2019 Hyundai Tucson Ultimate FWD Review: It's Ultimate Alright

Packed with features and value, the updated Tucson shines.

Arthur St. AntoineWriter, Photographer

A newly available Aqua Blue paint option (seen here) is just one of the updates Hyundai has applied to its 2019 Tucson crossover as part of a mid-cycle refresh. Other changes include a new grille, dramatically chiseled headlights, a revised rear fascia, new 18-inch wheels, an upgraded interior with a new center stack, a host of active-safety features, and more. Also new is an Ultimate trim that boasts every available goodie as standard; the only options are a few dealer add-ons (such as the $125 carpeted floor mats installed in my test vehicle). For just $32,720 in front-drive Ultimate form—AWD is available—this enhanced Tucson seems to offer everything a shopper in the category could want, on paper at least. Does the drive measure up? I spent a week with an Ultimate to find out.

The previous 1.6-liter turbo four with seven-speed dual-clutch transmission has been replaced by a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter unit and a six-speed automatic. It's a curious change. Fuel economy drops from 23 mpg city and 30 highway with the turbo to 22/28 mpg with the 2.4. True, horsepower is up slightly, from 175 to 181, but torque drops a whopping 20 lb-ft—and, worse, the peak now arrives at 4,000 rpm versus just 1,500 rpm for the forced-induction engine. Yet from behind the wheel the "downgrade" isn't a cause for alarm. The 2.4/six-speed combo performs just fine. Power rolls on smoothly, the slushbox is seamless in automatic mode and executes manual gearchanges (via the shift lever) adroitly, and the powertrain never feels strained. Acceleration is languid, yes, but for the most part this is a polished and competent propulsion unit.

Handling is surprisingly good for a tallish crossover. The ride is on the firm side—not harsh but taut—and combined with the crisp steering feel, the Tucson showcased lively moves while running up and down the canyons around Malibu. Brake feel is impressive, too; it's easy to modulate the binders to a smooth, jostle-free stop. The Mazda CX-5 is sportier and more driver-focused, but the Tucson is still an above-average crossover in terms of chassis talent.

The revised cabin is a beaut. The dash and control materials are on the plasticky side (you can't have everything for $33K), but fit and finish are superb and all the switches and buttons move with a pleasingly solid feel. The central 8.0-inch color touchscreen is nothing short of outstanding. If there's a better infotainment interface on the market—at any price—I haven't tried it. The Tucson's is sharp, snappy, easy to navigate, and surrounded by hard buttons for quick menu changes. Well done, Hyundai. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, as are wireless device charging, dual climate control with air ionizer, a heated steering wheel, a panoramic sunroof, navigation, keyless entry and start, a 315-watt Infinity premium audio system, and a lot more. The highly supportive leather seats are heated and ventilated up front and are also heated (at the outboard positions) in back. Rear-seat legroom and rear cargo space with the rear seats up are roughly on par with a lot of other entries in this class, which is to say "decent." Several passengers riding with me commented on the cabin's quietness, too. The real standout for me: Not once during my week with the vehicle did I gripe about not being able to find a switch I wanted or become annoyed by the complexity of using a particular system. The Tucson's cockpit just works, and that's an increasingly rare virtue. The driving environment is stylish, astutely designed, and brimming with amenities.

The standard active safety features are comprehensive. Included are lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and an adaptive cruise-control system capable of fully stopping the vehicle and then accelerating again. As I discovered on L.A. 's notorious 405 freeway, the adaptive cruise creeps along in rush-hour traffic quite smartly, pacing behind the car ahead, stopping by itself, restarting again, and taking a lot of the annoyance out of such traffic situations. Also aboard is automated emergency braking. Unlike some similar systems (I'm looking at you, Volvo), this one doesn't have an alarming tendency to dynamite the brakes seemingly without reason. In fact, the Hyundai's setup never once activated during my week behind the wheel—a very good thing. Of course, I never put the vehicle in a position where the system should have activated, so how well the auto braking performs in a real panic-stop situation I'll leave to others to debate.

In answer to the question, "Does the drive measure up to the Tucson's on-paper assertions?" the answer is a resounding "yes." You'd be hard-pressed to find another crossover SUV that meets the needs of most buyers in this category so well. The Tucson Ultimate is comfortable, well-built, handsome inside and out, packed with advanced yet accessible tech, and aggressively priced. That it also comes with a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty—the best in the industry—makes this updated Hyundai a must-consider for any crossover shopper. And as noted earlier, if you're a fan of mobile tech—integrated smartphone apps, navigation, satellite radio, and more—all wrapped together in a simple and intuitive touchscreen interface, right now nobody does it better.

2019 Hyundai Tucson Ultimate FWD Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $32,595/$32,720 (base/as-tested)
ENGINE 2.4L DOHC 16-valve I-4; 181 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 175 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION  6-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 22/28 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H L x W x H: 176.2 x 72.8 x 64.8 in
WHEELBASE 105.1 in
WEIGHT 3,650 lb (est)
0-60 MPH
8.5 sec (est)
TOP SPEED
125 mph (est)
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