New SUVs are arriving thick and fast in 2015, and the stream of high-riding cars shows no signs of letting up any time soon. Hot on the heels of last month’s new Renault Kadjar is the Hyundai Tucson – and Auto Express has had an exclusive first drive.

If you think the name sounds familiar, so it should – the Tucson joined Hyundai’s range in 2004 and was replaced five years later by the ix35. Now it’s back, and while the original Tucson was known for offering value for money, the new one aims to be the latest chapter in a string of modern-day success stories for Hyundai, continuing in the same vein as the i10i20 and i30.

On paper it’s a direct replacement for the ix35, and it carries the weight of elevating Hyundai’s annual UK sales to the magic 100,000 over the next few years. The i10 city car, i20 supermini, i30 hatch and new Tucson will have to shift 20,000 units each per year, with the rest of the range accounting for the other 20,000. Hyundai sold 16,900 ix35s in 2014 – so all eyes are on the Tucson.

It’s fair to say the newcomer takes the eye. We last saw the Tucson at the Geneva Motor Show, and in the metal and free from glaring stand lights, it’s even better looking. Hyundai’s European design team’s worked hard on fixing the ix35’s faults – namely, its slightly dumpy appearance. The brand’s also following the trend of giving its next generation of cars a more premium look, with Hyundai Design Center Europe’s chief Thomas Burkle telling us his top priority was a more athletic, daring and upmarket stance.

So, gone are the ix35’s bulbous curves and in come tauter lines and creases. The front end is dominated by a gaping chrome grille, with squared-off wheelarches at the sides. A ‘z-shape’ shoulder crease and a rounded rear complete what is one of the class’s better-looking cars, matching Nissan’s Qashqai and Renault’s Kadjar for style.

Inside, the ix35’s haphazard dash design has made way for a more organised, neater arrangement – but there’s now an air of blandness. What’s more important, though, is the build quality and level of tech on offer. Our test car was a late pre-production model, so while it’s close to what buyers will be trying out in showrooms this September, it’s not quite the finished article. Despite this, the overall fit and finish have taken a welcome step up in quality over the ix35.

Our top-spec model will be badged Premium SE in the UK.  The entry-level 'S' spec starts at a competitive £18,695, but our top-spec model nudged a hefty £32,345. Standard kit on entry-level T should includes DAB radio, Bluetooth, alloys and air-con, yet our car was packed with luxury goodies such as full leather trim, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, two-tone 19-inch alloys, blind-spot detection and swivelling auto headlights. Putting the £48k Genesis saloon aside, it’s the most luxuriousHyundai we’ve driven.

On the move, the cosseting cabin is matched by impressive refinement. Our car’s 182bhp 2.0-litre diesel teamed with 4WD was smooth and delivered a muted hum.

It was only let down by a slow-shifting six-speed auto. Other engines will include a front-wheel drive 133bhp 1.6 petrol, and113bhp 1.7 and 134bhp 2.0 diesels. A 174bhp 1.6 petrol turbo can be had also, but is four-wheel drive only. Six-speed manual and autos are on offer (manual only on the entry-level 1.6), while there’s also a new dual-clutch auto on the 1.6 petrol turbo. We suspect the 1.7-litre diesel manual would be the best all-round package.

In fast bends, the steering is lifeless dead-ahead and gives no sense of feel under lock. It’s accurate, though, and is quick to weight up, and our car’s Drive Mode Select function added a good amount of weight in Sport mode. The Tucson is spacious, with plenty of rear space. Boot room is competitive as well; with the back seats in place, there’s 513 litres on offer. This swells to 1,503 litres (the auto 4WD has 488/1,478 litres), which is comfortably larger than the Kadjar’s 472 and 1,478 litres. Rear visibility isn’t the best, however, due to the Tucson’s sloping roof.

On the basis of our brief test drive, the new Hyundai could have the potential to steal crucial sales from the current class leaders. In the coming weeks we’ll be driving more versions – and there’s the possibility for it to really shine.

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