There was a time not so long ago when Hyundai’s marketing thrust here in Ireland was based on the premise that the Korean marque was ‘Ireland’s fastest growing car brand’ and a very neat little tag line it was, adding weight and substance to otherwise bland advertising.
Of course the claim couldn’t last long and it didn’t, what with Renault sub-brand Dacia suddenly coming on strong and usurping Hyundai’s claim to the title it had briefly held. The thing was though that Hyundai’s boast — however short-lived it might have been — was a portent of things to come and a signal to competitors and customers alike that the company was shaping up for big things here in Ireland and elsewhere.
Last October, when Hyundai launched the new Tucson crossover on the market, few might have guessed that just a few short months later the car would surpass perennial Irish favourites such as the VW Golf, the Ford Focus, and the Toyota Corolla to become Ireland’s best selling model.
Hyundai themselves might have realised from the pre-orders they were getting, as well as general interest in the Tucson, that they might have a winner on their hands, but I doubt if even they anticipated how successful the car would be.
To the end of May some 5,069 Tucson units wheeled their way off dealer forecourts and on to Irish roads. That, let me assure you, is a fantastic figure and one which, when lined up against the figures for the Golf (3,623), Focus (3,289) demonstrates clearly that Irish drivers have, for whatever reason, fallen truly, madly and deeply in love with the Tucson.
Indeed, aside from the car becoming the first SUV ever to top the Irish charts, the Hyundai’s achievement mirrors a slow but sure change in the tastes of motorists here in this country.
Both the Skoda Octavia and the Nissan Qashqai have surpassed the once-mighty Corolla and while it is no real surprise the Czech car is selling so well (3,229 units sold) or that the Qashqai (3,130 units sold) is the number two crossover, the figures do indicate an overall shift in buying patterns and customer loyalties.
But, for Hyundai, having barrelled their way to the top of the sales charts with the Tucson and third overall in manufacturer sales with 10,300 total units shifted — hustling Ford down to fourth in the process— there must be considerable satisfaction at their achievements so far this year. And rightly so.
But what is it about the Tucson that has made it such a winner? Well, we know that crossovers are the flavour du jour amongst buyers, so that’s in its’ favour; so too the fact it is a good-looking, solid piece of kit with plenty of specification available through the range; also there is Hyundai’s pricing strategy and its’ five-year warranty which makes things all the more attractive; and, finally, there’s the growing appreciation that the Koreans (both Hyundai and sister company Kia) have finally shaken off their previously nailed-on bargain-basement reputation.
In terms of the car itself, it is a very decent workaday driving prospect - nothing particularly exceptional about it in terms of its’ engine prowess, driving abilities or practicality as plenty of others do everything just as well — but there is a sense about this car that it simply ticks so many boxes people can easily overlook any perceived flaws.
There is also the issue of badge snobbery. I have mentioned before a friend of mine (greetings Professor Walsh) who spends a large amount of time in southern Spain and bought a car — an old generation Hyundai Tucson — out there to fulfil daily needs. He did, however, admit in a quiet moment that there is no way he’d be seen dead in the thing back at home.
The success the company has had with the Santa Fe, for example, appears to have given people confidence in the company’s lesser products. If the old ix35 was a very popular car for the marque, the fact it has been replaced in the range by the returning Tucson name-plate and that that car is outselling it by a margin of two or three to one, underlines the point.
The tester was fitted with the familiar 1.7 CRDi turbodiesel (116 bhp at 4,000 rpm; 0-100 kph in 13.7 seconds; 176 kph top speed; 4.6 l/100 km - 61.4 mpg- consumption; and 119 g/km emissions) which has been given a bit of a once-over here and while that has not done anything dynamically for the car, refinement has been certainly been improved.
There is no 4WD available with this engine — you have to get to the 2.0 diesel for that — but that, as is so often the case with crossovers, is no barrier to sales as punters like the 4x4 looks and couldn’t give a fig about potential off-road abilities.
What they will like is the excellent interior décor (something Hyundai recognised ages ago that they would have to greatly improve upon if they were to increase sales) as the days of awful scratchy plastics and shocking (literally, as they generated so much static electricity) upholsteries are long gone.
Practicality is a big part of the Tucson’s armoury and so interior space, rear passenger room, cargo holding ability and tons of storage cubbies are at very least a match for most rivals and, in many cases much better and, for instance, the ease of the folding seat mechanism makes live very easy when you need to switch modes from passenger to load-lugger.
Hyundai has also given the Tucson enough specification breadth across the range to widen its appeal and from the basic Comfort model through to the Executive versions.
there is enough on offer to tickle a broad variety of customers, which appears to be exactly what is happening. The entry level model, for example, includes air con., roof rails, 16” alloys, auto lights, rear parking sensors, cruise control and remote steering wheel controls for the infotainment system.
To a large extent then, it would appear, Hyundai has for many buyers gotten rid of that nasty scent of parfum économique. No longer is the brand perceived as being little more than a cheap and cheerful alternative to the big players. It has become a big player.
The evidence of this is there in the bare naked sales figures and that is the only truth necessary to illustrate how far Hyundai has come along in a very short number of years. The people have spoken and for Hyundai the truth they speak means volumes — large volumes.
The Cost: from €25,245 - €29,995 as tested.
The Engine: a familiar turbodiesel, although more refined than before.
The Specification: good kit at entry level and get more impressive the higher up the range you go.
The Overall Verdict: a deserved hit for the Koreans.
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