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Not long now before the launch of the 2016 Hyundai Tucson in Malaysia – those keeping up with news surrounding the third-generation crossover will be well aware that said SUV has been making its rounds on roadshows across the nation. Why so keen to drum up so much hype so early on, you might ask?

The answer is simple enough. The 2016 Hyundai Tucson competes in the C-segment crossover class here in Malaysia, and in case you weren’t aware of it, it’s arguably one of the most competitive segments yet. Rivals include the venerable (perhaps predictable) Honda CR-V, Nissan X-Trail, Mazda CX-5, Kia Sportage and offbeat ones like the Peugeot 3008.

We were recently provided to opportunity to sample Hyundai’s third-generation answer to the likes of the above in the Philippines. So then, on to the big question – does the 2016 Hyundai Tucson have what it takes to stand out in the ultra-competitive, ever-expanding class of crossovers? Let’s find out, shall we?

Before we jump right into it, let’s have a recap on the basics of the 2016 Hyundai Tucson. Revealed earlier on this year at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show, the new Tucson drops the ix35 name in certain markets around the world in favour for a more straightforward naming system amongst Hyundai models – the car is now known as the Hyundai Tucson globally.

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In the US, the Tucson differs slightly from the rest of what the world gets by having its LED daytime running lights (DRLs) share the same assembly as the fog lights. The cars provided in the Philippines were very much the rest-of-the-world models with the DRLs housed below in a separate assembly.

Since we’re on the subject of spec differences by region, note that the models tested here do not necessarily represent the ones Malaysian customers will be getting. For starters, we were provided with two engine options – a 2.0 litre MPi four-cylinder petrol engine carried over from the current Tucson, and a 2.0 litre CRDi four-cylinder turbodiesel.

The former pumps out a total of 155 hp at 6,200 rpm and 192 Nm of torque at 4,000 rpm. On the other hand, the turbocharged diesel engine produces 175 hp at 4,000 rpm and 402 Nm of torque from 1,750 to 2,750 rpm – both engines are mated to Hyundai’s own six-speed automatic transmission. As expected, the diesel engine misses the boat to Malaysia.

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While 4WD is available on the 2016 Hyundai Tucson, the models sampled were front-wheel drive only – all the better for it in hindsight, since the Malaysian-spec Tucson will only be available in said configuration. As for its dimensions, the 2016 Hyundai Tucson stands at 1,645 mm and is 1,850 mm wide. Wheelbase is 2,670 mm while overall length is 4,475 mm.

What about styling, then? Dubbed Fluidic Sculpture 2.0, the third-gen Tucson echoes its stablemates – especially the Hyundai Santa Fe – in employing a design language that employs a clean-cut look. The theme is more than enough to keep the car looking relevant for years to come, whilst ensuring that potential customers aren’t overwhelmed by the way it portrays itself on the showroom floor.

Up front, there’s a bold hexagonal grille framed by halogen headlamps or duouble-projector LED units on costlier variants (again, it varies from car to car in this case). Elsewhere, the Tucson models tested here ride on two-tone 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 225/55 tyres – photos of the Malaysian models have shown 17-inch wheels with 225/60 tyres instead.

Further adding on to the rugged aspect of the car’s looks are offbeat black wheelarch mouldings and contrasting side sill panels in silver – the latter is mirrored on the car’s front and rear bumper. Another styling element that marks it out from the Malaysian-spec cars are the dual exhaust outlets embedded into the diffuser-like lower element. Local units are fitted with dual units as well, but one pipe at each end instead of the twin setup pictured here.

But, while the exterior leans on the bold side of things, the interior is a relatively sombre affair – not exactly a bad thing for those looking to just jump in and drive.

The 2WD petrol units here featured a simple cabin trimmed in black leather, while the diesel variant came with a rather low-rent fabric/leather combination. In the base petrol model yours truly was assigned to, a powered driver’s seat was missing. Costlier variants will be equipped with a 10-way adjustable driver’s seat and an eight-way adjustable front passenger seat.

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Unfortunately, the overall build quality and materials employed could do with a fair bit of improvement. While uncluttered in its appearance, exploratory pokes and prods around the cabin revealed that the plastics were of the harder-feeling variety. Good for those planning to use their Tucsons till the wheels fall off, but not so much for those looking for an upmarket interior.

