Tucson: the Hyundai to test the Qashqai or just another pretender?
It is now commonplace for a new car to be pitched as another rival for the Qashqai. Competitors don't even call it the Nissan Qashqai such is its pre-eminence in the Compact/mid-size Crossover sector.
But, I suspect, there is a greater resonance than usual when Hyundai reveal it has the class-leader firmly in its sights with its new Tucson.
The latter replaces the ix35 - which of course followed the previous Tucson (2004) - and is poised to renew its attempt to wrest the 'best seller' tag from the current incumbent.
It has some ground to make up. The latest meaningful figures put the Qashqai at 4,094 with the ix35 on 3,373 and its stablemate KIA Sportage on 2,521.
At the same time the experts are predicting white-hot competition overall and Hyundai, just to make it interesting, say they are taking their car towards the more premium end of the market.
So what is it like? It is getting to the stage where differentiations are becoming marginal and focused mostly on front design. In the Tucson's case they make a lot of the high bonnet and the sharp lines. The profile, though, is classic Crossover with upward slopes and sharp angles.
Inside is a distinct upgrade on the ix35, an essential element if they are serious about cracking the premium end of the market. Being 65mm longer, 30mm wider and 10mm lower, they say there is more interior space while the boot now extends to 513 litres - among the biggest in class.
It has a clean, uncluttered dash and the cabin is straightforward with excellent seats and decent room, especially at the back. I noticed too how the doors closed with a good, solid 'clunk'.
The 1.7-diesel (115bhp) will be the main seller. There is a 2-litre diesel (136bhp) which powers 4x4 versions, and a 1.6-petrol (132bhp).
Interesting that the prices - which effectively start at the same level as the ix35 - will be 'revisited' in January. In other words, they'll rise, but in the meantime people will be tempted to buy or book one.
They were frank about the logic. They need more customers to gain market share. So they aim to take them off competitors across the board and hope the accumulation will put them ahead of the Qashqai.
Prices start at €25,245 for the petrol Comfort version with the Comfort diesel at €26,995, Comfort Plus €27,995, Executive €29,995, Premium €31,995 and Premium Plus €35,995. The 2-litre diesel Executive 4WD costs €35,495 and Executive Auto from €37,995.
Standard spec includes: air con, 16ins alloys, rear fogs, full-size spare wheel, cloth seats, radio with 3.8ins TFT LCD, Bluetooth with voice recognition, USB and AUX, roof rack, rear parking assist, cruise control with speed limiter.
Comfort Plus adds 17ins alloys, auto air con, front fogs, electric/folding mirror, electronic lumbar support, LED rear combination lights etc.
Executive spec includes sat nav, 8ins touch screen, rear-view camera, leather upholstery, heated front seats.
And Premium has the likes of a panoramic sunroof and rain-sensing wipers. Finally, Premium Plus includes smart key, Blind Spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, Lane Change Assist, autonomous emergency braking, electric seats, heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, etc.
They have improved the insulation in the bulkhead because engine noise was well muted; as was indeed tyre/road rumble. I had a nice little drive in it and while there was nothing extraordinary to report, that is often the case where a car is at a certain level of proficiency. I mentioned solidity earlier and I suppose that is the overriding impression from my brief First Drive.
Potential buyers will look at the spec and price levels too: the main selling Executive trim has leather - doesn't that say a lot?
Yet, taking current owners - especially of Qasqhais - from their current motors will be no mean feat in a cut-throat marketplace. The Tucson is giving itself a better chance than most, I think, but you can be sure the likes of Nissan will fight back to hold the prime position.
Such competiton augurs well for potential buyers.