We drove a $34,000 Hyundai Tucson to see if it’s a legitimate rival for Honda, Toyota, and Subaru. Here’s the verdict.

Our 2019 Hyundai Tucson Ultimate AWD test car.

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Our 2019 Hyundai Tucson Ultimate AWD test car.
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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

  • The Hyundai Tucson compact crossover SUV has been refreshed for the 2019 model year.
  • The 2019 Tucson receives fresh styling, a new interior, updated tech, and a revised lineup of engines.
  • In the marketplace, Tucson’s rivals include the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Mazda CX-5, Subaru Forester, and Volkswagen Tiguan.
  • The Tuscon comes standard with a 161 horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Our test car came with the optional 2.4-liter, 181 horsepower, four-cylinder engine.
  • The base 2019 Tucson SE front-wheel-drive starts at $23,200 while the top-of-the-line Ultimate trim with front-wheel drive starts at $31,550. With options and fees, our Tucson Ultimate AWD came to an as-tested price of $34,120.
  • We were impressed by the Tucson’s attractive styling, smooth ride, roomy cabin, and easy-to-use tech. We were less impressed with the 2.4-liter engine’s lack of passing power and lackluster fuel economy.

Nearly 3.2 million compact SUVs left US showrooms in 2018. According to data compiled by Kelley Blue Book, that represents 18.2% of total US auto sales last year.

In spite of the sheer scale of the segment, competition for buyers is fierce. At the top of the sales chart, are the traditional industry stalwarts like the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, and Jeep Cherokee. This top bracket sold between 239,000 units (Cherokee) and 427,000 units (RAV4) in 2018.

And then there’s a group of capable performers that sell in slightly smaller, but still impressive quantities – between 100,000 and 200,000 cars.

These include the Subaru Forester, Mazda CX-5, Jeep Compass, and Volkswagen Tiguan.

Another member of this group is the Hyundai Tucson. The Korean compact SUV saw US sales jump 24% last to more than 142,000 units.

Read more: We drove a $30,000 Hyundai Kona SUV to see if it’s ready to take on Jeep, Honda, and Toyota. Here’s the verdict.

The current third-generation Tucson debuted in 2015 for the 2016 model year. This year, Hyundai gave the crossover a mid-life update that included a revised engine lineup, a brand new interior, new technology, and refreshed styling.

Recently, Business Insider had the chance to check out a new 2019 Hyundai Tucson Ultimate AWD in the roads in and around Atlanta, Georgia.

The base 2019 Tucson SE front-wheel-drive starts at $23,200 while the top-of-the-line Ultimate trim with front-wheel drive starts at $31,550. All-wheel-drive is a $1,400 option. With options and fees, our Tucson came to an as-tested price of $34,120.

Here’s a closer look at the 2019 Hyundai Tucson:


The original Hyundai Tucson debuted back in 2005. That first generation model lasted until 2009…

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Hyundai

… when it was replaced by a second generation for the 2010 model year.

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Hyundai

The current third-generation Tucson debuted for the 2016 model year.

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Kevin Hagen/Getty Images

In 2019, the Tucson received a mid-life refresh.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

In Hyundai’s lineup, the Tucson slots in above the subcompact Kona and …

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… the midsize Santa Fe.

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Hyundai

Up front, the Tucson has an updated front grille and …

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… LED headlights.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

At 176.2 inches long, the Tucson’s overall length remains unchanged.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

At the same time, the rear end mildly refreshed with new taillights and a slightly modified bumper.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

I’m a fan of these snazzy 18-inch wheels.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Overall, the revised styling feels stylish and understated.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Inside is where you’ll see the biggest changes. The front dash and center stack has been redesigned. It brings the Tucson in line with the current Hyundai corporate looks found in the Kona and the Santa Fe.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

This is the Tucson’s pre-facelift interior.

