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

Updated November 13th, 2017

2018 Hyundai Tuscon

2018 Hyundai Tucson

What changes make the 2018 Hyundai Tucson different?

Reconfigured model grades, enhanced content, and a simpler way to complete your new-car purchase. Ninety percent of Tucson models now come with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity as standard. And every version of this compact crossover is covered by Hyundai’s new Shopper Assurance program that, among other innovations, includes a three-day money-back guarantee.

This is prelude to the expected model-year 2019 refresh of a compact crossover last fully redesigned for 2016. A five-seater competitor for the likes of the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, Tucson slots below the midsize Santa Fe in Hyundai’s crossover lineup. But it’s no longer the South Korean automaker’s smallest SUV. That title passes to the introduced-for-’18 Kona subcompact crossover.

The roomiest, best-looking Tucson yet, this third-generation edition has been a sales hit. Demand increased 27 percent through Sept. 2017, outpacing the growth of anything else in the segment. Still, it ranks eighth in sales in a class led, in order, by the RAV4, Nissan Rogue, CR-V, Ford Escape, Subaru Forester, Jeep Cherokee, and Mazda CX-5. All that is testament to the popularity of small crossovers in general.

Why should you buy a 2018?

Because you like its looks and value proposition – and don’t care to wait for – or pay more for — whatever changes are in store for 2019. Today’s Tuscon is roomy, solid, and rides and handles well, despite steering feel that can be annoyingly imprecise. It’s also worth considering as an outstanding example of this South Korean automaker’s knack for styling, features, and materials quality that make great impressions on the showroom floor. Less obvious, until you live with it, is a quirk that affects the turbocharged powertrain Tucson’s top two trim levels. Learn more about that in “Any mechanical changes?” below.

The ’18 lineup contains seven trim levels, up from six, and incorporates a couple added to the roster during model-year 2017. Returning is the entry-level SE model and the fuel-economy-maximizing Eco. Last year’s SE Popular Equipment Package becomes the SEL model, and last year’s SE Plus model is now the SEL Plus. The 2018 Value trim replaces the 2017 Sport, and includes more equipment. Back again is the Night model with its gloss-black exterior mirrors and custom 19-inch wheels from Japanese manufacturer RAYS. Returning atop the lineup is the Limited. The Eco, Value, Night, and Limited are the turbocharged models. All versions are available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD).

Note that Hyundai’s corporate partner, Kia, offers a version of the Tucson called the Sportage. It has different styling and different engines (more on that below). Both brands trade on similar value propositions and share one of the industry’s most generous new-vehicle warranties.

Should you wait for the 2019 model instead?

Yes, if you want the latest look and most up-to-date technology and are willing to absorb the likely price increases they’ll bring. The basic engineering and essential dimensions won’t change, but expect the 2019 freshening to update Tucson’s interior and exterior styling. For some clues, look to the styling changes made to Hyundai’s 2018 Sonata sedan, primarily its rather aggressive front end and huge air intakes. Tucson’s model-year-’19 updates should see it through to its next full redesign, likely for model-year 2021.

One 2019 change we’d advocate is that Hyundai extend the safety protection of autonomous emergency braking to models other than the top-line Limited. Up until now, that automatic braking to avoid a frontal collision has been part of the $2,750 Limited Ultimate Package option. Short of that, the automaker ought to at least make safety features such as forward-collision and lane-departure warning available as more than just options on the most expensive Tucson trim levels. As for that powertrain quirk, swapping the turbo’s clunky dual-clutch transmission for a conventional automatic might do the trick, but perhaps that’s asking too much for a midcycle freshening.

Is the styling different?

No; the next changes inside and out will come with the model-year 2019 refresh. Today’s Tucson is a handsome enough little crossover. With its bold grille, sweeping headlights, and flowing cut lines, Tucson’s exterior styling follows Hyundai’s “Fluidic Sculpture 2.0” design language. It’s a more conservative take on the original Fluidic Sculpture look that debuted with the 2011 Sonata. The Night stands apart for its trendy dark trim, but aside from minor details, the biggest visual differentiation among Tucson models is the wheels. All have alloys, 19-inch-diameter on the Night, Sport, and Limited, 17 on the others.