Another clue that gave away the car’s bottom-spec position in the range was the 3.5-inch mono TFT LCD display within the rather bland instrument cluster – a 4.2-inch TFT LCF Supervision Cluster is standard on the flagship diesel model. No fancy touchscreen head unit with navigation to be found here, too. Only a simple double-DIN head unit with USB, AUX and Bluetooth compatibility with six speakers for entertainment.

How about a reverse camera? Or a panoramic roof? An electric parking brake? All three are to be found only on the top-spec diesel that yours truly was never given the chance to sample, unfortunately. Practicality and ease of use, on the plus side, remain unaffected by whichever variant one decides to plonk for.

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All models get 60:40 split-folding rear seat, with the boot claimed to have a maximum cargo capacity of 513 litres. Also, an opening of 1,094 mm should make loading/unloading large items easy enough. A Smart Power Tailgate system is also featured, but (annoyingly) on the top-spec diesel model only. We can only hope Malaysian petrol units are better equipped.

On to the way the 2016 Hyundai Tucson drives, then. With the tilt and telescopic-adjustable steering wheel locked in place, the drive began with the car in Eco mode – the Drive Mode Select feature enables one to choose Eco, Sport and Normal modes simply by pressing a button near the shifter.

In Eco mode, throttle response was expectedly dull, with the car requiring a heavy right foot to get it up to highway speeds – definitely not the mode to be in for overtaking, then. With the Drive Mode Select in Normal, matters weren’t all that different from Eco, with the car providing a rather lethargic response still.

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As for Sport mode, overtaking became a tad easier with a quicker throttle response. With that said, the difference was more of a slight bump in acceleration as opposed to a complete character change. More enthusiastic drivers looking for a crossover are advised to look elsewhere. Steering feedback was also found lacking – the Flex Steer system provided close to zero feel, even with the engagement of Sport mode.

However, the diesel model in Sport mode was a completely different animal altogether. It’s a crying shame to see Malaysian buyers deprived of such a car, really, as the diesel variant could very well please customers looking for a Tucson with more gusto. The 2.0 litre petrol version, as you would’ve gathered by now, ran the risk of feeling a little underpowered at times.

On the other hand, the petrol model does have its fair share of merits too. For instance, refinement is exemplary with nary a hint of wind or road noise on the highway. On rougher stretches of the black stuff, the car remained calm and composed. Bumps and whatnot were quickly dismissed with a well-damped feel reminiscent of more expensive European vehicles.

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The suspension setup consists of a MacPherson strut layout in front and rear multi-links. Further adding to its touring capabilities is the fact that the Tucson boasts a maximum rear headroom capacity of 995 mm, and 970 mm worth of legroom at the back – unless you stand at over 180 cm and possess a stockier build, one should be able to fit nicely in the rear.

On rather busy (and narrow) streets, the Hyundai Tucson makes even more sense with a minimum turning radius of just 5.3 metres, while the six-speed auto was more than smooth enough for most manners of daily driving. All-round visibility is decent from the driver’s seat, while rear passengers get an added dose of comfort from the rear air-con vents which are standard on all variants.

In term of fuel consumption, official figures are quoted at 7.9 l/100 km on the combined cycle for the petrol engine, while the 2.0 litre diesel unit was officially recorded at 5.9 l/100 km – both figures were of the 2WD variants. The drive itself, which saw plenty of stopovers and vehicle swaps, prevented yours truly from getting an accurate real-world fuel consumption rating.

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While we can only hope for the full suite of safety features on the Malaysian-spec models, the units tested in the Philippines were equipped with dual front airbags, ABS with EBD and electronic stability control. A maximum of six airbags (dual front, side and curtain airbags) are exclusively available on – you guessed it – the top-spec diesel. An additional safety feature includes Blind Spot Detection system on the flagship model.

Also exclusive to the range-topper are front and rear parking sensors (the rest except the base petrol variant get reverse sensors only) and an electro-chromic rear mirror. All in all, it’s quite the list, but the real question is as mentioned above – will all of these features make it onto the Malaysian-spec Hyundai Tucson?

At the end of the day, the 2016 Hyundai Tucson has demonstrated that it does possess the potential to really upstage the competition. While it may not be the most exciting thing to drive, it counters with exemplary levels of refinement and useability. Couple its contemporary (but inoffensive) styling to the right amount of kit for the right amount of money and Hyundai-Sime Darby Motors could have a winner on its hands.