One of the best ways to truly appreciate a car’s design is to wash it.
As you get down and dirty with each angle and the sponge glides over every crease and crinkle, you can really get inside the designer’s head. Until the sponge slips, of course, and ploughs your cold and soggy knuckle into a particularly razor-like trim piece, in which case, you curse the day they were born.
There are a lot of these moments on the new Hyundai Tucson.
It stands out as a very sharp design, from the jagged daytime-running lights to the equally shark-teeth-like rear lights and the squared-off wheel arches that bring to mind the Lamborghini Countach.
Similarly, washing away brake dust from the wheels is much like sewing a needle with thread that’s unravelling.
This mid-sized SUV model came into the world as a horrid fish-faced bubble in 2004 and has a lineage only interrupted when the Australian market did the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha-to-Windsor thing in 2009 and swapped ‘Tucson’ for the ‘ix35’ moniker instead.
What we can say now, however, is that the South Korean brand deserves the medal for ‘Most Improved’. Compare the 2023 Tucson to the Lantra or Excel your firstborn learnt to drive in, and it’s chalk and sweaty cheddar that’s been in a lunch box for two days. Today’s Hyundais are all about plush suede and leather and have among the best digital interfaces on the entire car market.
There is also a five-year unlimited-kilometre warranty.
The model I’m driving is the N-Line Elite, with a 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine. Meaning the model designated as slightly sporty by way of the ‘N-Line’ badges that come with an optional $2500 ‘N-Line’ package, is a diesel! And if you’re wondering how this combination could possibly work, it does. Very well.
There is the typical hefty clatter and initial lag at low speeds, but plant your right foot in nearly any gear and you’ll be riding forwards on what cliches would call a wave of torque. I’ll call it the best diesel-powered car I’ve ever driven.
A mixture of highway and around-town driving also confirms this to be the most efficient model in the Tucson range, at around 6.3 litres per 100 km. You won’t get this sort of oomph and sipping from an all-wheel-drive petrol. Or the 1900 kg braked towing capacity from an EV.
However, all this said, there are a few things that prevent the Tucson from scoring an ‘A’.
The driving experience – if, indeed, the buyers of a diesel SUV with various charge ports and wireless phone charging expect one – is let down by slightly vague steering. Excellent for spinning around in a car park, but I’d prefer more feel on the highway, although it’s worth pointing out the tech means it can nearly drive itself in those situations.
It might be finicky, but I also found myself having to look down before pushing the buttons for R, D or P, where muscle memory would have moved a traditional gear lever to exactly where it needed to be. This is annoying. Car makers, stop buttonising everything.
The six-speaker sound system was also a little on the soggy side, and if you want to drown out noises from the back seats, this could be an issue. Unless the Wiggles Greatest Hits are on constant rotation.
But perhaps the thing that continued to trip me up right to the end of my week-long loan reared its head in the office car park. The grid on the reverse camera would be perfectly parallel with the line in the pavement, and yet somehow, I’d clamber out and there would be a crooked car.
Do I blame me? Do I blame the car? It was probably those infernal Wiggles.
2023 Hyundai Tucson N-Line Elite 2.0D
- $48,400 (plus driveaway costs)
- 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, 137 kW / 416 Nm
- 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive (AWD)
- 6.3 litres per 100 km (combined fuel usage)
- 5-star ANCAP safety rating
This car was provided for testing by Hyundai Australia. Region has no commercial arrangement with Hyundai Australia.