The 2020 Hyundai Tucson should be a fine value, but the 2019 may be the smarter buy

2020 Hyundai Tucson

2020 Hyundai Tucson

What changes will make the 2020 Hyundai Tucson different?

Expect little of consequence after Hyundai substantially refreshed its compact crossover SUV for model-year 2019. Among the updates were revised styling, a beneficial new engine choice, and wider availability of important driver-assistance features.

The first-generation Tucson debuted for model-year 2005, sharing its basic engineering with the Sportage crossover from Hyundai’s corporate cousin, Kia. Tucson was a wallflower for its first decade, then designers shook things up with today’s boldly styled third-generation, which launched for model-year 2016. In addition to sweeping new styling, it got interior refinements, a smoother ride, and much sharper handling.

The ’20 Tucson will carry over these changes, which helped propel a 25-percent jump in sales through September 2018. That growth outpaces the 15-percent increase enjoyed by the compact-crossover class as a whole. Still, Tucson ranks roughly midpack in the segment, a highly competitive class dominated by the Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Equinox, and Ford Escape.

Should I wait for the 2020 model or buy the 2019?

Buy a 2019. It got worthwhile updates that’ll see it through to its next full redesign, tentatively slated for model-year 2021. The 2020 will be a rerun, and model-year price inflation means you’d likely be asked to pay more for an essentially unchanged vehicle. Plus, waiting for the 2020 would give you just one model year before your Tucson begins to look and feel dated compared to the next-gen ’21 replacement.

The 2020 Tucson lineup should repeat the 2019 roster, starting with the base SE model and ascending through Value, SEL, Sport, and Limited trims. Each will again come standard with a four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive. Traction-aiding all-wheel drive (AWD) would remain an option across the board.

Will the styling be different?

No because Hyundai already updated it for 2019. The 2016 Tucson was a radical departure from the stoically styled 2010-2015 generation. It didn’t have the sweeping lines of the brand’s Elantra and Sonata sedans of the same era, but it was still a handsome little crossover.

The ’19 model got some extra attitude, thanks to sharper headlights flanking Hyundai’s signature hexagonal grille. The cutline that runs across the body sides became more defined, and some classy new wheels designs became available.

The ’20 will continue that look, as well as the more substantial changes that were made inside the cabin. The most significant revised the dashboard’s central control stack. It includes an electronic parking brake in placed of the previous foot-operated lever.

Hyundai’s Blue Link telematics interface is now included on all but the SE model, while Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto are standard across the board. Instead of an infotainment screen integrated into the dashboard, all Tucsons have a free-standing tablet-like display. A 7-inch touchscreen is standard on all but the Limited, which gets an 8-inch display and an imbedded navigation system that can provide real-time GPS mapping absent a cellphone signal.

Passenger and cargo volumes didn’t change with the 2019 refresh and so the ’20 Tucson will again provide better-than-expected comfort, given the vehicle’s tidy exterior dimensions. Rear-seat occupants in particular have surprisingly good headroom and legroom. And cargo volume is slightly better than class average, at 31 cubic feet behind the rear seatbacks and 61.9 with them folded.

Any mechanical changes?

Not for 2020. SE and Value models will continue with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 164 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. That means these models should again feel slow off the line and will continue to be hampered by their six-speed automatic transmission, which is slow to downshift when more power is needed for highway-speed passing and merging.

All other ’20 Tucson models will return with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder producing 181 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. This engine debuted in the 2018 Tucson Sport and as part of the 2019 refresh, became standard in the SEL and Limited, too, replacing a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that had 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. More important, the SEL and Limited exchanged the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that had been used with the turbo for a conventional six-speed automatic. It’s an improvement over the dual clutch, which suffered myriad flaws, including bogging, jerking, and other erratic shift behavior, especially at low speeds.

Credit is due this South Korean automaker for recognizing that handling was one of the final frontiers it needed to conquer if its Hyundai and Kia vehicles were to be recognized for their driving manners rather than just their value proposition. The ’20 Tucson will continue to show the company’s admirable progress, with well-sorted ride and handling characteristics that indeed are selling points.

