Originally published July 23, 2015

Hyundai has a solid plan for its SUVs – and it’s one that flies in the opposite direction to what you might think. They’re going bigger.

At a time when the subcompact SUV category the Tucson used to flirt with is burgeoning with new models, the Tucson has moved even further away from it.

For now, the Tucson remains the smallest of Hyundai’s trucks, exactly 215 mm shorter than the Santa Fe, which is also 215 mm shorter than its next-largest cousin, the Santa Fe XL. This symmetrical sizing means the Tucson and Santa Fe neatly bookend the compact SUV segment – the Tucson on the smaller side of a pack that includes the RAV4, CR-V, Rogue and CX-5, the Santa Fe the larger.

That, Hyundai hints, could make way for a fourth SUV to occupy that subcompact space – perhaps one based on the IX25 available overseas. Th IX25 is 205 mm shorter than the 4,475 mm long Tucson, and on par with the 4,274 mm Mazda CX-3 or the 4,295 mm Mitsubishi RVR – but I digress.

Not only has Hyundai moved the Tucson to a slightly larger size bracket but they have moved to position the Tucson as a premium option in the segment. More features, a redesigned interior with better materials and exterior features like standard fog lights and LED running lights are intended to elevate the Tucson’s place in the market.

The base model manual front-driver is gone from the lineup, transmission options now solely automatic, a six-speed auto or the seven-speed DCT.

The six-speed conventional auto is mated to the 2.0L carryover engine that is available in FWD and AWD trims, while a new 1.6L turbo four will be paired with Hyundai’s great little seven-speed DCT. The 1.6T has seen duty in the Veloster, but while the Veloster uses a twin-scroll turbo tuned for power, this is a single scroll tuned for the added torque an SUV needs.

The base 2.0L is good for 164 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque, the 1.6T a more potent 175 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque – 100 percent of which is available between 1,500 and 4,500 rpm.

Neither engine wants for power and we were comfortable overtaking even in the 2.0L. With the Drive Mode set to Sport, the 2.0L hustles the 1,634 kg (1,560 in FWD trim) up to highway speeds and beyond with adequate urgency. The 1,683 kg 1.6T feels substantially stronger in the low and mid-range, though it’s worth noting that keeping the 2.0L feels almost as convincing high up in the rev range.

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The DCT is a slick-shifting unit with a little harshness under duress but otherwise perfectly acceptable smoothness. It feels well-matched to the engine and the lack of paddle shifters was never an issue in the twisties – the DCT keeps the right gear the vast majority of the time. The only time I felt a desire to shift manually was on a long, off-throttle downhill stretch, where the DCT held a high gear in preparedness for me to accelerate again. The system keeps a rolling 5-km record of your driving habits, so once I’d manually upshifted once on a downhill section, the Tucson kept the lower, more calm gear on the next one.

The 1.6T is lively and, matched to the DCT, encourages spirited driving – this is more than just a grocery getter, it’s a properly fun car to drive.

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