Tucson sales are spiking, despite a powertrain oddity. Will Hyundai continue to address the quirk for 2018?

2018 Hyundai Tucson

2018 Hyundai Tucson

What changes will make the 2018 Hyundai Tucson different?

Model-year 2018 will likely be a holdover for Hyundai’s entry-level SUV as it awaits a model-year 2019 freshened that’ll bring updated styling and – we hope – new or expanded features. This compact crossover led a stable but uninteresting existence for most of its 13-year life, but that changed with the model-year 2016 debut of the third-generation design. Longer and wider than its predecessor, the redesigned Tucson boasted more passenger and cargo room while retaining tidy exterior dimensions. New chassis and suspension designs addressed the sloppy ride and dull handling. Upgraded materials made the cabin quieter and more upscale.

Buyers responded. Sales were up nearly 60 percent through the first three quarters of 2016.That sounds great, but in the context of the compact-crossover segment, the picture isn’t quite so rosy. Tucson ranks ninth of 12 entries in this highly competitive set. It handily outsells the unrefined Mitsubishi Outlander and outdated, expensive Volkswagen Tiguan. But it’s just a few thousand sales ahead of the redesigned 2017 Sportage from Kia, the other brand under Hyundai’s South Korean ownership. Read on for our take on why the Tucson isn’t more popular.

Why should I wait for the 2018?

The only reason would be to see if Hyundai upgrades the infotainment system on Tucson’s SE, Eco, or Sport models to the 7-inch touchscreen unit available on its Elantra and Sonata sedans. That would replace these models’ smallish 5.5-inch screen and bring about compatibility with Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto, two features that are currently exclusive to the top-line Tucson Limited. Otherwise, the ’18 Tucson should be a virtual repeat of the ’17, with a lineup ascending through base-level SE, fuel-economy-special Eco, uplevel Sport, and top-line Limited trim. There may be a new color choice or two, however. And it may cost more, particularly since Hyundai held the line on the SE and Eco and decreased prices on the Sport and Limited for 2017.

Should I buy a 2017 model instead?

If you decided this shapely five-seater has everything you’re looking for in a compact crossover SUV. It’s roomy, solid, and rides and handles quite well, despite steering feel that can be annoyingly imprecise. The ’17 Tucson is also worth considering as an outstanding example of Hyundai’s approach to delivering lots of modern features and impressive materials that are obvious on the showroom floor. Less obvious until you live with it is a powertrain quirk that affects the Eco, Sport, and Limited models. Learn more about that in “Any mechanical changes?” below.

Will the styling be different?

No. Any styling changes, inside or out, will be a part of the planned model-year 2019 refresh. Still, the current Tucson is a good looking little crossover. Its exterior styling follows Hyundai’s “Fluidic Sculpture 2.0” design language that premiered on the 2015 Genesis sedan. It’s more conservative than the first-generation Fluidic Sculpture, which debuted on the 2011 Sonata, but Tucson’s look is still bolder than most of what’s on offer in the competitive set. Inside, the controls and instrumentation are easy to decipher. The standard infotainment system on the SE, Eco, and Sport is rather barebones, and its 5.5-inch touchscreen is smaller than average for the class. It makes using the backup camera more difficult than it should be. The Limited has a large, crisp 8-inch touchscreen with built-in GPS navigation. It’s the only model to support Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto. For 2017, the Limited received an upgraded 315-watt Infinity-brand audio system.

Any mechanical changes?

Highly unlikely. All ’18 Tucson models would again come standard with front-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive (AWD) available for an extra $1,400. Like the majority in the class, this AWD system isn’t designed for serious off-roading, but unlike most, a control button allows drivers to lock in a 50/50 front/rear torque split at low speeds to enhance traction on low-grip surfaces.

In keeping with the SE’s entry-level status, expect it to return with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 164 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration with this drivetrain is adequate, at best; you’ll want more power for highway passing and merging. That’s delivered by the 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder standard in Eco, Sport, and Limited models. It should again have 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque and is notably stronger than the one on the SE — but it’s held back by its transmission, a 7-speed dual-clutch that’s supposed to behave like a conventional automatic. In practice, it induces bogging and jerkiness, especially in stop-and-go commuting. It also exacerbates turbo lag, a delay in throttle response before the turbocharger engages.