Tucson’s interior design is not quite as fashion-forward as the exterior, but it’s laudably sensible, with large, clear instrumentation and easy-to-use connectivity and climate controls. For 2018, the SEL upgrades to the 7-inch dashboard infotainment screen found in the Eco, Night, and Value models. Along with it comes Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto support, meaning 90 percent of Tucsons now include those useful smartphone interfaces. The SE retains a 5.5-inch screen; it’s smaller than average for the class and makes seeing the backup camera more difficult than it should be. The SEL Plus and Limited have an 8-inch screen that augments CarPlay and Android Auto with an imbedded navigation system and Hyundai’s BlueLink telematics.

Passenger accommodations are quite good, with the back seat providing more legroom than you might expect given Tucson’s rather tidy exterior dimensions. Total cargo volume of 61.9 cubic feet exceeds that of the Sportage and rivals like the Jeep Cherokee but is well shy of the 70-plus cubic feet of the CR-V and RAV-4.

Any mechanical changes?

No, and probably none until the 2021 redesign. All ’18 Tucsons again come standard with front-wheel drive and are available with all-wheel drive (AWD) for an extra $1,400. Like most in the class, this AWD system isn’t designed for serious off-roading. But unlike most, a console button allows drivers to lock in a 50/50 front/rear torque split at slow speeds to enhance traction on low-grip surfaces.

The SE, SEL, and SEL Plus models use a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 164 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration with this drivetrain is adequate at best; you’re going to want more power for highway passing and merging.

Hyundai gives you more with the 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder in the Tucson Eco, Value, Night, and Limited models. It has 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Lots of rivals offer engines with more power and are faster overall, but turbo Tucsons are much livelier off the line and have far more passing muscle than the non-turbo Tucsons. And combined with Tucson’s competent if not exhilarating road manners, they’re fairly entertaining to drive — when you can get the transmission to cooperate.

Let us explain: Hyundai pairs this turbo engine with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission designed to act like a traditional automatic transmission but with greater efficiencies. On the road, this particular duel-clutch gearbox causes Tucson’s drivetrain to bog and judder, particularly in low-speed stop-and-go commuting. Hyundai has applied software updates, with some success. But driving behavior overall remains much less refined than that of compact crossovers that use conventional automatics or continuously variable automatic transmissions. Indeed, some Tucson owners reported such severe drivability problems that they filed a class-action lawsuit against Hyundai, alleging defects in the transmission control module. The case is pending as of this review (October 2017). If a turbocharged Tucson is on your wish list, give it a thorough test drive to see if the transmission’s idiosyncrasies bother you.

Note as well that the Sportage teams its different naturally aspirated and turbocharged four-cylinder engines with a conventional six-speed automatic transmission. They’re more powerful and smoother-running than either Tucson powertrain.

Does fuel economy improve?

EPA ratings for all 2018 Tucsons were not released in time for this review, but most aren’t likely to change significantly, given the absence of changes to the ’18 model’s mechanical specs or aerodynamics. The EPA rates the SE and SE Plus 21/26/23 mpg city/highway combined with AWD – same as their 2017 counterparts. Expect these models to again rate 23/30/26 mpg with front-wheel drive.

The EPA issued a rating of 24/28/25 mpg city/highway/combined for 2018 Tucsons with the 1.6-liter turbo engine and AWD. That’s unchanged from 2017; expect these models to repeat at 25/30/27 mpg with front-drive for ’18. Similarly, look for the 2018 Tucson Eco to repeat its ratings of 26/32/28 mpg with front-drive and 25/30/27 with AWD. Compared with the other turbocharged Tucsons, the Eco has mileage-enhancing ultra-low-rolling-resistance tires and subtle aerodynamic tweaks. All Tucsons are tuned for regular-grade 87-octane gasoline.

Does it have new features?

No new features, but some have been more liberally distributed throughout the lineup. As noted above, creation of the SEL, SEL Plus, and Value trims spreads Apple Carplay and Android Auto to most 2018 Tucson models. Hyundai for 2018 also makes a heated steering wheel standard on Limited AWD models, although it removes satellite radio from the SE model and begins it instead with the SEL trim. The SE, however, is the only ’18 Tucson to retain a CD player.

