Truck YeahThe trucks are good!  

Without a doubt, the small crossover segment is the most boring one in all of auto-dom. But small crossovers happen to be a huge part of today’s car market. They’re cash cows, and Hyundai wants in on the party. Their freshest offering, the 2016 Hyundai Tucson, may just be the new benchmark in the segment.

If you can’t make something interesting, make it good. Right?

[Full disclosure: Hyundai must think I’m some sort of baller, because they flew me all the way out to to Minneapolis, put me up in a nice hotel, and said nice things to me. They then inundated me with words like “Active,” “Bold,” “Dynamic,” and “Sophisticated.” After surviving the buzzword onslaught, I got to drive Hyundai’s new 2016 Tucson on rural Minnesota and Wisconsin roads. There were many cows.]

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Hyundai has been like melted butter lately: on a roll. Their Elantra is a solid little compact car, we dig the Sonata Hybrid with a shovel, the Equus luxury sedan is flawed but a bargain, and I even heard a youth refer to the Santa Cruz concept as “cray.” Possibly even “on fleek.” I’m not entirely sure, as I have no idea what those words mean.

So how does the new 2016 Tucson stack up? The answer is: quite well.

Styling

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I never thought I’d say this, but I think the new Tucson is the finest looking car in its class. That bar’s kind of low since small CUVs are designed for mass appeal, but this thing is hardly unattractive.

The front looks aggressive and confident. It’s handsome without being flamboyant, and the side profile just looks sharp. The character lines aren’t awkward, the wheels fill the wells properly, and the slope of that roof is sleek.

Is it a bombshell? No. But let’s be honest, the other players in the mid-size CUV game aren’t exactly Cara Delevingne (I’m lookin’ at you, Jeep Cherokee and Ford Escape).

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Fuel Economy

If you’re in the market for a CUV, you probably care about fuel economy. And the new Tucson has the goods to help you put a little distance between gas stops. All front wheel-drive models manage 30 MPG or more on the highway.

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The Eco model (the one to get in my opinion, more on that later), with its smaller wheels and tires and fewer available options, is especially thrifty, managing 33 MPG on the freeway. These are all competitive figures for the segment.

Fuel economy is nice. People buying compact CUVs like feeling nice.

Driving Experience

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Speaking as an enthusiast, it’s hard for me to get excited about driving most CUVs. They’ll never really handle the street as well as cars, and they won’t conquer the dirt as well as trucks or SUVs. So what you have here is a segment full of compromises. That hasn’t stopped America from getting addicted to them like they’re Big Macs sprinkled with crack cocaine.

I’m not gonna lie to you: Driving the Tucson is a total snoozefest. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing for CUV buyers. The seats are supremely comfortable, the cabin is quiet, and the suspension shrugs off road asperities with ease.

I wasn’t able to put the front MacPherson struts and Multi-Link rear setup to the test, as our course consisted largely of slow country roads, and Patrick explicitly told me not to crash. But the car definitely wasn’t unsettled in the corners.

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The electrically assisted power steering wasn’t particularly communicative, and the brakes felt a bit soft, but for someone shopping in this segment, they’ll do just fine. Overall, the ride was pleasant and predictable — perfect for a car purchased without any hooning intentions.

The 1.6L turbo GDI four-cylinder engine is very well suited for this 3,400 lb cute ute. Sure, it only makes 175 HP, but it’s got plenty of low end grunt: 195 lb-ft at 1500 RPM, to be exact. Managing all those low RPM torques is a segment-first 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. The transmission felt well-tuned, snapping quick shifts seamlessly. Those seven gears kept engine speeds low on the highway, but a poke of the throttle yielded quick downshifts and passing maneuvers were a breeze.

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The 2.0L GDI, a naturally aspirated unit, didn’t feel nearly as quick as the 1.6L. Not only are power and torque down 11 HP and 44 lb-ft, respectively, but the 2.0L is mated to a conventional 6-speed automatic instead of the dual clutch unit in the turbo car.

I putted around town in the 2.0L and it didn’t feel underpowered. But any highly transient maneuvers like merging onto highways will activate “turtle mode” (that means it’ll be slow).

Interior

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Pleasant. That’s how I’d describe it. Even the base model, with its comfortable cloth seats and well-laid-out buttons, is nothing to scoff at. Sure, there’s some hard plastic on the tops of the door panels and on the dashboard, but most of the touch points are covered with soft touch plastics or leather.

There’s also plenty of room in the back seats, too. At 5’8”, I was pretty comfy sitting in the rear. Neither I nor the gentleman sitting in front of me had any complaints. Cargo space is also ample in the new Tucson. Got a golden retriever you want to take to the beach? Chuck him in the back. He’ll have more than enough room to stretch his legs.

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Trim Levels And Standard Features

For 2016, Hyundai has four trim levels: SE, Eco, Sport, and Limited. Skip the SE model, since it comes with the 2.slow engine and 6-speed slushbox. Instead, get the Eco. At $25,045, the Eco is about $500 dearer than the SE, but it’s worth it for the fuel economy and power alone.

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If you want baller status, skip the Sport and go straight to the Limited. You can get leather seats, big 19” wheels, wider tires, a gigantic panoramic sunroof, a big 8” display, and tons of other cool gadgets. But it will cost you over 30 grand and you’ll lose a whopping 3 MPG highway, so you should really just get the Eco model and call it a day.

The Verdict

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No, the new 2016 Hyundai Tucson is not a brown diesel manual wagon. It won’t impress anyone at a Woodward Avenue stoplight, and it won’t carve Mulholland Drive at 100 miles an hour.

But Hyundai’s new CUV isn’t pretending to be a performance machine. It’s a sensible CUV that actually looks decent, gets good gas mileage, and keeps you and your 2.2 kids comfortable and safe. It gets ‘r done.

If I were looking for a CUV, you’d have to call me NASA, cuz I’d rock it.