Car Reviews

2019 Hyundai Tucson Highlander Review

Dan DeGasperi’s 2019 Hyundai Tucson Highlander Review With Pricing, Specs, Performance, Ride And Handling, Safety, Verdict And Score.

In A Nutshell In Hyundai-speak, the Highlander is the top Tucson and it promises to offer performance, luxury and safety – but it certainly asks a fair price for it…

2019 Hyundai Tucson Highlander Specifications

Price $46,500+ORC Warranty five-years, unlimited km Safety 5 stars Engine 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol Power 130kW at 5500rpm Torque 265Nm at 1500-4500rpm Transmission seven-speed dual-clutch automatic Drive all-wheel drive Dimensions 4480mm (L) 1850mm (W) 1655mm (H) 2670mm (WB) Kerb Weight 1593kg Towing Capacity 750kg/1600kg Fuel Tank 62L Spare full-size alloy Thirst 7.7L/100km claimed combined, 10.2L/100km tested

BY THE fourth quarter of 2017, the small car segment – the Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla class – was still outselling medium SUV models, and by a dominant 15,000 sales those five-door hatchbacks and four-door sedans were the top-selling genre locally.

Fast forward a year, and by October 2018 small cars were beaten by the Hyundai Tucson class by 2500 units.

So, then, the Tucson, with an 11.5 per cent share of the segment, plus the Mazda CX-5 (15.3%), Toyota RAV4 (12.8%), Nissan X-Trail (12%) and Honda CR-V (9.5%), together have this year snared 61.6% of a 20-strong cohort.

They’re the ones you’re buying, and we’ve sampled them all. Increasingly, too, family buyers are picking loftier model grades such as the Tucson Highlander tested here. The question is, does this South Korean-made Hyundai make for a best-in-class flagship medium SUV?

What’s The Price And What Do You Get?

So you’ve decided you want more than an entry-level model grade. Well, in the case of the middle-tier Tucson Elite you’re paying at least $37,850 plus on-road costs and still missing out on equipment such as a sunroof, heated seats and an electric tailgate. Meanwhile if you need all-wheel drive and turbocharged performance, it requires at least $40,850+ORC.

From there, the $5650 stretch to this $46,500+ORC Tucson Highlander is sizeable, but arguably worth it. Not only do you get those three aforementioned luxury and convenience items, but it also adds a panoramic size of glass roof, ventilated front seats, an electrically adjustable passenger seat, larger 19-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and tail-lights, front parking sensors, wireless smartphone charging and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.

Along with the already-standard keyless auto-entry with push-button start, adaptive cruise control, leather, plus 8.0-inch touchscreen with digital radio, satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology, it rounds out a persuasive list.

Indeed, the only missing items are automatic-adaptive high-beam (it only switches between high- and low-beam when traffic is detected, rather than blocking out individual vehicles) and a head-up display, both of which are standard on a $46,590+ORC CX-5 Akera, for example. However, the Mazda misses out on ventilated seats and it gets a small sunroof.

What’s The Interior And Practicality Like?

The Tucson Highlander most closely challenges the popular CX-5 Akera and CR-V VTi-LX, and the less-popular Peugeot 3008 GT-Line and Volkswagen Tiguan 162TSI Highline inside, rather than the big but basic X-Trail and RAV4 (the latter of which will be replaced in 2019).

All of those top-spec petrol-engined rivals get similar goodies, but the Hyundai is right up there for cabin material choice and quality, while surpassing all for seat comfort both front and rear. The front chairs are like cushy armchairs, yet they still offer impressive grip and plenty of adjustment. Likewise, the broad rear bench with a reclining backrest.

Both rear legroom and headroom are plentiful, the view forward (and up) is expansive, while a fast-charge USB port below the rear air vents is a nice touch. Roomier than CX-5, and plusher than 3008 and Tiguan, it cedes only some sprawling space to the huge CR-V.

The Honda aces boot volume, too, with 522 litres comfortably beating this Hyundai’s 466L, as well as the Mazda’s 442L. At first glance the Peugeot (591L) and Volkswagen (615L) lead the segment for luggage space, but it’s worth noting that the former is front-wheel drive only (which helps lower the floor) and the latter is measured with the sliding bench set forward – leaving rear riders no legroom. This Highlander doesn’t get a sliding bench, but its 60:40-split-backrest folds effortlessly, and its luggage-to-people ratio remains impressive.

What Are The Controls And Infotainment Like?

