Last July, I drove to San Diego in our long-term 2017 Hyundai Tucson to attend the launch of the 2018 Sonata and Elantra GT. The latter shares the same 1.6-liter turbo-four and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with our Tucson in Sport guise but makes 26 hp more. In that application, the transmission is smooth, responsive, and snappy even in manual mode, doing exactly what you want. However, in the Tucson, it’s like a different unit, slow to respond and laggy. Why such a drastic change between the two cars? It’s all in the tuning.
Whereas the Elantra GT Sport has been calibrated for enthusiastic driving, the Tucson is efficiency-minded. On the highway, the powertrain is unobtrusive, but once you hit congested areas, things start to get clunky. At low speeds, the gearbox hunts frequently, shudders, and shifts roughly. You grow to expect but perhaps not accept it after a while; it will remain annoying because we’ve driven eco-minded powertrains that are less noticeably clunky. It also doesn’t help that the Tucson’s throttle response is sluggish, making it feel even more unresponsive. The best solution is to not put your foot down suddenly, because the transmission will get confused and ease into the throttle when you’re in traffic to keep it from shuddering. Sport mode also alleviates things slightly and makes city driving slightly smoother.
As a result of its transmission tuning, the Tucson lags behind its rivals when it comes to on-road refinement. The Honda CR-V doesn’t jerk you around at low speeds, and the CVT operates nearly invisibly. The Mazda CX-5, on the other hand, is more agile and responsive. City driving is where the Tucson’s weaknesses appear, and it doesn’t help that despite the economy-minded transmission, it’s EPA-rated at 24/28 mpg city/highway with all-wheel drive and 25/30 mpg with front-wheel drive. That’s right in line with most of the class but behind the most efficient entries, the CR-V and the Nissan Rogue, both of which are rated 2 to 3 mpg higher, so there’s no efficiency gain with the eco-tuned transmission when matched against the competition.