A plug-in hybrid crossover that meets in the middle
2023 Hyundai Tucson PHEV review with The Road Beat
Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman
You'll buy or skip on a Tucson based primarily on its looks. Polarizing, sure, but let's at least congratulate Hyundai for going with such a bold and striking design. If you happen to hate the style, then you probably won't have made it to even reading a review in the first place, so because you're here, I can assume you are in fact interested in this electrified crossover and therefore a fan of the style. I like it. Some of my friends did. Some didn't. Let's talk more objective ratings in the following proceedings of what this plug-in hybrid does right and where it misses.
With this Limited model priced at right around $46,305, this is surprisingly low entry fee into a plug-in hybrid of this segment. For example, a most obvious competitor to Hyundai's new offering is Toyota's RAV4 Prime, also a plug-in hybrid, yet the Japanese item will cost roughly $5,000 more than the Korean when looking on comparable trim levels. A big win for the Hyundai then. Also worth mentioning is that the most basic PHEV Tucson comes in below $40,000.
Another win comes when you open the doors and reveal an upscale interior that you probably didn't expect to find in a Hyundai. It's glamorous on the eyes with quality materials that leave comparable Honda and Toyotas behind. Lots of soft-touch materials and a great build quality pair well to the minimalistic and open environment. I especially like how low the dash is because it makes the cabin appear larger and open. Same with the instrument gauges that forgo a traditional binnacle and are instead receded into the dash. It looks nice and modern while aiding the driver's view out front with less obstruction.
What I don't like, however, are the sometimes difficult touch controls that make up the bulk of your essential controls, like the climate. Without any tactile feedback, unless you look away from the road and to the controls, you sometimes might miss your mark with your finger. You can get used to it, but I like real buttons and knobs due to their ease of use. This shouldn't detract too much, though, from what otherwise is a highly pleasant, quiet, and comfortable cabin, but sometimes old-tech is a lot easier than modern controls.
Power rises from the normal Hybrid's 228 horsepower to 261. However, a pick-up in performance isn't all that noticeable, as this edition still requires seven seconds to dispatch 0-60 MPH. With a 13.8 kWh battery pack, this plug-in hybrid can travel about 30 miles on electricity alone when fully charged. It must be said that the RAV4 Prime plug-in can go nearly 50% farther on its larger capacity battery and has substantially more performance, taking a full second less to reach 60 MPH.
At least the hybrid powertrain itself is a modern and cultured unit, with smooth and seamless transitions most of the time. I say most of the time because there are the occasional stutters and shudders in operation, something Toyota has ironed out during the last 25 years of pioneering hybrid systems. So, while it's good, it's still just not quite as refined as Toyota's finest hybrids still.
Where it really falls behind as a hybrid, is in fuel economy. Averaging 28 MPG is nothing to sneeze at, as it's quite impressive, but it's lacking when you consider a RAV4 Prime averages closer to 32 in my own testing, and a normal RAV4 Hybrid can do a whopping 35 MPG. You also have to remember that the last non-Hybrid Tucson I tested averaged 24 MPG yet cost a full $7,000 less on the window sticker. So, is the plug-in worth the fuel savings for this much extra coin? Also worth noting is the window sticker that promises 35 MPG when driven solely on gasoline, but I missed that mark by 20%; Don't believe it.
On the road, the Tucson does very little wrong, being an easy car and pleasurable car to drive. The steering has nice weighting to it and has accurate responses, and when shown some corners, the Tucson can negotiate them rather admirably for a vehicle of this type. What that means is there's no excessive slop or roll in the chassis, and enough grip to scare passengers before devolving into screeching understeer. It's by no means a fun car to drive, but it's rather nice in daily driving conditions. The leather wheel is also gorgeous to hold and makes an excellent means of control. The real winner in this segment are still Mazda's offerings, but they don't have any models that come close to the levels of efficiency here since they don't offer any competing hybrids yet.
While it might cost less than Toyota's own plug-in equivalent, the Tucson PHEV does lots of things well, but hardly anything exceedingly well. The real highlight is the luxurious interior and the cut-rate price as a plug-in hybrid compared to its Japanese rival, but after that, the only exciting part is the edgy looks, which some might hate anyways. That's why I say this is a car to own possibly strictly on the looks alone and as a way of standing out. Otherwise, it's a very average car to drive, and as a hybrid, on the low-end of the fuel economy race.
2023 Hyundai Tucson Plug-in Hybrid Limited AWD
Price as-tested: $46,305
Pros: Distinctive looks; Nice interior
Cons: Polarizing looks; Weak hybrid gas mileage