With its standard 18-inch wheels and tires, the SEL grade should offer the best balance of comfort and control. SE and Value models will return with 17-inch wheels and tires and sacrifice some cornering grip for an even suppler ride. In turn, the 19-inch wheels and tires on the Sport and Limited models, while decidedly good-looking, give up a degree of bump absorption for slightly sharper cornering response.

No matter the wheel and tire setup, Tucsons with AWD handle better than their front-drive counterparts, even on dry pavement. If you want a compact crossover capable of serious trail bashing, look to the Jeep Cherokee or Subaru Forester. Tucson is no off-roader – its 6.4 inches of ground clearance isn’t much greater than that of a car – but it is among the few in its competitive set that gives the driver a button to lock in a 50/50 front/rear torque spilt at low speeds to aid traction in gravel, ruts, and snow.

Will fuel economy improve?

Sadly not. The 2020 Tucson should remain among the least fuel-efficient compact crossovers of comparable power. In fact, EPA ratings are likely to decline for models that exchanged the 1.6-liter turbo engine for the 2.4-liter.

The EPA had not released 2020 Tucson fuel-economy ratings in time for this report. Neither had it released ratings for 2019 Tucsons with the 2.4-liter engine, but they should duplicate the ratings for the 2018 Sport with the 2.4: 21/28/24 mpg city/highway/combined with front drive and 21/25/22 with AWD.

By comparison, Tucsons with the 1.6-liter turbo were rated 25/30/27 mpg with front-drive and 24/28/25 with AWD. Still, it seems to us a fair tradeoff, given the superior drivability of the 2.4-liter and six-speed automatic transmission.

The ’20 Tucson SE and Value models with the 2.0-liter engine should repeat EPA ratings for their 2019 counterparts: 23/30/26 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 22/25/23 mpg with AWD. Regardless of engine, Hyundai will again recommend regular-grade 87-octane gas for all ’20 Tucsons.

Will there be new features?

Unlikely, but that’s not a shortcoming. The 2019 Tucson was a better buy for the money than the 2018, in terms of standard equipment. The ’20 should continue that value story.

Most important, all grades will return with key safety features as standard: autonomous emergency braking that can automatically stop the vehicle to prevent a frontal collision, and lane-maintaining automatic steering correction. Prior to the 2019 refresh, these features were exclusive to the Limited and then only when equipped with the expensive Ultimate Package. Unfortunately, expect such driver assists as adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beam headlights, pedestrian detection for the autonomous emergency braking, and drowsy-driver alert to continue solely on the Limited for model-year 2020.

Aside from its 7-inch infotainment screen with CarPlay and Android Auto, the SE doesn’t have any standout features. Those start at the Value grade, which offers blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection, power driver’s seat, heated front seats, keyless access with pushbutton ignition, and Blue Link.

The SEL gains the 2.4-liter engine, 18-inch wheels, and dual-zone automatic climate control. The Sport adds 19-inch wheels, and LED exterior lighting. Limited grades add chrome exterior trim, adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beam headlights, leather upholstery, 8-inch infotainment screen, and imbedded navigation.

Will 2020 prices be different?

They’ll probably increase slightly. Official 2019 pricing was not available in time for this report, so our estimates are based on the 2018 Tucson and include the manufacturer’s destination fee, which was $980.

With front-wheel drive, estimated base prices are $24,250 for the 2020 Tucson SE and $25,500 for the ’20 Value. Estimated base prices are $27,000 for the ’20 SEL, $28,250 for the Sport, and $31,500 for the Limited. Expect AWD to add $1,400-$1,500 to any of these base prices.

The only factory option will be the Limited’s Ultimate Package, which includes pedestrian detection, drowsy-driver alert, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated outboard rear seats, and a panoramic sunroof. Expect this to cost about $3,500.

When does it come out?

Expect a release date for the 2020 Hyundai Tucson in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, GMC Terrain, Honda CR-V, Jeep Cherokee and Compass, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross and Outlander, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, Volkswagen Tiguan

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to 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, 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]