The entry-level SE is reasonably well equipped with a rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity, and stain-resistant cloth upholstery.

The SEL adds to that a power driver’s seat, satellite radio, LED daytime running lights, fog lights, roof rack side rails. The Eco essentially has the same equipment as the SEL but includes the turbocharged engine, dual-clutch transmission, and ultra-low-rolling resistance tires designed to increase fuel economy. The Eco also has LED daytime running lights, fog lights, roof rack side rails, a power driver’s seat, and a throttle-quickening sport button.

The Value model builds off the Eco, adding keyless entry with pushbutton engine start, hands-free power rear liftgate, blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection, heated front seats, a panoramic sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, auto-dimming rearview mirror with built-in garage door transmitter, and rear-obstacle detection. It retains the retired Sport model’s aforementioned 19-inch wheels.

Night versions are basically Value models but with the blackened trim and wheels, plus alloy pedals, a perforated leather steering-wheel wrap, and front and rear cabin LED map lights.

The 2018 SEL Plus and Limited are near duplicates, save for the SEL Plus’s lower price point, thanks to its less expensive, naturally aspirated powertrain versus the Limited’s turbo. Their shared features include the 8-inch-screen infotainment kit with navigation and Hyundai’s BlueLink telematics, plus leather upholstery, fancier cabin trim, dual zone automatic climate control, power front passenger seat, upgraded Infinity-brand audio, rear air-conditioning vents, and other premium touches.

Prices

Hyundai had not released 2018 Tucson pricing in time for this review, but the new grade strategy and extra content will likely mean they’ll increase. At lease this crossover should be easier to shop for and purchase. Like all 2018 Hyundai vehicles, Tucson is covered by the automaker’s new Shopper Assurance program. Intended to make car buying easier, it’s highlighted by a three-day money-back guarantee on vehicles driven fewer than 300 miles after purchase or lease. The program intends to streamline negotiations by posting on dealer websites the vehicle’s “fair market pricing” including all customer and dealer incentives. It enables shoppers to test drive vehicles delivered to a location of their choosing, such as home, office, or coffee shop. And it aims to reduce time spent at the dealership by allowing most paperwork to be completed online.

For comparison sake, here are 2017 Tucson prices, including Hyundai’s $950 destination fee. With front-wheel drive, the 2017 SE started at $23,650, the Eco at $25,100, the Night at $28,750, and the Limited at $30,725.

The front-drive SE with Popular Equipment Package (the SEL for 2018) listed for $24,400, the Sport (now the Value model) for $27,500, and SE Plus (now the SEL Plus) for $27,700. Expect 2018 base prices to be anywhere from $200-$1,000 higher. All-wheel drive will likely remain a $1,400 extra on all models.

The only factory option of note for the 2018 Tucson will likely be the Limited Ultimate Package. For $2,750 on the 2017 version, you got xenon headlights, lane-departure warning, panoramic sunroof, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear-obstacle detection, ventilated front seats, and heated rear seats.

With the sunroof now standard, the Limited Ultimate Package should cost less for 2018, but is still likely to be the only way to equip a Tucson with the full suite of latest safety gear. While the SEL Plus comes standard with blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alerts, these driver aids the Limited Ultimate Package option added autonomous emergency braking designed to mitigate a frontal collision with another vehicle or a pedestrian.

That’s important because Limiteds so equipped are the only Tucsons eligible for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s highest rating, which is coveted by automakers. The ’18 Limited with the Ultimate Package achieved the institute’s second highest ranking, “Top Safety Pick,” but was denied the ultimate “Top Safety Pick+” award because the performance of its xenon headlamps fell just short in testing. In any event, we’d urge Hyundai to follow Toyota and Honda’s leads by making these important safety features by expanding their availability to more than just the most expensive model.

And until it corrects the issues with the dual-clutch transmission, our pick in this lineup would be the AWD SEL Plus, as it includes most of the Limited’s feature set at what should be a few dollars less than $30,000.

When will it come out?

Release date for the 2018 Hyundai Tucson is late fall 2017.

Best competitors

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

Read More about the Latest Models

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]