Software updates to the 2017 models smoothed things out some, but the driving experience with this turbo-1.6/dual-clutch combo is not nearly as refined as on compact crossovers with more conventional drivetrains. Take a thorough test drive — not just around the block — to see if you’re bothered by the idiosyncrasies. Note as well that the Sportage from corporate-cousin Kia offers a different pair of naturally aspirated and turbocharged four-cylinder engines that are more powerful and smoother-running than either Tucson powertrain. And you still benefit from the value proposition – and generous warranty coverage – common to both brands.

Will fuel economy improve?

EPA ratings shouldn’t change if the ‘18 Tucson carries over as-is. For 2017, the SE was rated 23/30/26 mpg city/highway combined with front-wheel drive and 21/26/23 with AWD. The turbocharged Sport and Limited rated 25/30/27 mpg with front-drive and 24/28/25 with AWD. The Eco has the same engine and transmission as the Sport and Limited but to squeeze out the most mileage it employs ultra-low-rolling-resistance tires and other aerodynamic tweaks. Its 2017 EPA ratings were 26/32/28 mpg with front-drive and 25/30/27 with AWD. All 2018 Tucsons would again use regular-grade 87-octane gasoline.

Will it have new features?

Not likely, unless Hyundai elects to bring Eco and Sport models even with the Limited and give them Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Otherwise, a more-than-competitive array of features will return. Standard on the SE would be a rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, and cloth upholstery with a stain-resistant coating. Eco models would add LED daytime running lights, fog lights, roof rack side rails, a power driver’s seat, and a throttle-quickening sport button. Sports would have 19-inch wheels (up from standard 17s), hands-free power rear liftgate, blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection, heated front seats, and keyless entry with pushbutton ignition. Limiteds would add a navigation system with CarPlay and Android Auto, leather upholstery, power front passenger seat, full LED headlights and taillights, dual-zone automatic climate control, and Hyundai’s Blue Link telematics.

Eco, Sport, and front-drive SE models would continue to offer no standalone or packaged options from the factory. The AWD SE would be available with a Popular Package that adds most of the Eco’s standard equipment, such as the power driver’s seat, LED daytime running lights, and sport button. The Limited’s optional Ultimate Package would bring such luxuries as rear-obstacle detection, a panoramic sunroof, LCD gauge cluster, ventilated front seats, heated outboard rear seats, lane-departure warning, and forward-emergency braking. Tucson models so equipped have been awarded the coveted “Top Safety Pick+” designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. We wish Hyundai would follow Toyota’s and Honda’s leads by making these important safety features by expanding their availability to more than just the most expensive model.

How will prices be different?

Since Hyundai exercised such restraint with 2017 Tucson prices, it might be expected to recoup some revenue with slight increases – think $300-$500 — for 2018. As a baseline, we’ll list the 2017 starting prices, including Hyundai’s 2017 $895 destination fee.

With front-wheel drive, the SE started at $23,595, the Eco at $25,045, the Sport at $26,795, and the Limited at $30,670. All-wheel drive was a $1,400 option across the board, a price we expect to remain the same for 2018. Among key options, the AWD SE’s Popular Package should again cost around $750, while the Limited’s Ultimate Package would retail for about $2,750. At what will likely be about $28,500, the AWD Sport is probably the best value in the lineup, since it includes blind-spot alert, heated front seats, and a power liftgate. The Limited has some appealing extras, but we don’t think they quite justify the nearly $4,000 price premium.

When will it come out?

Release date for the 2018 Hyundai Tucson should be in summer of 2017.

Best competitors

Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Jeep Cherokee, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4

What change would make it better?

A conventional or continuously variable automatic transmission for the turbocharged engine would make the driving experience smoother. Hyundai should also consider making lane-departure warning and forward emergency braking available across the Tucson lineup, rather than as a part of a pricey option package on the most expensive model. Further, if the company doesn’t do it for model-year 2018, we would like the freshened 2019 version to adopt the 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system from the 2017 Elantra and Sonata sedans. This would expand Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto support beyond Limited models. It wouldn’t be hard to do either because Hyundai offers this setup on current Tucsons sold in other parts of the world, such as Australia.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]