Everything is where you expect it in this medium SUV. It sounds like a simple thing to say, but as more technology invades particularly top-end model grades, they can become cluttered and confusing. Not so here, with big buttons clearly labelled – yet also stylish.

The touchscreen sits proudly atop the dashboard, and not only does it deliver slick response and high resolution, but the shortcut tabs flanking each side of it are an incredibly useful way of instantly changing between radio, media, map, nav, phone and CarPlay/Android Auto. Along with digital radio, wireless smartphone charging, and a solid-sounding Infinity audio system, the only thing it leaves aside is voice control for nav destination entry.

What’s The Performance Like?

All rivals use four-cylinder engines. The CX-5 features a 2.5-litre non-turbo with 140kW of power and 252Nm of torque, the CR-V deploys a 1.5-litre turbo with the same power but 240Nm, the Tiguan leads with a 2.0-litre turbo making 162kW/350Nm and the 3008 matches this Tucson with 1.6-litre turbo power – though with a lesser 121kW/240Nm.

With the exception of the near-$50K-Tiguan, then, they’re all comparable, including the Highlander’s 136kW at 5500rpm and 265Nm from 1500rpm until 4500rpm. In a 1593kg package – not overly heavy by class standards – the petrol mill is more than adequate but less than outstanding. It’s impressively refined and immediately responsive, if industrial-sounding when extended, and it can feel as though it is working quite hard, quite often.

A greater problem in the past has been the way the good engine interacts with a sub-par seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, but Hyundai has clearly worked hard to improve it with this recent facelift. Where previously it would stutter and lurch, it’s now smoother and more adept at picking the right ratio – although it can still slur occasionally.

In any case, engine and auto gel well enough that the $2300-optional 2.0-litre turbo-diesel isn’t really necessary unless you want to pay more up-front for better economy long-term. It’s a louder engine, with only 6kW more power but 135Nm of extra torque – another reason to get it, should towing or larger loads enter this medium SUV frequently. Even unladen, the petrol can work up a thirst – this Tucson returned 10.2 litres per 100 kilometres on test, well up on its 7.7L/100km claim.

What’s It Like On The Road?

Because the petrol engine isn’t too powerful, it rarely overwhelms this Hyundai’s highly competent chassis. Yet with all-wheel drive as standard, you can use up every bit of what the 1.6-litre turbo offers, more of the time, compared with a front-wheel drive sedan.

This medium SUV embraces its higher ride height and taller roll centre compared with a passenger car, too. It’s quite short from tip-to-toe, only 4.5 metres long, so it has that fairly agile and enjoyably balanced feel of a big hatchback rather than a bloated faux-off-roader.

Yet it stops short of being properly sporty, in part due to the Hankook Kinenergy GT tyres that lack grip especially in the wet, and which replaced the formerly standard – and excellent – Continental rubber. Otherwise, in the context of a family car, this Highlander has got its priorities right, by offering clearly the best ride quality in this segment.

It’s the balance of comfort and control that impresses most about Hyundai’s Australian-tuned suspension, with the Tucson (along with the Sonata developed at about the same time) delivering the finest examples of spring and damper tuning in the whole line-up.

Does It Have A Spare?

Yes, a full-sized 19-inch alloy wheel.

Can You Tow With It?

Yes, up to 1600kg (braked) across the range.

What about ownership?

Hyundai’s five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty is no longer a unique selling point, but it remains competitive with Ford, Holden and Honda, bests Subaru, Toyota and Volkswagen by two years and only trails the seven calendars offered by Kia and MG.

Annual servicing, meanwhile, costs $295 each over the first three years – but keep in mind that 12,000km is the threshold between check-ups, not 15,000km as is the standard now.

What about safety features?

The Tucson achieved five-star ANCAP safety rating.

In Highlander (and Elite, optional in others) that is backed up by forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane-departure warning with active lane-keep assistance, a blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and auto up/down high-beam.

Editor's Rating

How do we rate the interior and practicality?
How do we rate the infotainment and controls?
How do we rate the performance?
How do we rate the ride and handling?
How do we rate the safety?
Practical Motoring says: It may not have the biggest boot, but the Highlander’s interior is the roomiest, most comfortable and among the best-equipped in the medium SUV segment. And it might not boast the sharpest handling or quickest performance, but the turbo-petrol Tucson’s blend of effortless response and superb ride quality is perfect for a family car. It’s rare that a range-flagship is the most impressive of all, yet that’s the case here thanks to a mix of luxury, safety and drivability. In this spec, the Hyundai is a clear top pick in the class.

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Dan DeGasperi

Dan DeGasperi