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In a segment dominated by its Japanese peers, the all-new Hyundai Tucson has its work cut out for it in Malaysia. Hyundai Sime-Darby Motors’ revealed two variants of the third-gen Korean SUV here, being the 2.0 Elegance and the 2.0 Executive, in its bid to upstage the likes of the Honda CR-V, Nissan X-Trail, Mazda CX-5 and Kia Sportage.

On its back foot from the off, the locally-assembled Hyundai Tucson not only faces stiff competition in the local SUV arena, but that it’s a Korean model somewhat automatically brands it negatively in these quarters – apparently with shoddy build quality, lacking inspiration and poor resale values. While we can’t speak much for the model’s aftermarket tendencies, we can take a closer look at what a brand-new model has to offer.

As mentioned, two variants of the Tucson were launched here, the base 2.0 Elegance at RM129,990 and the range-topping 2.0 Executive at RM142,632 — both listed prices are on-the-road and without insurance. The variant up for review here is the top-spec 2.0 Executive, equipped with all of the locally-available bells and whistles. But before we dive into all that, let’s take a look at the third-gen model’s prime offerings first.

The new Tucson measures in at 4,475 mm long, 1850 mm wide, 1,655 mm tall and has a wheelbase that’s 2,670 mm long. Comparatively, it is 165 mm shorter than the largest vehicle in its class, the Nissan X-Trail, but 35 mm longer than the smallest vehicle in the segment, the Kia Sportage. Even the CX-5 is 80 mm longer than the Tucson, though it may not seem so in pictures.

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Oddly, the Tucson doesn’t look as small as the numbers suggest. This is possibly because of its handsome Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 design language — the second generation of Hyundai’s global exterior styling approach. The Tucson features a bold hexagonal radiator grille, sharply styled halogen projector headlamps with LED guide lights and daytime running lights (Executive variant only) and a chiseled, muscular body to boot.

Other exterior highlights include a rear spoiler with a high-mounted stop lamp, rear combination lights and 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 225/60 rubbers. Additionally, the Executive variant gets front fog lamps, electric-folding wing mirrors with integrated indicator lights and puddle lamps and a set of chrome-finished door handles.

Overall, we like the unsubdued look of the Korean, more so with all the extras thrown in as pictured here. Mind you, the silver-coloured protective panels on our test car are optional items, collectively priced at RM1,988. The vehicle itself is available in Pure White, Sepia Topaz, Pepper Grey, Platinum Silver, Ruby Wine (pictured here), Ara Blue and Phantom Black.

Our only gripe about its exterior is to do with its fake dual exhaust tips. Yes, if you look carefully, the visible tips seemingly integrated into the rear bumper have no openings. The actual single pipe can be seen tucked under the rear bumper, to the right side of the vehicle.

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Inside, our Executive test unit was equipped with the optional red leather seats (RM1,288) and not the white nappa (RM1,988) upholstery. Black leather seats with a similar honeycomb pattern are available as standard. While we’re not the biggest fans of the red-coloured upholstery on the seats and door cards, they are comfortable — but just as much as the basic black ones, we reckon.

For your entertainment, there’s an eight-inch Audio Visual Navigation system — the same Android-based unit that first appeared in the new Sonata. The system requires a data-activated SIM card to reach its full potential, but once you get over that hill, it works like having an integrated Android tablet on your dash. Apps like Waze, Google Maps, Facebook, Twitter, email and Candy Crush, even, can be accessed — not that we recommend using any of these (apart from the navigation apps) while driving. A reverse camera is a standard item too.

On top of the conveniences of a keyless entry and engine push-start button (Executive only) drivers also get a clean and clear instrument panel with two binnacles and a simple 4.2-inch TFT LCD screen in the centre with all your driving data requirements. The three-spoke steering wheel is shaped nicely and isn’t over-cluttered with unorganised controls.

The case is the same with the dashboard, which isn’t overburdened by confusingly-placed switches. On the other hand, we don’t think four individual buttons are necessary to control the direction of the air ventilation, though. It is apparent that the single-zone, manual air-conditioning isn’t very efficient and does a poor job of keeping the cabin cool on warmer Malaysian days — despite our test unit having a window tint (rarely the case because most test units don’t).

There are a lot of conveniently placed storage compartments in the centre console, where you’ll also find switches for the electronic parking brake, drive modes, auto-hold feature, parking sensors and downhill brake control. Just ahead of these items and the gear lever is another storage slot that offers two 12-volt power sockets as well as USB and AUX connectivity – the surrounds of the sockets light up when it’s dark for better visibility.

Clearly, the top-spec Hyundai Tucson isn’t stingy with creature comforts. At the rear, there are air-conditioning vents on the centre console along with two sets of Isofix child seat anchors. You’ll find them on either end of the 60:40 split-folding and reclinable rear seats. For space, there’s no faulting the Tucson from any seat in the house. The transmission tunnel is low and doesn’t compromise leg room for a fifth passenger in the middle of the rear seats too.

With a 1,098 mm-wide opening, the boot of the Tucson is remarkably capable of swallowing large cargo items. With the rear seats in their upright position there’s a boot volume of 488 litres, while folding the seats create a total volume of 1,478 litres. You will have to walk around to both sides of the car to fold each portion of the rear seat backs, but it’s a simple execution. There’s no power tailgate option either, but again, the lack of complexities isn’t always a bad thing.

For all its gains, performance is where the Tucson begins to undo its own good. Both variants are equipped with the same 2.0 litre “Nu” multi-point injection (MPI) four-cylinder engine, making 153 hp at 6,200 rpm and 192 Nm of torque at 4,000 rpm. The figures appear promising on paper but that isn’t the case in reality.

On the road, the naturally-aspirated engine lacks low- and mid-range torque and relies heavily on the six-speed torque converter auto transmission to downshift (often two gears) before being able to draw enough speed to overtake. The sudden shot of engine revs is quite uncomfortable for passengers and makes driving in urban, stop-go, areas more unsettling than it should be. It’s also a pity that there isn’t a more powerful engine option, let alone an all-wheel drive one.

That said, the Tucson’s ride comfort is fantastic — coming from a person who drives a Nissan Teana, most days. Unlike the numbing Honda CR-V or over-involving Mazda CX-5, the Tucson hits a sweet spot. Its suspension soaks up the harder bumps with ease, while its secondary ride is refined an relaxing — save for a few rattles possibly brought on by a flexing body. Travel on the springs are a bit short, so expect the odd “knock” from the bump stops from time to time.

It’s often generalised that all SUVs offer better surrounding visibility, but I’ve grown to learn that that’s not always the case. Fortunately, it is good in the Tucson. The rear-view camera comes in handy as always and your view outside isn’t obstructed by overbearing body pillars. Plus, there are also front and rear parking sensors to help guide you in tighter situations.

As standard, safety features on both variants of the Tucson include ABS, ESC, Hill-start Assist Control, Downhill Brake Control, Brake Assist System and Vehicle Stability Management. The Executive variant here gets six airbags and a Safe Drive Recorder, while the Elegance settles for just two airbags.

As much as you hear about the resurgence of Korean car brands, admit it, the lot of us have our hesitations when it comes down to actually buying one. But if we haven’t said it enough already, this Tucson is indeed full of surprises. Yes, it has its faults, but with its outstanding comfort factor it’s surely worth a look and a test drive before you go with the herd and buy a CX-5 or CR-V.