar fuel economy, it has a spacious interior and even more standard safety features than the Tucson — it’s an appealing prospect if the two are similarly priced out the door. Deals are also sometimes available on the comparably roomy but even more fuel-efficient Nissan Rogue. And the Kia Sportage is a mechanically-related model to the Tucson with unique styling and a different engine lineup.
Not least of all, the 2018 Tucson — fundamentally unchanged since a 2016 redesign — will sell for less money than the updated 2019 model. You’ll sacrifice the active safety features that now come standard, and upper trims will use a sometimes unnatural-feeling powertrain. However, if value is a priority, it’s an even better way to save some money.
Visit tinyurl.com/sentinel-tucson to see more photos of the tested 2019 Hyundai Tucson.
Brady Holt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association.