Hyundai’s Hands-Free Liftgate System Is Laughably Bad

I recently went to the launch of the all-new Hyundai Tucson, which is the best compact SUV on the market. This took place in Minnesota, home to 10,000 lakes, and approximately 4.2 million angry mosquitos.


I know what you’re thinking: calling the Tucson the best compact SUV on the market is a bold move. But it really isn’t. This is how the compact crossover segment works. Every single new model is the best compact SUV on the market for a few months, until the next one comes out. They all feature barely perceptible improvements in ride quality, and fuel economy, and equipment, until one day, 50 years from now, there will be a compact SUV that can travel to the moon. Then, six months later, the new RAV4 will offer a moon rock alert system.

So I really liked the Hyundai Tucson, with one glaring exception: the hands-free liftgate system. Hyundai calls it quick and easy. I call it the worst piece of design since the one-eyed London Olympic mascot that looked like an angry penis.

Before I explain the Hyundai system, allow me to first explain the current situation with hands-free liftgate.

When I was a kid, my mother had a 1992 Isuzu Rodeo. Back then, opening the rear hatch was a four-step process. Step one: you unlatch the spare tire and physically move it aside. Step two: you open the glass. Step three: you open the lower tailgate. Step four: you build character, because you’ve just done some serious work in order to gain access to the cargo area. Cargo area access was serious business back then. It was reserved only for the very best cargo, such as party-size Tostitos.


Then, in the late 1990s, some luxury automaker developed the automatic liftgate for rich people who already had enough character. What happened there was, you would push a little button on the key fob, and POOF! The rear hatch would open, at approximately the speed of tree growth, while you stood around and discussed rich people things, like property easements. So this wasn’t a perfect solution, but the point was, you could have your hands full and still gain access to the cargo area.

Well, some people recently decided this wasn’t convenient enough. So a few years ago, the hands-free tailgate was born. As I recall, it started on the 2013 Ford Escape, and the way it worked was this: you would approach the car with the proximity key in your pocket and two full bags of groceries in either hand. The car would sense the key. You would wave your foot under the tailgate, signifying that you wanted it to open. Nothing would happen. You would wave your foot again. Still nothing. You would begin dancing in the parking lot, waving your foot and holding your groceries, like you were undertaking a worship ritual for the ancient Greek God of Vehicle Entry. Still nothing. Eventually, you would give up and put down the groceries in a huff. Then the tailgate would open.


Well, thanks to Hyundai’s new hands-free liftgate, this is all a thing of the past. Now the rear hatch opens whenever you want, and many times when you don’t!


Here’s how Hyundai’s system works: unlike in the Ford Escape, there is no foot waving. You just walk up to the liftgate with the key in your pocket, stand there for a bit, and the thing opens. That’s it. No fancy tricks. No buttons. All you have to do is exist.

Of course, this is tremendously convenient during those one or two times a month when your hands are full with breakable items, such as glass dinnerwear, or baby sheep. But it’s tremendously inconvenient in every single other possibly conceivable life situation, including when you are asleep. Allow me to provide a few examples.


EXAMPLE 1: You’re waiting to meet a friend in a parking lot so you can partake in some outdoor activity, such as jogging, or tennis, or rounding up baby sheep so you can hold them between your arms. You decide to wait for him by sitting on the bumper of your Hyundai Tucson. Bad idea. The tailgate opens, you’re pushed off the bumper, and you crack your spleen in four places. The doctor recommends that you purchase a Jeep Cherokee.

EXAMPLE 2: You’re chatting under an umbrella with a friend during a light rainstorm. Unfortunately, you’ve decided to have this chat behind your Hyundai Tucson. After a few seconds, the tailgate begins to open. Startled, you and your friend fall over, cracking your spleens in four places. Also, your stuff gets all wet. The doctor recommends that you purchase a Toyota RAV4.


EXAMPLE 3: You’re sound asleep in your home, and your Hyundai Tucson is sound asleep in the parking space directly adjacent to your home. Suddenly, you stir, and you knock the keys to your Tucson on the floor, merely a foot away from the front door. The rear hatch opens in the night, and thieves steal your second-row seats. Angered, you crack your spleen in four places. The doctor recommends that you purchase a Ford Escape.

EXAMPLE 4: You are walking from one business to another on a crowded street of shops, and you happen to pass your Hyundai Tucson. Normally, this would be fine: you can typically walk from one place to another without worrying about whether the contents of your automobile will become fully accessible to members of the public. BUT NOT WHEN YOU HAVE A HYUNDAI TUCSON! When you have a Tucson, you must quickly walk past the rear end, or else the tailgate will open. In doing so, you trip and fall on the ground, cracking your spleen in four places. The doctor recommends that you purchase a Honda CR-V.


EXAMPLE 5: You are trying to put on your rear license plate. You get the plate in position, you put a screw in the hole, and BAM! The tailgate opens directly into your forehead, cracking your spleen in four places. The doctor is unsure how you grew a spleen in your head.

So as you can see, there are some serious problems here, and they should be solved at once. For example: why are you keeping your keys in bed with you?


Fortunately for all you would-be Hyundai Tucson owners, there’s a silver lining here: I am told this feature can be turned off. Just another little touch that makes the Hyundai Tucson the best compact SUV on sale. This week.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.

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