Hyundai is aiming for the complete package.
When we first drove the new generation of Hyundai Tuscan, we noted that it had finally been blessed with the looks and chops to stand out as a segment leader. That's a big claim when the best-selling vehicle that isn't a truck is the Toyota RAV4, and cars like the Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5 are in the mix. In the compact crossover segment, competitors vying for top honors lose footing for flaws that would've been forgiven a few years ago. Case in point, the Mazda's CX-5's occasional confusion about what gear it should be in. And since we first drove the new Tucson, Honda has revamped the CR-V with a new generation that we couldn't find fault with, and the RAV4 is still simply excellent. That's what the Tucson goes up against, and for it to come out on top, it has to be faultless. We spent a week with the Tucson in N Line specification to get a better feel for the crossover and come to a conclusion.
While Honda is ironing out its quirky designs and Toyota is making the RAV4 look like every other Toyota SUV and truck, Hyundai is setting itself apart. The Tucson manages to be different without being too quirky, and there's sophistication in those sharp creases and angular lines. Every car on the road now has a flashy grille, but Hyundai has integrated its headlights and running lights into the intricate styling of its "parametric jewel" design. Hyundai sent us the N Line trim, which gets an elaborate design element added to the grille, which the manufacturer suggests creates"additional reflections," depending on the angle. The N Line also gets a larger, squared-off bumper with more prominent air intake. The bumper repeats itself in style at the back and has a silver skid plate added. The lights also get new bezel frames and a new spoiler sits on the back. The whole package rides on unique 19-inch wheels.
Hyundai could have carried on the edgy styling inside the vehicle, but instead, things are kept simple, with the flashiest element not being particularly flashy. The dashboard design seems to curve right into the door trim and makes for a reassuring and snug cockpit-type feel, but without actually being constricted. Rear passenger space is important in a compact crossover, and the Tucson has space for kids to grow into and room for taller adults that won't feel cramped over short journeys. Roominess aside, neither the standard 8.8-inch touchscreen on the base model nor the larger 10.25-inch screen added to the upper trims is out of place.
Currently, Hyundai beats out Toyota and Honda on infotainment. The screens are clear, the user interface is crisp and concise, and features like Hyundai's digital key smartphone app are excellent. Most importantly, wireless CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, something that should be a given on cars designed for small families and regular commuting as we head into the 2023 model year. Where things take a dip is higher up in the trim levels, where the upgrade to a Bose audio system happens. We've yet to hear a Bose audio system we would want in our own car, and that's no different for the Tucson, sadly.
Hyundai has taken a blanket approach to drivetrains with the Tucson. You can have gas-only power, hybrid, or plug-in hybrid power. A 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 187 horsepower is standard on gas models, and like all the base engines in non-premium compact crossovers, it's adequate for power and good for fuel economy. The N Line model offers no extra power, just a more aggressive response to inputs from the engine management software. The hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants come with a 1.6-liter turbo inline-four with an electric motor, all-wheel drive as standard, and 226 hp and 261 hp, respectively.
While the gas-only engine makes adequate power, the 8-speed transmission is well-tuned, and we couldn't find any fault. In Sport mode, throttle response is sharpened, and shifts come later in the RPM band. While nobody will be blown away by the N-Line's sportiness, it's fun to hustle around in Sport mode.
A curiosity of the N Line model is that the push-button drive select system is replaced by a traditional shift selector. That makes sense for shifting modes on the fly, but we have no issue with the push-button system. Despite the sport-tuned suspension, the N Line model still has agreeable ride quality and is perfectly suited to a daily commute. It comes into its own when it's time to hustle, though, and with the Tuscan's responsive steering, it's fun to get the car into corners. The N Line is more about looks than performance, though, and you'll want a full-fat Hyundai N model if you want to carve up the back roads regularly. If your weekly schedule includes back roads, though, and you like the styling, there's a good argument for choosing the sportier trim. For cruising, we would take a non-sport-trimmed Tucson, as that's where the crossover shines; in the N Line, you feel the stiffer suspension and bigger wheels affecting ride quality.
The N Line trim is an indulgence in a class of vehicles where affordability is a key factor. Starting at an MSRP of $31,200 in FWD guise for 2022, there is value for money if you're into the Tucson N Line's styling and a back road is part of your commute. Otherwise, if you want more power and better fuel economy, the hybrid models are a better bet at a few thousand more; the Tucson is still fun to drive without the upgraded suspension and throttle and transmission mapping. There's no N Line trim on the hybridized versions of the Tucson, though. We wouldn't file the Tucson N Line away as an enthusiast's car, but for someone that wants to look good and occasionally pick up the pace, it has a place in Hyundai's lineup.
When it goes up against the Toyota RAV 4, we prefer the Tucson in general. Toyota has angled the RAV4 as a soft-roader with its sportier trims, so there's no real comparison to the N Line. We still need to get the new Honda CR-V in for a full week, but from our first drive experience, we believe it will be a toss-up. However, Honda has leaned into its Sport trims, and they're hybrid only. There's more power there but also more weight. Still, we would wait for the CR-V Sport to hit the dealerships and test drive them both before making a decision.