Hyundai Tucson: Catching up with the competition — and then some

This review originally appeared in The Spokesman-Review.

2016 Hyundai Tucson
2016 Hyundai Tucson

Hyundai was one of three companies whose U.S. market share grew during the recession. Its fortunes have faltered since, however.

Its failing? Too many cars, not enough crossovers.

The compact crossover is the industry’s hot number. Segment sales are up 19 percent — mostly at the expense of sedans. Hyundai, whose stylish and affordable sedans ruled during the recession, wasn’t ready for the surge.

Its compact crossover, the Tucson, never stood out from the crowd. Even if it had, production constraints would have curtailed sales.

But this is the year Hyundai rights the ship. A made-over, third-generation 2016 Tucson ($23,595, including transportation) lands this month, and production capacities are doubled.

At a recent press preview, the new Tucson proved night-and-day better than the car it replaces. It’s larger, roomier, quieter and more sophisticated. Its engines are more efficient and its redesigned suspension balances ride comfort with body control.

Lightweight high-strength steel comprises more than 50 percent of the Tucson’s body structure (up from 18), boosting rigidity a remarkable 48 percent. Chassis improvements contribute to improved suspension tuning and reduce noise, vibration and harshness.

Hyundai says the Tucson’s cabin is the segment’s quietest. Our test on mixed surfaces — freeway, two-lane asphalt, city streets and gravel road — seemed to bear that out. Underway, the Tucson conveys a sense of competence, quietly rendered.

Hyundai pays attention to the little things that give a car stand-out qualities. Switchgear works with a new heft this year. Re-engineered door-latch mechanisms operate with less noise, pull-resistance and internal friction. Thanks to increased damping, they close with a big-car assurance.

A 5-inch color LCD touchscreen and rearview camera are standard and Apple’s Siri “Eyes Free” integration is available. Tucsons equipped with navigation fetch an 8-inch screen and the expected third-party apps.

A new engine option — a 167-hp turbocharged and direct-injected 1.6-liter four — pairs with a dual-clutch automated transmission to top the highway mileage of last year’s top trims by as much as 5 mpg.

The all-new seven-speed gearbox enhances both efficiency and acceleration. It makes quick and smooth shifts, with no hint of the “shock shift” to which automated manuals are prone.

The base engine, a 2.0-liter 164-hp direct-injected four, carries over from last year, but with a one-mpg gain in overall efficiency. It’s available only with a six-speed automatic transmission.

Base price is up about $1,000, but Hyundai argues its value proposition remains intact. Such features as automatic headlights, heated outside mirrors, satellite radio and alloy wheels are standard on the base SE, but either optional or not available on competitors’ base trims.

New safety measures, both standard and optional, align the Tucson with market expectations. Most notably, a new Lane Change Assist system measures the closing speed of a vehicle approaching from behind. If it’s closing too quickly the system will warn against changing lanes. I.e., no more inadvertent near misses as two drivers attempt to move into the same lane at the same time.

Playing catch-up in a rapidly evolving segment, Hyundai has produced a rig good enough to play with the class leaders. Welcome to the game.

2016 Hyundai Tucson Limited FWD
Price range: $23,595-$35,000 (approx.)
Tow rating: to 1,500 pounds
EPA ratings: 27 combined/25 city/30 highway
(1.6-liter engine/FWD)
Regular unleaded fuel specified

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5 factoids: 2016 Hyundai Tucson

2016 Hyundai Tucson
The 2016 Hyundai Tucson is the first compact crossover to use a double-clutch automated manual.

I drove Hyundai’s radically revised Tucson in Minneapolis Tuesday. Impressions of the drive experience are embargoed until Monday, but here are a handful of factoids to whet your appetite.

  • The Tucson is the first compact crossover to use a dual-clutch automated manual transmission. The 7-speed gearbox boosts efficiency and provides a more satisfying driving experience than a continuously variable transmission (CVT) would.
  • 51% of the 2016 Tucson’s platform comprises advanced high-strength steel. Body rigidity is up 48%.
  • Chassis improvements and sound-deadening measures reduce cabin noise to levels below those achieved by the segment’s best-selling models.
  • The new up-level engine — a 175-hp (195 lb-ft of torque at 1500 RPM) turbocharged and direct-injected 1.8-liter four — tops the highway mpg of last year’s optional engine by 5 highway mpg in Eco trim and by 3 mpg in Sport and Limited trims.
  • A new Lane Change Assist system measures the closing speed of an approaching vehicle in an adjacent lane to determine whether the Tucson driver can safely change lanes. No more trying to move into the same lane, at the same time, as another vehicle.

