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The 2022 Hyundai Tucson.

Jeremy Au Yeung/The Globe and Mail

This is a big year for the Hyundai Tucson. The compact SUV gets an all-new chassis, all-new engines and transmissions, and a total makeover from front to back. It’s the Korean automaker’s most popular vehicle, fighting for a share of the country’s most competitive market segment, so there’s a lot riding on getting it right.

It’s a longer vehicle than before, by 15 centimetres, but we actually get a larger Tucson than much of the rest of the world. Officially, the Canadian and U.S. model is the long-wheelbase version, some 13 centimetres longer than the Tucson sold in Europe, Japan and Mexico. This means it’s very close to the size of the more expensive Hyundai Santa Fe, with slightly less room for passengers but slightly more room for cargo. The Santa Fe, however, is still built on the previous platform, though the 2021 model shares the new engines and transmissions.

I drove the hybrid version of the Tucson, which Hyundai says will democratize automotive technology and bring it “to the masses” in this $40,000-plus vehicle. This is not quite true; you must pay for the upscale Luxury or Ultimate trims if you want the hybrid engine, and that price starts well above the most basic $27,699 Essential trim level.

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For the money, you get everything including the kitchen sink in terms of up-to-date features and driver’s assistance. The grille offers the new and distinctive daytime running lights that seem to be part of the jewel-shaped mesh itself. The cabin’s centre console has a “waterfall” approach that integrates a large touch screen above (either 8.0- or 12.25-inches, depending on the trim) and the transmission dial below. It’s not as airy as a pass-through console, but there is space for some document storage there.

As with the Santa Fe Hybrid, the Tucson Hybrid puts power to all four wheels from its 1.6-litre turbocharged engine through a six-speed automatic transmission. This is uncommon – most hybrids save fuel by using a continuously variable transmission, but the Hyundai’s six-speed is more engaging and responsive.

It pays off for the Tucson, because the hybrid has an official average fuel consumption rating of 6.4 L/100 km, compared to the official average of 9.0 L/100 km for the conventional 2.5-litre engine. It makes more power too: a combined 227 hp and 258 lbs-ft of torque for the hybrid, compared to 187 hp and 178 lbs-ft for the 2.5-litre. There is no turbocharged, non-hybrid option for the Tucson as there is for the Santa Fe.

This fuel-consumption figure is significantly better than for the Santa Fe Hybrid, which should be considered if you compare the two vehicles.

There are three electronic terrain modes for the Tucson (snow, mud, and sand) and three electronic driving modes: Eco, Sport and Smart. That last one will monitor your driving over a week or so and adjust the vehicle’s various parameters to make the most of them. I cannot say from a test of just two days whether it works or not. I did, however, drive the Tucson Hybrid on all kinds of roads in all weather, from three-lane highway to gravel, and the little SUV never put a wheel wrong.

It will even shut off the gas engine and drive with only the electric motor for short distances at speeds over 100 km/h, though it can’t be locked into that pure-EV mode. This is an improvement over the Santa Fe, which is curious because it’s essentially the same powertrain.

The Tuscon's main headlights are in the nacelles beside the grille, but the running lights leave no doubt that this is the new Hyundai, and it’s a very attractive look.

Jeremy Au Yeung/The Globe and Mail

There is no doubt the new Tucson is an exceptionally capable vehicle, but is the hybrid the version for you? Should you wait until later in the summer and consider the plug-in hybrid version, which can be recharged from the power grid and will potentially use even less gas, when it comes available? Well, maybe not if you’re buying your vehicle as a long-term investment.

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“A hybrid is nothing but a bridge to a full EV (electric vehicle), so the sooner we get to all-EV the better,” says Don Romano, the straight-shooting President of Hyundai Auto Canada Corp.

“Right now, we’re bringing out plug-ins and hybrids that eventually won’t even be able to be sold in a number of markets in North America because laws are being passed that they’ll have to be 100-per-cent EV. How much are you going to invest (as a manufacturer) in something that you know is not going to last more than another 10 to 15 years?

“From our perspective, the future is all EV, 100 per cent, so the sooner we get on with it the better. The future is not hybrids, and it’s not plug-ins – it’s pure EV.”

Tech specs

2022 Hyundai Tucson Hybrid

The Tuscon is powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

Jeremy Au Yeung/The Globe and Mail

  • Base price/as tested: $38,799 / $41,499, plus $1,925 Freight and PDI
  • Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder and 44-kW electric motor
  • Transmission/drive: six-speed / AWD
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 6.3 City, 6.6 Hwy., 6.4 Comb.
  • Alternatives: Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, Ford Escape Hybrid, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Mazda CX-5

Looks

Creased side panels give the Tuscon a modern look.

Jeremy Au Yeung/The Globe and Mail

The distinctive lighting system alone is enough to justify the redesign of the Tucson. The main headlights are in the nacelles beside the grille, but the running lights leave no doubt that this is the new Hyundai, and it’s a very attractive look. Lighting is everything these days to a manufacturer, and the Tucson has aced it. The creases in the side panels make the SUV look modern, but there aren’t so many as to mimic RoboCop.

The dimensions have all increased over the 2021 model. The wheelbase is 85 mm longer and the width and height are both boosted by 15 mm. It’s generally slightly smaller than other compact SUVs, but it doesn’t feel small inside. There are many little things that add up to a lot. You’ll now sit 7 cm farther away from the passenger beside you, for example, and when you step outside, you’ll need to reach 5 cm less with your foot to touch the ground.

Interior

The two trim levels of the hybrid include heated leather seating in both rows.

Jeremy Au Yeung/The Globe and Mail

The two trim levels of the hybrid include heated leather seating in both rows, and the cabin feels very open. The two-piece panoramic sunroof, standard with the hybrids, is very effective at letting in light, so nobody’s going to feel claustrophobic.

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It’s worth mentioning that the leather-wrapped steering wheel is the ideal size for my hands: solid and comfortable to hold. I don’t usually appreciate a steering wheel, but Hyundai seems to have got the shape and feel just right.

Performance

The new Tucson Hybrid, like the Santa Fe Hybrid, drives like a conventionally-powered car. This is thanks to the peppy turbocharged engine and the regular automatic transmission. The electric motor kicks in when you want it to, either for extra power or even to take over entirely for short periods if you’re just cruising, but it’s very easy to forget you’re driving anything but a traditionally SUV.

Technology

You name it, you can get it, though you may have to upgrade to the more expensive trim levels. Active cruise control, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, forward collision avoidance, lane-keeping and lane-following assistance – all that modern stuff. There’s wireless and ventilated charging for your smartphone. You even get the clever rear-side-view cameras in the higher trim that show their images in the instrument cluster when you put on the signals, which you can’t get with the Santa Fe.

The Tucson’s party trick is its ability to shuffle forward or backward up to seven metres with no driver when you press a button on the key fob. Again, this feature is only in the higher trim. It’s handy for parking in tight spaces when you don’t want to ding your doors, but there’s no guarantee the antiquated car beside you won’t ding you with its own.

Cargo

The Tuscon actually manages to have more cargo space than the Santa Fe, its physically larger stablemate.

Jeremy Au Yeung/The Globe and Mail

Somehow, the Tucson has more cargo space than the physically larger Santa Fe, with 1,097 litres available when the 60/40 rear seats are up, and 2,108 litres when they’re folded flat. I have no idea how Hyundai pulled this off.

The verdict

The Tucson is competing against the very toughest competition from other manufacturers in this most popular segment. The hybrid versions are more expensive with their upscale trim levels, and that will limit their appeal, but this new redesign will surely stay comfortably in place as Hyundai’s best seller.

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