2022 Hyundai Tucson First Drive Review | A bold leap forward

Take one quick glimpse at Hyundai’s already-robust roster of SUVs, from the mini Venue to the plus-size Palisade and you’ll find no shortage of utes. There’s six in all – that’s more than Jeep – plus a mixture of hybrids, electrics and combustion engines doing the hard work under the skin. But leading the company’s global sales volume, sized right in the middle of the pack is the clean-sheet redesigned 2022 Hyundai Tucson.

Within the Hyundai portfolio, the Tucson still fits between the Kona and Santa Fe even though it’s longer by 6.1 inches than its predecessor, wider and taller by 0.6 inch, and carrying a 3.4-inch longer wheelbase than before. It also offers nearly 8 more cubic-feet of cargo space. These increases take the Tucson from being one of the smallest compact crossovers to one of the biggest, eclipsing the length and wheelbase of even the jumbo Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Its back seat legroom of 41.3 inches is now best-in-class, topping the CR-V, while cargo space is similarly now among the class leaders.

The 2022 Tucson takes on a new aggressive exterior look with lots of swells at each side, muscular bulges, sharp creases, rising and falling accents, tapering masses … and we’re still only at the body’s sides. There’s a whole lot of action going on with the Tucson’s surfaces, yet it’s never as overwrought as some other SUVs we can think of.

Wheel arches are comparable in shape to those of the angular Lexus NX, though done with a bit more subtlety. A stainless steel silver spear climbs up the A pillars, atop the doors, grows thicker at the back and descends at the liftgate, adding an heir of luxury. This little detail seems like something you’d expect of a Jaguar. And the new Pegasus wing-like front end shape, with its multiple daylight running lamp LED elements (five per side) that mimic the grille slats, plus two other lighting elements at each front corner render the new Tucson’s front end both aggressive and yet elegant.

Meantime, out in back, toothy or claw-like taillights crawl down from rear glass height with completely separate turn signals perched low in the bumper, as Hyundai has done for some time now. It all translates to an upscale, confidant look you’d expect of a luxury car and not one of a compact SUV whose maximum loaded price is far less than the average new car price in the United States. This is Hyundai yet again punching in the heavyweight design ranks from a welterweight corner.

Despite being larger inside, the big impression from within is not necessarily the vast space improvements. Within just the past few years, Hyundai has quite thoroughly shamed other mainstream and affordable brands in terms of interior design by stepping way, way up with rich-looking and rich-feeling interiors. The Tucson even comes with a triple-layer windshield that helps quell noise. It’s yet another example of the company offering near-luxury interiors in affordable cars.

Though the 2022 Tucson comes standard with an 8-inch center infotainment display, each of the testers we drove had the larger, optional 10.25-inch display along with a digital instrument cluster of the same dimension. And while neither display has a hood over them, they didn’t suffer at all from sun glare. Hyundai claims the displays have a glare-killing treatment to their glass surfaces, of which we were initially skeptical. We were wrong. No glare. And we drove the car in sun-drenched Arizona. So, admittedly, we had access only to the top trim levels during our first real-world encounter, but even the full-zoot, completely loaded Tucson Limited HEV hybrid with all-wheel-drive tops out at $38,535, including the $1,185 destination charge.

The 2022 Tucson’s many standard active safety features includes emergency brake assist, pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist and a driver inattention warning system. Systems and alerts for blind spots and rear cross-traffic, safe exit warning, adaptive cruise control and surround view monitor are optional.

Other tech and tech-adjacent features include remote parking for tight spaces, remote start that initiates heated and ventilated seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, available Qi wireless smartphone charging, a natural-language interface with deep-meaning and context recognition, plus Hyundai’s digital key, which grants access to the car’s Bluetooth functions to friends and family. The new Tucson’s optional navigation system is now cloud-based and a Bose eight-speaker premium audio system is standard in three of the four trim levels (SEL, N Line and Limited).

Hyundai’s Blue Link connected car system is standard for three years from purchase in all trim levels but the base SE. This enables remote start, remote door locking and unlocking, a stolen vehicle recovery system, window position and fuel level monitoring, personal preferences for navigation and radio presets and other functions through a web portal, a smartphone app, plus Alexa and Google Assistant apps. A limited number of function are controllable through smartwatch apps, too. 

Hyundai has re-thought the powertrain strategy completely for the new 2022 model. The previous inline-fours of 2.0 liters and 2.4 liters are gone, replaced by a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter inline-four and a 1.6-liter turbo inline-four paired with conventional or plug-in hybrid systems (we only drove the conventional hybrid). And while many competitors fit continuously variable transmissions to their hybrid power units, Hyundai uses a more conventional six-speed automatic with theirs. 

And it’s because of all the design and interior goodness that the disappointment rings so loudly with the normally-aspirated 2.5-liter engine’s behavior. Forget for a moment that the hybrid’s balance sheet shows 226 total horsepower (261 total horsepower for the plug-in hybrid version) and 258 pound-feet of total torque versus the 2.5-liter gas engine’s 187 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque. Also ignore that the hybrid sips fuel at roughly a 30% lower rate than the standard engine (a Hyundai-estimated 38 mpg combined versus 26 mpg combined with AWD). Even if the two powertrains belted out precisely the same power and efficiency figures, the hybrid would still win this contest every time because the 2.5-liter engine is four cylinders of vibey, thrashy discontent compared to the muted, smooth and hushed pairing of 1.6-liter turbo and electric motor. And that’s not just true at the top end of the 2.5-liter engine’s breathing capacity at around 6,000 rpm. The 2.5’s responsiveness to throttle inputs at low engine speed is paused at best, laggardly at worst. The grand powertrain takeaway after piloting both the 2.5-liter and the hybrid Tucson proves the latter to be a much better driving mate in every possible condition.

And for those wondering about the plug-in hybrid Tucson, EPA range estimates and other efficiency figures will be announced closer to its on-sale date later this summer. The other versions have already arrived at dealers.   

While the 2.5-liter gas engine comes standard with front-wheel-drive and starts with the SE model at $26,135, all-wheel-drive with up to a 50/50 torque split front to rear is optional and adds 1.2 inches of ground clearance, a center differential lock and brings the price to $27,535. All-wheel drive is standard on the hybrid, which starts at $30,235 for the Blue trim and topping out at $38,535 for the Limited.

Trim levels start with SE and push upwards to the expected volume-leading SEL (called “Blue” with the hybrid powertrain version). The N Line trim is only offered with the 2.5-liter standard engine, but it only adds visual elements to the mix with no mechanical changes – those with a flair for driving enthusiasm won’t be missing much. Finally, the top Limited trim comes standard  with a large sunroof, leather upholstery, eight-way power front seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, automatic wipers, parking sensors, blind-spot warning and a surround-view parking system.

From virtually all angles including standard equipment and space, to the hybrid’s serene driving attitude, the new 2022 Tucson outclasses much of the competition from other compact SUVs.

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