2015 Kia Sedona focuses on value, quality and versatility

Kia Sedona cargo
We loaded the Sedona with every bit of our camping collection — the “Tent Mahal,” the cots, the two-burner stove, the coolers, the pots and pans, the boots, backpacks, walking sticks and water — and had room left over for a pampered pair of second-row passengers.

This post originally appeared in The Spokesman-Review

We were badly outnumbered as we piloted our Kia Sedona deep into Southern Utah’s red-rocked vacationland.

Vehicles of all description clog the region’s two-lanes: massive RVs; pickups towing travel trailers and fifth-wheels; bellowing, big-bore motorcycles; crossovers; SUVs; family sedans.

Kia Sedona interior
The new Sedona arrives just as Kia gains new recognition for quality control. In the current J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey, the company moves up four positions to place second behind Porsche.

Scarcely a minivan in sight.

I’m guessing even the bicyclists outnumbered the van-goers.

The minivan is America’s forgotten travel tool. Which is a shame, because there’s no more efficient way to get lots of people and their stuff down the road. We loaded the Sedona with every bit of our camping collection — the “Tent Mahal,” the cots, the two-burner stove, the coolers, the pots and pans, the boots, backpacks, walking sticks and water — and had room left over for a pampered pair of second-row passengers.

With the second-generation 2015 Sedona, Kia hopes to lure prospective crossover buyers into the minivan camp. Exterior styling suggests a crossover’s muscular presence. Inside, a console nestles between the front seats, filling a space left open in other minivans. A hands-free “Smart Power Liftgate” opens automatically when the key fob is sensed for 3 seconds, and is programmable to customize the user’s height preference.

Our top-level, seven-passenger SX-L ($39,700) tester included Kia’s “First Class” second-row captains chairs. Fitted with armrests and pop-up footrests, they recline and slide every which way. Unfortunately, the right-hand seat’s wing-style headrest blocks the driver’s over-the-shoulder vision.

sedona_int_4In the lower, eight-passenger trims, the second-row seats slide forward and fold upright against the front seatbacks. In all trims, the split-and folding rear bench folds into the cargo floor.

We drove the Sedona over 12,000-foot mountain passes and across rugged desert washes (slowly, very slowly). In air-conditioned comfort, we listened to books on DVD and caught up on the news and the tunes via the available satellite-radio system.

We easily overtook slower traffic, the Sedona 276-horsepower V-6 scarcely panting and its six-speed automatic seamlessly swapping cogs. Had our Sedona been properly equipped, we could have towed a 3,500-pound load.

Over the many miles and wildly varying road surfaces, we came to appreciate the Sedona’s
ultra-stiff body structure (its torsional rigidity is 36 percent greater than that of its nearest rival, says Kia). These underpinnings contributed to an excellent ride and surprisingly nimble handling. Steering is direct and accurate, and commendable on-center feel made unnecessary the minute in-lane course corrections that help cause driver fatigue.

Four-way power-adjustable lumber support also helped to reduce fatigue and minimize lower-back pain.

What we didn’t do on our 2,500-mile trip was pass many gas stations. The front-wheel-drive, 4,400-pound Sedona musters subpar EPA numbers; 19 mpg combined/17 city/22 highway.

The new Sedona arrives just as Kia gains new recognition for quality control. In the current J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey, the company moves up four positions to place second behind Porsche.

The minivan segment is dominated by entries from such builders as Honda, Toyota and Chrysler. While it’s unlikely ever to rule in Southern Utah, it’s very likely to put Kia on the minivan roadmap.
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Contact Don at don@dadair.com

2015 Kia Sedona SXL
Vehicle base price: $26,100
Trim level base price: $39,700
As tested: $43,295
Options included xenon HD headlights; lane-departure warning system; forward-collision warning system; surround-view monitor; adaptive cruise control
Towing capacity: 3,500 lbs
EPA rating: 19 combined/17 city/22 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified