2021 Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0L 2WD Review
Price & Equipment: 7
Performance & Economy:6
Ride & Handling:8
Interior & Practicality:9
Service & Warranty: 9
What we like:
  • Newfound style and maturity
  • Much improved interior
  • Loaded with equipment
What we don't like:
  • Lacklustre 2.0L petrol engine
  • Hybrids aren’t offered here
  • Pricing has increased
7.8DiscoverAuto Rating:

Hyundai’s transformation from also-ran to one of the world’s leading manufacturers has been nothing short of astounding. Now producing world-class cars such as the Santa Fe and i30, Hyundai’s range is one of the most diverse and talented in the Australian new car market. One of the backbones to this transformation has been the Tucson mid-size SUV, which went on sale in 2004. While it was called ix35 for a generation, the Tucson has been a very popular car for the brand in Australia. A new generation of Tucson has just been launched, so what’s the 2021 Hyundai Tucson Highlander like? Let’s find out.  

The last generation of Tucson was a successful car for Hyundai, especially in Australia. While it further showed Hyundai’s engineering talent, it also brought a lot of new customers to the brand and showed how serious the brand is at making cars.

Price & Equipment: 7/10

While pricing for the 2021 Hyundai Tucson range starts at $34,500 plus on-road costs, with the mid-level Elite priced at $39,000, we tested the top-spec Highlander that starts at $46,000 (around $50,300 drive away). Buyers can spend more by adding a 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine or a 2.0-litre turbo diesel, both with all-wheel drive as standard, and a Highlander diesel hits around $56,000 drive away, which isn’t far off the bigger seven-seat Santa Fe Elite. 

The top-spec Tucson Highlander we tested features 19-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery with a leather steering wheel and gearknob, LED lighting, auto lights and wipers, dual-zone climate control with rear vents, a panoramic sunroof, heated, vented and electric front seats with driver’s memory functionality, a heated steering wheel, heated second row seats, an eight-speaker Bose sound system, a 10.25-inch touchscreen with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital radio, satellite navigation with live traffic reports, a 10.25-inch digital driver’s display, a wireless phone charger, four USB ports, configurable LED interior mood lighting, rear privacy glass, an auto-dimming rear mirror, keyless entry and start, remote start, an electric tailgate, roof rails, heated and auto-folding mirrors and a full-size alloy spare wheel.

Safety kit includes seven airbags (including a front centre unit), auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian, cyclist and intersection assistance, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a blind-spot monitoring camera, rear auto braking, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, lane trace assist, auto high beam, adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, tyre pressure monitoring, intelligent speed limit assist, driver attention monitoring, rear occupant alert, safe exit assist, an alarm, leading vehicle departure alert, front and rear parking sensors and a 360-degree camera. Choosing the all-wheel drive Tucson adds the company’s remote smart parking system, which allows you to move the car from the key. 

Colours available on the Tucson include ‘Phantom Black’, ‘Deep Sea Blue’, ‘Silky Bronze’, ‘Amazon Grey’, ‘Titan Grey’, ‘Shimmering Silver’ and ‘White Cream’ – only the latter is no-cost with the others priced at $595. Depending on the colour, black, brown or light grey leather upholstery is available – the non-black options are a further $295. 

Buyers can also choose the N Line Pack, which adds racier styling and different wheels, plus sports seats and a sports steering wheel. On the Highlander, it’s a further $1,000.

What’s missing from the Tucson Highlander? European models feature tri-zone climate control and a digital key from your smartphone, while a heads-up display and a massaging driver’s seat is not available at all. But otherwise, the Tucson is very well equipped.

We consider the $49,990 drive away Mazda CX-5 GT and the $45,125 drive away Toyota RAV4 Cruiser to be the Tucson Highlander 2WD’s biggest rivals. The CX-5 comes with a larger 2.5-litre engine and all-wheel drive as standard, while the cheaper Toyota is offered – like the Hyundai – with a 2.0L petrol engine and 2WD, though a 2.5-litre hybrid with further optional all-wheel drive is also available. The Tucson and CX-5’s standard equipment lists are fairly similar – the Tucson misses out on the CX-5’s heads-up display but gains the 360-degree parking camera, ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats that are standard on the upper-spec $52,490 drive away CX-5 Akera. The Tucson also has a panoramic roof and wireless charger – unavailable on all CX-5s.

The Toyota misses out on the Tucson’s panoramic roof, vented front seats, heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel. The Tucson also features a larger 10.25-inch touchscreen and digital driver’s display but is that enough to mask a $5,000-cheaper price? We don’t think so.

Performance & Economy: 6/10

Under the bonnet of the 2021 Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2WD is a 115kW/192Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. It’s matched to a six-speed automatic transmission and is front-wheel drive – those wanting all-wheel drive have to upgrade to either the 132kW/265Nm 1.6-litre turbo petrol ($50,000 +ORC) or the 137kW/416Nm 2.0-litre turbo diesel ($52,000 +ORC).  

The 2.0-litre petrol engine in the Tucson is the entry-level engine but curiously, unlike most competitors, it’s available in the top-spec Highlander model. The engine itself is new and part of the brand’s ‘Smartstream’ family, though it certainly doesn’t feel new. In reality, its lacklustre outputs result in a pretty lacklustre driving experience. 

Not only is it slow – especially with the Tucson’s 1,530kg kerb weight, which is 150kg more than the i30 with the same engine – but it’s also thirsty: Hyundai claims combined consumption of 8.1L/100km, though around town you won’t get below 11L/100km. It also sounds gravelly, and while its mid-range torque is reasonable, you do have to rev it to get the best out of it. What’s worse is that it’s actually less powerful, less torquey and yet thirstier than its predecessor. 

The entry-level Tucson engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that tries to deal with the engine’s lack of oomph as best it can. It shifts sweetly and quickly, but it can’t hide that the car has less than 200Nm of torque and even a slight further press of the pedal can result in sudden downshifts because the gear selected is too high for the engine. 

Unfortunately, Australia seems to get lacklustre engines thanks to our lack of emissions standards that would force the company to sell cleaner and better performing units. In North America, the base engine is a 140kW 2.5-litre petrol engine that we think would be a much better fit for the Tucson. 

The entry engine offered to European buyers is a 110kW/250Nm 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine that’s mated to a mild-hybrid system. It offers claimed combined fuel consumption of just 6.5L/100km, which is great for an entry-level engine. It’s a shame that Hyundai Australia doesn’t have access to these more fuel efficient engines because while the current 2.0L engine in the Tucson is fine in the entry-level car, in the $50,250 drive away Highlander it’s just not good enough. 

Petrol versions of the Tucson have a 1,650kg braked towing capacity while the diesel tows 1,900kg.

Ride & Handling: 8/10

Now based on the same ‘N3’ platform as the larger Santa Fe, the 2021 Hyundai Tucson Highlander has grown in dimensions – its 4,630mm length is 150mm longer, its 1,865mm width is 15mm wider and its 1,665mm height is 5mm taller than the previous-generation car. The wheelbase is 85mm longer than before as well, which helps with both interior space and ride quality – and we have to say, both are excellent.

Unlike the previous Tucson – and other Hyundai products – the new model hasn’t been tuned for Australian tastes. Thanks to COVID-19, Hyundai’s local suspension tuning team was unable to fettle with the Tucson before it launched. Instead, they were involved with the tuning of the car for its global suspension tune and it does feel different to drive than the previous model.

Despite the large 19-inch wheels of the Highlander, the Tucson rides quite well. Even large bumps don’t unsettle the suspension and unlike similarly large wheels on competitors, there’s no sharp edge feeling when tackling speed bumps. The steering is slightly different to the last generation car as well – it’s lighter and less feelsome, though still pleasing to use around town. Dynamically, the Tucson is a positive experience with excellent body control and lots of grip from the tyres. It can be a pretty fun car to drive, though front-wheel drive has its limits – we can’t wait to try the all-wheel drive models, especially with their added performance. 

