The 2016 Hyundai Tucson Is a Honda CR-V, Plus Sex Appeal

Driving Hyundai’s compact crossover led to some real feelings and maybe, just maybe, a couple furtive touches.

Hyundai Tucson

I’m lucky to work around the corner from a place that serves excellent soups. The chilled avocado cucumber is as good as the cream of tomato, itself outdone only by the sweet vidalia onion. And despite their quality and handsomeness—drizzling from your spoon like velveteen ambrosia—these silky indulgences run only $4.25 per cup, and as a bravura finish, each is topped with a delightful garnish: candied lemon peel, sprigs of mint, caramelized shallots. These ornaments eventually sink into the bisques, making chewy, savory bits that render a solid stew sexy.

The 2016 Hyundai Tucson is very, very good soup, and it is served up to a cohort—compact CUV buyers—that would otherwise be happy with a decent bite. In a segment of hedged expectations, the table is set for Hyundai’s disruptive dish.

The Tucson arrives with a flourish. Without slipping into contrivance—Nissan Juke, I love you, but you’re freaking me out—Hyundai delivers real opulence. In fairly accessible “Sport” trim ($26,150), the CUV comes with aggressive 19-inch wheels that resemble oversize Cuisinart blades, plus LED lighting, a Hoffmeister kink and a chrome exhaust that seems to say, “I drove an X3 before the recession hit.” Inside, a leather-wrapped wheel and shift knob provide suppleness and olfactory treats—the automotive equivalent of a hickory-smoke garnish. The panoramic sunroof stretches so far back that it brushes up against the Reagan Administration.

Hyundai Tucson Taillight

To sink below the surface is to find a level of fastidiousness bewildering to anyone who has hooned a 1988 Hyundai Excel. There’s copious hot stamping (the Marilyn Monroe of manufacturing processes), 33% more high-strength steel than the outgoing model and downright lurid amounts of sound-deadening material, all coming together to constitute a ute with the hushed stolidness of a mausoleum. It bears repeating, this is a Hyundai. The Hyundai Tucson in fact, in the year 2015.

Flitting up the Palisades Parkway in this flame-surfaced isolation box, I had the undiplomatic task of asking my driving partner if she might speak more quietly—such were the levels of baked-in serenity.

"The 2016 Hyundai Tucson is very, very good soup."

Dynamically, the Tucson drives a bit more blandly than its spicy profile might suggest. Morsels like “7-speed dual-clutch transmission” and “turbocharged engine with 195 lb-ft of torque” land like the automotive equivalents of “locally foraged chanterelles” and “organic pork shoulder torn from the happiest hog in Vermont,” but at the table, the results are more fortifying than fascinating. Hyundai deserves kudos for choosing a dynamic DCT over a droning CVT, but Volkswagen’s turbo/automatic combo is stronger and more responsive in Tiguan application, and for the most sensual mouthfeel, the Mazda CX-5 remains the Serrano-laced gazpacho on the CUV menu.

The thing is, for any diner beyond the Iberian peninsula, gazpacho is a seasonal soup. It’s no standby. The Hyundai Tucson, on the other hand, is. The beauty of this dish is that it presents first as a purely rational product, a value proposition: Despite consistent quality, excellent warranties and an image on the march, Hyundais still list for less than their competitors. Saving money is nice, but not exhilarating.

But in the Tucson, you notice the stitched leather instrument cover and the LCD screens, the buttons for hill-descent control and the lane-departure warning system, and then some cool air wafts through the ventilated leather seats and all of a sudden, in this unlikely repository of premium features, you realize that the Hyundai Tucson is actually a sexpot.

The Tucson is one of those marvelous, memorable plates, pleasant and sturdy, but shot through with luxury, tech and considered design. Don’t look now, but Hyundai has produced a car that lingers on the palette—and that you wouldn’t mind tasting every day.  

2016 HYUNDAI TUCSON

PRICE (AS-TESTED): $26,150 
POWERTRAIN: 1.6-liter turbocharged I4; 175 hp, 195 lb-ft torque; FWD, 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
WEIGHT: 3,580 lbs
0-60 MPH:  7.8 sec
TOP SPEED: 120 mph 
MPG: 25 city / 30 highway 
ON SALE: Now