SINGAPORE (Dec 31): I owned the first-generation Hyundai Tucson when I first arrived in Singapore many years ago. For five glorious years, it served me well. But when the certificate of entitlement ran out, I made the hard decision not to renew it. As it was being driven off to be scrapped, I felt like I was losing a family member. Fast forward to 2018, and we now have a face-lifted third generation (the second generation was launched in 2010).

So I’ve always had a soft spot for the Tucson, a very underrated model from a Korean car brand that many people overlook in favour of its European rivals. With each new Hyundai I drive, I feel the gap closing on its German counterparts in terms of technology, comfort and performance. When the new Tucson was announced, I was keeping my fingers crossed that it would carry forward that momentum.

The third generation was launched in 2016, with the biggest change being a 1.6-litre engine. Two years on, the Koreans have decided to give it a facelift: Just a few nips and tucks to improve the appearance of its exterior and interior.

An existing or previous Tucson owner might spot the tweaks, such as the new front grille that dominates the face of the car. Although it’s a minor modification, the front does look much better as a result, helped by new full LED headlamps, with daytime running lights that also adorn the rear. Overall, it’s a chunky but smart-looking SUV that has a premium feel about it.

The inside is a refreshing surprise, too, especially for someone who may be upgrading from the second-generation Tucson. Taking centre stage is a seven-inch, dashboard-mounted infotainment touchscreen that comes with Apple CarPlay. It may not be as slick as perhaps a Mercedes- Benz’s, but it works just as well and is easy to use.

Remember, this SUV is under $120,000 — significantly cheaper than its German rivals, yet it comes with many of the gadgets you expect from premium brands, such as an electronic parking brake and wireless phone charger. Not to mention a smart rear-view mirror that is not only auto-dimming but also has a built-in compass so that you always know in what direction you are travelling — perfect if you happen to get lost the number of times I do on this small island.

The leather upholstery has been redesigned. My test-drive model came with a huge panoramic sunroof that made the cabin feel light and spacious. Sitting inside the Tucson felt strangely familiar, although it bore little resemblance to the first-generation model I had years ago. I quickly got accustomed to the inside and drove the car like it was my own. The visibility was brilliant, and the high seating position made me yearn again for an SUV.

It’s a pretty big car to look at, but it drives like a much smaller one. It was surprisingly nimble, so I had no trouble negotiating city traffic or small car parks — this can often be a problem with some SUVs.

While a 1.6-litre engine might not sound like a lot of power for a large SUV such as the Tucson, it was more than enough. The engine kicked in quickly and smoothly, delivering plenty of power when needed. In Sport mode, you can pull away speedily, gliding around corners at high speeds with ease. The responsive seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox has been tweaked, allowing the Tucson to complete the century sprint slightly faster than before.

Another plus point is the fuel consumption. Although it does have an Eco mode, even in normal driving mode it can achieve 7.1 litres for every 100km, which is very efficient for an SUV of this size. I would go so far as to say the Hyundai Tucson was punchy in its performance. And it definitely punches above its weight in terms of looks, performance and technology.

Some misguided individuals still turn up their noses at Korean cars, opting for German-made cars instead. But you get what you pay for, and for $118,000, you get a lot of SUV for your money.

Hyundai calls it an old-fashioned SUV. And that suits me just fine. 

HYUNDAI TUCSON
$117,999 including COE

Engine: 1,591cc, T-GDI
Power/torque: 174bhp/265Nm
Fuel consumption: 7.1L/100km
0 to 100kph: 8.9 seconds
Top speed: 201kph 


Justin Harper is a freelance journalist with a passion for all things fast