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Garage Review: Hyundai Tucson Sport gets modded

Hyundais are value. They are dependable. The Korean Toyota, if you will. Exciting? No. Not really. Even when they’ve tried, it’s been awkward. Remember the Tiburon? Exactly.

The trouble is, that I know Hyundai can build a credible driver’s car. Genesis coupe, for instance. Unfortunately, we don’t get it in South Africa. But that doesn’t mean Hyundai isn’t trying. Which is where the aftermarket-looking Tucson on this page comes to relevance.

It’s not a friend’s project car, I can assure you. This is Hyundai’s Tucson Executive Sport, which has more power, a bodykit, darkened 19-inch alloys, quad exhausts and upgraded 8-inch touchscreen infotainment inside. Dark wheels and dramatic sills transform Tucson from humdrum Korea SUV to something which draws enquiring glances in traffic from young people wearing energy-drink-themed caps.

The sills and associated bodywork Tupperware reduce the breakover angle, but anybody buying a Tucson with blacked-out 19-inch alloys is hardly going to be bothered about not being able to angle the Executive Sport over rocks.  What they are going to be bothered about is performance commensurate with the appearance, and this is where Hyundai’s South African ‘special’ is undeniably charming.

It’s not much effort to order a few bodykits and find aftermarket wheels. Boosting performance, however, is very rarely done by a manufacturer – especially one as conservative as Hyundai. But that’s exactly what Tucson Executive Sport offers; 150Kw and 295Nm, which is a notable 20 bits of power and 30 units of torque meatier than any other Tucson. Despite the sluggish throw of Tucson’s six-speed manual, Tucson Sport feels more alert compared to its conservative range siblings.

A touch grippier in tight corners too, thanks to the 245/45/19 tyre dimensions, although surface feedback remains artificially muted due to video game algorithm steering. That doesn’t matter much, to me, because nobody is expecting a Tucson to link apexes perfectly. What they’re expecting ever less, is for it to be annoying in the shadow of junior hot hatches from 60-120kph, where the mix of gear ratios and 295Nm find each other very productively. Styling bits aside, what makes this Tucson Sport authentically true to its name is the GDI 1.6 engine, powerful yet never unrefined in its delivery of performance.

I think the Tucson Sport’s greatest value is its presence. Although this is a negligible volume vehicle for Hyundai, it makes a kimchi street-racer statement that resonates with an audience which has never shown any interest in Korea’s largest car maker: performance enthusiasts. For their daring ambition and the quality of its execution, Hyundai South Africa deserves credit.

Imagine if they become even more ambitious and discover the mapping data – and some hardware bits – from the 1.6-turbo engine powering Hyundai’s I20 WRC car… Tucson Super Sport with 280kW? Now that would really be something. Come on Hyundai South Africa, fulfil that ambition, you’ve created the expectation – after all.Lance Branquinho

  • R499 900
  • 1591cc 4-cyl, turbo petrol, AWD, 150kW, 295Nm
  • 8.9l/100km, 169g/km
  • 0-100km/h 9.2secs, 203km/h
  • 1613kg
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