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Hyundai

Overall, we were impressed by the Tucson’s interior. Material quality is, for the most part, solid. Although a few of the plastic trim pieces felt a bit too cheap for a $34,000 car.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Hyundai nailed it in terms of cabin ergonomics. All the buttons are clearly labeled while all of the important features are intuitively place and within arm’s reach for the driver.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

All the buttons are clearly labeled while all of the important features are intuitively place and within arm’s reach for the driver.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Ultimate trim cars come with a massive panoramic glass roof.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

In front of the driver is a 4.3-inch color LCD information display flanked by a pair of clear and concise analog gauges.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The redesigned center stack is dominated by an eight-inch touchscreen running Hyundai’s corporate infotainment system. Lower trim level cars get a seven-inch screen.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Hyundai’s system is not the most sophisticated or beautifully rendered system on the market, but it’s one of the easiest to use.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The menus are logically organized and the physical switches on the bezel of the screen work well as shortcuts for the on-screen features.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Our upscale system came with a built-in navigation system. It worked well enough.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

However, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard on all trim levels, the usefulness of Hyundai’s native navigation system is limited.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The screen is also home to the Tucson’s elaborate camera system. There’s a rear view camera along with…

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… a surround-view camera system.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Our test car came with wireless charging and a handful of USB ports.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The Tucson’s rear cabin offers plenty of room for two full-size adults.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

It’s 38.2 inches of rear legroom feels ample but falls behind rivals like the Mazda CX-5 and Subaru Forester. Both of which offer more than 39 inches of legroom.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Open up the liftgate and…

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… there’s 31 cubic feet of cargo room. Fold down the rear seats and capacity increases to 61.9 cubic feet.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Underneath the cargo floor is a small spare tire.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Under the hood, our Tucson Ultimate is powered by a 181 horsepower, 2.4-liter, naturally aspirated inline four-cylinder. The lower-trim levels are powered by a 161 hp, 2.0-liter, naturally aspirated four-cylinder. Last year’s turbocharged 1.6-liter engine is no longer available.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Both engine options are mated a six-speed automatic transmission sending power to the front wheels. Hyundai’s HTRAC all-wheel-drive system is a $1,400 option.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The Tucson is one of the few compact crossovers to come with a locking center differential that helps evenly distribute power offroad.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

All Tucsons now come standard with forward-collision avoidance assist, lane-keep assist, and driver attention warning. Our tester came with optional features like adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning, and rear cross traffic warning,

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

So, what’s it like to drive?

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

On the road, the 2019 Hyundai Tucson is solid, but far from spectacular.

Here’s what we liked. We found the Tucson’s chassis and suspension to be really well done. Around town and on the interstate, we found the ride to be soft and comfortable. In the corners, our 3,700-pound test car felt confident and composed.

Here’s where it fell short in our opinion. The 181 horsepower, 2.4-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder, is a solid engine and the six-speed is geared to deliver responsive low-end acceleration. However, 2.4 lacks the low-end torque of the outgoing 175 hp, 1.6 turbo engine. At the same time, the transmission tries to spend as much time as possible in the overdrive gear to save fuel. The result is a decided lack of passing power for the driver, especially at high speeds. There were a few times, while cruising on the highway, where I’d floor the gas pedal to change lanes and the Tucson simply couldn’t muster up enough grunt to make the pass happen.

According to Motor Trend, the 2.4 is 0.5 seconds to 0.9 seconds slower to 60 mph than the discontinued turbo-powered Tucson.

The 1.6 turbo is still available as an option on the subcompact Hyundai Kona, a vehicle we thoroughly enjoyed.

Finally, there’s the fuel economy. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, our all-wheel-drive test car should deliver 21 mpg of fuel economy in city driving, 26 mpg on the highway, and 23 mpg in combined driving. However, we struggled to top 20 mpg in mixed highway and city driving.


The verdict.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The 2019 Hyundai Tucson looks fantastic, handles well, delivers a comfortable ride, boasts a really well-designed cabin, and is packed with tech. However, its lackluster fuel economy and underwhelming powertrain hold it back from becoming one of the segment’s elite offerings.

Overall, it’s a very good compact crossover SUV. Unfortunately, it competes in a segment packed with a slew of other very good crossovers and even one or two that are near perfect.

As a result, the Tucson runs the risk of getting lost in the fray. But, if Hyundai is willing to discount, you could end up with one heck of a good deal.