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

Last Updated March 14th, 2017

2018 Hyundai Tucson

2018 Hyundai Tucson

What changes will make the 2018 Hyundai Tucson different?

Nothing of consequence as Hyundai’s entry-level SUV awaits a model-year 2019 revamp that’ll bring updated styling and – we hope – new or expanded features. That midcycle freshening would be the first notable change to this third-generation Tucson, which debuted for model-year 2016. Longer and wider than its 2010-2015 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 rose 41 percent in 2016 and were up another 10 percent to begin 2017.That sounds great, but in the context of the compact-crossover segment, the picture is less rosy. Tucson ranks ninth of 12 entries in this highly competitive set. It handily outsells the unrefined Mitsubishi Outlander and the soon-to-be redesigned Volkswagen Tiguan. But it’s just a thousand or so sales ahead of its engineering cousin, the Kia Sportage from Hyundai’s sibling brand. Read on for our take on why the Tucson isn’t more popular.

Why should I wait for the 2018?

You probably shouldn’t. With 2018 expected to be a stand-pat year, the only reason to wait might be to learn if this South Korean automaker upgrades the infotainment system on Tucson’s lower-priced models. There may be a new color choice or two, yes, but the ’18 Tucson is likely to cost more, particularly since Hyundai held the line on the two least expensive 2017 Tucson models, the SE and Eco, and actually decreased prices on the upper-trim Sport and Limited.

Overall, the ’18 Tucson should be a virtual repeat of the ’17. Expect a six-tier lineup ascending through base-level SE; fuel-economy-special Eco; uplevel Sport; value-packed SE Plus; black-trimmed Night; and top-line Limited models. We’d be happy if the SE, Eco, and Sport models shed their smallish 5.5-inch dashboard screen for, say, the 7-inch system available on Hyundai’s Elantra and Sonata sedans. That would also bring compatibility with Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto, two features currently exclusive to the SE Plus and top-line Limited.

Should I buy a 2017 model instead?

If you decided this shapely five-seater is what you’re looking for in a compact crossover SUV. It’s roomy, solid, and rides and handles 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 modern features and impressive materials that make a great impression on the showroom floor. Less obvious, until you live with it, is a powertrain quirk that affects Eco, Sport, and Limited models. Learn more about that in “Any mechanical changes?” below.

Will the styling be different?

No. The next styling changes, inside and out, will come with the model-year 2019 refresh. Still, today’s Tucson is a handsome enough little crossover. Exterior styling follows Hyundai’s “Fluidic Sculpture 2.0” design language, which is more conservative than the original Fluidic Sculpture look, which debuted on the 2011 Sonata. All ’18 Tucsons will return with alloy wheels, 17s on SE, Eco, 18s on SE Plus, 19s on the Night, Sport, and Limited. Aside from minor trim details, the model with most distinctive look is the Night. Added for model-year 2017, it chases the black-out-appearance trend with black mirrors and striking, black-finished wheels from the Japanese brand, Rays.

Inside, the carryover controls and instrumentation will be easy to decipher. Unless Hyundai upgrades it, the standard infotainment system on the SE, Eco, and Sport will remain rather barebones, with a 5.5-inch dashboard touchscreen that’s smaller than average for the class. It makes seeing the backup camera more difficult than it should be. The SE Plus and Limited have a large, crisp 8-inch touchscreen with an imbedded navigation system. They’re the only ’17 models to support Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto and the only Tucsons with a 315-watt Infinity-brand audio system.

Any mechanical changes?

Highly unlikely – and probably none until Tucson’s next full redesign, which is on track for model-year 2021. All ’18 Tucson models will again come standard with front-wheel drive and be 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.

Expect the ’18 SE and SE Plus to reprise a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 164 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque mated to a six-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 expected to return in Eco, Sport, and Limited models. It should again have 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque for notably stronger acceleration than you get with an SE or SE Plus – when the transmission cooperates. Hyundai links this turbo four to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission 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. Model-year 2017 software updates smoothed things some, but the driving experience still isn’t as refined as you get in compact crossovers with more conventional drivetrains. Our advice: take a thorough test drive — not just around the block — to see if this behavior bothers you.

Note as well that the Sportage, Tucson’s underskin twin from corporate-cousin Kia, uses different naturally aspirated and turbocharged four-cylinder engines. Linked with a conventional six-speed automatic transmission, they’re more powerful and smoother-running than either Tucson powertrain. And you’ll still benefit from the value proposition – and generous warranty coverage – common to both brands.

Will fuel economy improve?

The 2017 EPA ratings aren’t likely to change if the ‘18 Tucson carries over as-is. Expect SE and SE Plus to again rate 23/30/26 mpg city/highway combined with front-wheel drive and 21/26/23 with AWD.

Look for the turbocharged Sport and Limited to again rate 25/30/27 mpg with front-drive and 24/28/25 with AWD. Again sharing their powertrain but adding mileage-enhancing ultra-low-rolling-resistance tires and subtle aerodynamic tweaks, the ’18 Tucson Ecop should again rate 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?

Unlikely, unless Hyundai brings Eco and Sport models even with the SE Plus and Limited by granting them Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Otherwise, the ’18 Tucson should return a more than competitive array of features. Standard on the SE would be a rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, and cloth upholstery with a stain-resistant coating.

Eco models would again 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 the aforementioned 19-inch wheels, plus a hands-free power liftgate, blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection, heated front seats, and keyless entry with pushbutton ignition.

Expect the 2018 SE Plus to return with all the Sport amenities but not with the turbo engine. It’ll again borrow many Limited-grade features but at lower cost, thanks to its less expensive powertrain. These include the 8-inch-screen infotainment kit with navigation and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, 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.

The ’18 Night model can again be considered a Tucson Sport but with the blackened trim and wheels, plus a standard panoramic moonroof, alloy pedals, a perforated leather steering-wheel wrap, and front and rear cabin LED map lights. Look for the ’18 Limited to again step up from the SE Plus with the turbo powertrain, plus exclusives such as LED low-beam headlights and LED taillights.

For ’18, Hyundai could seize the opportunity to blend some safety features between the SE Plus and Limited. For example, while the SE Plus comes standard with blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alerts, these driver aids were part of the $2,750 Limited Ultimate Package option. The package also included the panoramic moonroof, an LCD gauge cluster, ventilated front seats, and heated outboard rear seats. And it was the only way to equip a 2017 Tucson with autonomous emergency braking designed to mitigate a frontal collision with another vehicle or a pedestrian.

That’s important because Limiteds so equipped were the only Tucsons 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 2018 Tucson prices be different?

Since Hyundai exercised such restraint with 2017 Tucson prices, it might be expected to recoup some revenue with slight increases for model-year ‘18 – think $300-$500. As a baseline, here are the 2017 Tucson’s base prices, which include Hyundai’s destination fee, which was $895:

With front-wheel drive, the ’17 SE started at $23,595, the Eco at $25,045, the SE Plus at $27,695, the Sport at $26,795, the Night at $28,695, and the Limited at $30,670. Expect all-wheel drive to remain a $1,400 option for all ’18 Tucsons.

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 autonomous emergency braking available across the Tucson lineup. 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]