Unlike the last-generation Tucson, the new car is also very quiet for road noise, which goes well with the new car’s higher quality feel. Visibility is pretty good as well, and the active safety systems are well tuned. 

Interior & Practicality: 9/10

While the new exterior design of the 2021 Hyundai Tucson Highlander is a talking point, we’d argue that the interior is an even greater differentiator between it and the last-generation car. Gone is the cheap-feeling and lacklustre dashboard design and in its place is a much more cohesive, modern and higher-quality cabin that is at the pointy end of the medium SUV class.

The cabin layout is modern and its materials are good quality as well with soft-touch panels covering most of the dashboard and doors. We really like the cloth inserts on the top of the doors and dashboard, as well as the horizontal vent that runs the width of the dashboard, which makes it feel roomier. The leather quality is also a big step up on the previous car, while the doors are much more solid this time around as well. The window switches are our only gripe with the cabin as they feel a bit unfinished, but the rear of the buttons around the cabin and they’re excellent to touch. 

Centre of the cabin is Hyundai’s new 10.25-inch touchscreen with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, inbuilt navigation with live traffic and digital radio. The system is quick, it’s got an excellent screen and the eight-speaker Bose sound system is nice and punchy as well. Plus, the 360-degree parking camera is excellent with a detailed view and a good range of adjustability. Curiously though, the smartphone mirroring is wired, which is fine – but in the base model’s smaller 8.0-inch screen, it’s wireless. 

The Tucson’s cabin is quite practical as well with a big centre bin, large cup holders, big door pockets, a large tray with a wireless phone charger ahead of the gearbox – if you go for an all-wheel drive model, the shifter is replaced by a push-button transmission selector.

Thanks to the wheelbase increase, the Tucson’s cabin – particularly the rear seat – is very roomy. It’s well featured as well with bottle holders, a reclining backrest, a centre arm rest with cupholders, heated outboard seats, vents and two USB ports to charge devices. It’s only missing a third climate zone and window shades. The European Tucson’s shorter wheelbase would be less roomy, though it does feature a 40:20:40-split seat for greater versatility. 

The Tucson’s boot is rated at 539-litres, which is more than 100L larger than the CX-5’s boot though 41L less than the RAV4. Folding the seats down opens up 1,860L, which is a massive 518L larger than the CX-5. The boot features a few hooks as well, tabs to fold the seats and there’s a full-size alloy spare wheel under the floor. 

Service & Warranty: 9/10

Like all other new Hyundai products in Australia, the Tucson comes with a five-year/unlimited km warranty with a year of roadside assistance that’s topped up with each dealer service up to five years. Mazda and Toyota also offer five-year/unlimited km warranties – Mazda also features five years of roadside assist, while Toyota features none.

Servicing the Tucson 2.0L takes place once every 15,000km or yearly, whichever comes first. Five years/75,000km of servicing costs $1,595 ($319 per service), which is pretty reasonable. Servicing the RAV4 (which has the same service intervals) is less expensive at a very low $1,075 for the same five years – the CX-5 is much more expensive thanks to its shorter 10,000km service intervals. Five years/50,000km of servicing costs $1,969 ($393 per service) and up to the 70,000km as the RAV4 and Tucson is $2,744.

The 2021 Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0L DiscoverAuto Rating: 7.8/10

It’s clear to see that the 2021 Hyundai Tucson Highlander is a big step forward for the once-underdog South Korean brand, proving once again at just how capable it is at making world-class cars. The Tucson sits on a new platform that has made it feel more mature to drive, its new cabin is higher quality with a new range of technology, it’s very well equipped and it’s very practical as well. 

Of course, no car is perfect and the Tucson is no different. The 2.0-litre petrol engine is lacklustre, especially with how it lost power in comparison with the lighter old generation car, a 2.0-litre top-spec Toyota RAV4 is a whole $5,000 cheaper despite not featuring much less kit and there are features such as a range of hybrid engines that the European model gets. But really, that’s it, and we can’t wait to try the all-wheel drive model and more powerful engines as the 2021 Hyundai Tucson Highlander has shot to the pointy end of the mid-size SUV segment. 

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