Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2021 road test review

Cream Hyundai Tucson SUV

Nicholas Platt

Posted July 22, 2021

Nicholas Platt gets behind the wheel of the striking new-generation Hyundai Tucson.

It's clearly all change at Hyundai, with pretty much every model being upgraded or replaced this year. As one of their top-selling models, Tucson was never going to be left out. The all-new fourth-generation Tucson gains a bold new design that gives it a point of difference against its medium SUV rivals, with headlights that form part of the grille and creases and character lines for days. But is the new Tucson all style and no substance, or has Hyundai got another winner on its hands? 

Thumbs up

Very spacious interior, stylish, excellent safety features, well priced.

Thumbs down

Intrusive warnings, engine performance from 2.0-litre petrol, fuel economy.

Hyundai Tuscon on the beach

The Hyundai Tucson ushers in a bold new exterior design.

How much does a Tucson cost? 

The new Tucson is noticeably larger than the preceding model, with a long bonnet and short overhangs on a stretched wheelbase that delivers a much more spacious cabin than most vehicles in this category. 

It’s offered in three specification variants, starting with the Tucson, stepping up to the Active and topping out with the Highlander, tested here. All variants are available in optional N-Line, which is essentially a sporty exterior and interior trim pack.

In terms of sales, Tucson is a solid mid-table player in the sprawling medium SUV segment. This category accounts for over 17 per cent of total vehicle sales in Australia, second only behind the 4x4 ute segment. Direct competitors are the Toyota RAV4 (from $32,695), Mazda CX-5 ($31,190), Nissan X-Trail (from $30,665), Subaru Forester (from $35,190), Honda CR-V (from $30,490) and the mechanically related Kia Sportage ($29,490).

Starting from $34,500 for the base front-wheel-drive Tucson and topping out at $53,000 for the fully loaded Highlander N-Line diesel all-wheel drive, the Tucson is competitively priced without hitting the level of more affordable fare like the Mitsubishi Outlander and MG HS. 

Our Tucson Highlander 2.0 MPi FWD Highlander test car starts from $46,000 before on-road costs. Optional extras, including premium paint ($595) and a grey interior ($295), increased the price to $46,890 before on-roads.


What safety features does it have? 

The Tucson is awaiting its ANCAP safety rating, however, it’s equipped from the base level up with noteworthy features including blind-spot collision warning, lane keep assist, autonomous emergency braking with car, pedestrian and cyclist detection, intelligent speed limit assist, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, anti-dooring safe exit assist, and a rear occupant alert – to warn of people left in the car.

Seven airbags are standard across the range, which for the first time includes a centre airbag that emerges to separate the driver and front-seat passenger in a crash. This is becoming a more common feature on many cars, and it is great to see it standard on a high-volume model.

The top-of-the-range Highlander features parking collision avoidance, a 360-degree surround-view monitor and a blind spot view monitor. When you indicate, a display in the instrument cluster shows a high-definition camera view along the vehicle's flank in that direction, excellent for lane changes and monitoring cyclists and cars approaching from behind.


Hyundai Tucson interior

The Tucson's clean and modern interior features high-tech features including two 10.25-inch display screens.

What's the space like inside?

There’s no question that the Tucson is very spacious and comfortable. This particularly manifests in the rear seating. There's ample legroom for tall adults in all seating positions, even adjusted for a larger six foot three driver. Headroom is also ample, even with a full sunroof fitted. Getting in and out is a breeze with well-designed doors. You can imagine the Tucson becoming a favourite of ride-share operators for these reasons. 

The Highlander we tested is well-styled (not sure we’d choose a pale interior), although some materials feel a little second rate, and the tinny sound of the door closing feels a little cheap. Generally, though, there is nothing to question in terms of build quality.

Interior storage is good – there’s enough space for drinks, and the door pockets have plenty of room, but the centre console could make better use of real estate.

We would love to see the vertical phone holder from the Santa Fe find its way into the Tucson, but instead, there is a well-designed, large space for device charging.

One frustrating feature that did make its way into the Tucson is the writing on the switchgear. White letters on grey plastic can be very challenging to read. 

The touch-sensitive controls in the Tucson’s centre console are modern, but physical dials and switches can be a more user-friendly way to enter your desired setting.

The base Tucson comes with an 8.0-inch central multimedia system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Climb up to the Elite, and you’ll get a 10.25-inch display unit featuring navigation, also found in the Highlander. You also get a Bose sound system, heated exterior mirrors, heated (and ventilated) front seats, heated outboard second-row seats and a heated steering wheel. 

Matching the 10.25-inch dimensions of the central screen, the LCD digital instrument cluster looks good but lacks the functionality of similar systems from other brands, notably Volkswagen, which uses the space on the screen more effectively by displaying the navigation map. 

While the digital cluster is clear in all conditions, the lack of a cowl surrounding the instrument cluster produces a very distracting reflection in the side window when driving at night. Also, the very bottom of the display showing fuel economy is almost completely obscured by the steering wheel in my seating position. 

In terms of boot space, it can swallow 539 litres with all seats in place (increasing to 1860L with the second row folded). This is less than the Toyota RAV4 (580L) but more than the Mazda CX-5 (422L) and Honda CR-V (522L).


How does it drive?

This Tucson Highlander uses a 115kW/192Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine, driving the front wheels only via a six-speed automatic transmission. The powertrain is pretty sluggish, and the six-speed auto often feels like it's shifting too soon or too late. 

The good news is Hyundai is also offering a 132kW/265Nm 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol with a seven-speed dual-clutch auto for a $4000 premium over the base engine, or a 137kW/416Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel with an eight-speed auto for a $6000 premium. Both come with all-wheel drive as standard and bode much better for the overall driving experiences. 

We finished our week with a fuel economy rating of 9.6 litres per 100 kilometres, which is up on the official claim of 8.1L/100km. 

The safety equipment gets a big thumbs up, but some features are intrusive in operation. The lane keep assist system issues unnecessary alerts and, at times, interventions. Other random warning chimes are difficult to attribute any cause to. Many of these can be switched off or dialled down, but that’s not always easy. 

One last bugbear is with the auto-hold function, which applies the parking brake at the lights and in traffic. It defaults to off every time you turn off the car. Auto Hold is a great feature and should be on all the time.


The verdict

A very thorough update to a well-regarded model, marred only by a few odd quirks.

Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2021


List price: $46,000 before on-road costs.

Price as tested: $46,890 before on-road costs.

Model range: $34,500 to $53,000 before on-road costs.


2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine, six-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive. 

Power: 115kW@6200rpm.

Torque: 192Nm@4500rpm.

Wheels: 235/55 R19.


91 RON petrol, 54-litre tank.

Consumption: 8.1L/100km (government test) 9.6L/100km (RACV test).

Emissions: 184g/km CO2 emissions.

Standard safety

Blind-Spot Collision Warning, Lane Keeping Assist, Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist with Junction Turning function, Intelligent Speed Limit Assist, Rear Parking Distance Warning, Leading Vehicle Departure Alert, Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist, Rear Occupant Alert, Tyre Pressure Monitoring System, Rear View Monitor.

Standard features

10.25-inch LCD instrument cluster display, panoramic sunroof, heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, heated outboard rear seats, 10-way powered adjustable driver’s seat, Bose premium audio system, LED cabin lights and ambient mood lighting, power tailgate.  


Five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Capped-price servicing plan. Servicing schedule variable.