2022-23 Hyundai Tucson Limited PHEV AWD
Crossing Over to Electric, Minus the Range Anxiety
With all the news on electric propulsion these days, you’d think we’ve finally reached the dawning of the electric vehicle era. We haven’t.
By Roy Nakano
Sun, Jan 22, 2023 02:01 PM PST
All photographs by the author Roy Nakano.
Featured Image: The Hyundai Tucson PHEV crossover SUV qualifies for single-occupant HOV lane access, and its hybrid propulsion means it can go the distance for consumers afraid of the range limitations of pure EVs.
Most American car buyers are still deathly afraid of any electric car with range less than a kazillion miles. No matter that the fear is largely illusory. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, the national average daily drive in America is about 39 miles in pre-pandemic 2019. For Californians, the daily average is a little less—about 34 miles.
Still, if you only have one car, it’s comforting to know you can go further if you need to. And this is why the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is the way to go for many range-anxious consumers seeking to steer in a greener trajectory. It promises pure electric driving in normal, around-town commutes, while providing a back-up, range-extending internal combustion engine and electric motor hybrid combination for those occasional, longer trips.
Checking Off The Boxes
So this brings us to the object of this review: The Hyundai Tucson Limited PHEV AWD. On paper, this car checks off so many boxes. First of all, it’s configured in today’s preferred automotive fashion format—the crossover SUV (sport utility vehicle).
Second, its pure electric driving range is rated at 33 miles, which exceeds the minimum EV range required to qualify for California’s single-occupancy carpool lane access stickers (the minimum is 30 miles). For those frequenting the freeways during rush hour traffic, this could mean occupying some of your time doing things other than being stuck on the 5 or the 405.
Third, the car has been getting some great reviews. Consumer Reports loves the Hyundai Tucson, giving it numeric scores reserved only for a select few. Motor Trend also gives the car high praise, singling out Tucson as among three of the best compact plug-in hybrid SUVs to buy (the others being the Toyota RAV4 Prime and Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrid). By the way, among the three cited by MT, Consumer Reports ranks the Tucson Hybrid better than the Prime RAV4 Prime, and both rank way higher than the Escape. And between the Tucson and the RAV4 Prime, you can get the Tucson for way cheaper.
But Wait, There’s More to Consider
With all of this going for the Hyundai Tucson PHEV, there are a few things you should know before signing the dotted line.
First and foremost, the Tucson PHEV will remind you (frequently) it’s not a pure electric vehicle. Like many hybrids, the Tucson PHEV will warm up the internal combustion engine when you first start it in the morning and greet you with that familiar and very un-EV-like sonic drone. You’ll also notice the gas engine assisting during normal Smart mode driving, and really notice it in Sport mode, when both the electric motor and gas engine are working in tandem to provide maximum power.
The intoxicatingly silent propulsion of a pure electric vehicle will occasionally be there, but mostly the Tucson PHEV drives like a hybrid. It’s a sacrifice you’ll have to make as part of the range extension the gas engine provides to this vehicle. So if you want to enjoy the always-silent operation of a pure electric vehicle, you’ll need to get a pure electric vehicle—like Hyundai’s own Ioniq 5 crossover SUV. And speaking from personal experience, once you’ve gone pure EV, it’s hard to go back.
And while the Tucson PHEV meets the California minimum EV range standard for single-occupant HOV lane access, can’t we do better than 33 miles? When the Chevrolet Volt was introduced in 2010, it had a pure electric range of 35 miles. By the time the Volt was discontinued in 2019, its pure EV range was at 53 miles. So the Hyundai Tucson PHEV can’t even match the Volt’s pure EV range of 2010. Surely we can do better in this day and age?
On The Other Hand
If you’re willing to own a hybrid that drives like a hybrid, the Tucson PHEV has a lot going for it. For one, this cookie is cut from a different pattern than most SUVs.
Hyundai made an earnest attempt to add some distinctive styling touches to the current-generation Tucson. Up front, the Tucson is fitted with 10-element LED headlights neatly integrated into a trapezoidal grille pattern. The side profile reveals a prominent steel blade accent along the roof not unlike that of the new Nissan Z sports car. Out back, there are dual vertical taillights reminiscent of the Peugeot 5008. And the Tucson rear wiper blade hides neatly under the spoiler above the glass (why don’t others do that?).
The PHEV comes standard with all-wheel drive, and the Limited edition includes Blind Spot View Monitor, which uses cameras to provide you with a view of the side rear area from the instrument panel. The Limited also includes Hands-Free Smart Liftgate with Auto Open and a Tesla-esque panoramic sunroof - the latter fitted with a motorized shade when the California sun beats down too heavily.
While it lacks the whisper quiet operation of a pure EV, the Tucson PHEV is still quieter than the Tucson’s non-hybrid base model. Plus, its ride and handling are commensurate with more expensive crossover SUVs. And while a 7.6 second 0-60 mph time won’t win many drag races, the car - particularly in Sport mode - feels quicker.
As Good As It Gets
It would be great if PHEVs did a better job of driving like pure EVs—and do it in a range reflecting today’s technology. As it stands, the Tucson PHEV represents the current state of the art. If you want a plug-in hybrid electric SUV that’ll provide you with single-occupant HOV lane access and the range to take you on occasional long trips, the Hyundai Tucson PHEV is about as good as it gets.
Specifications (That Matter)
Name of Vehicle: 2022-2023 Hyundai Tucson Limited PHEV AWD
Prices: $35,400 (SEL trim), $43,200 Limited trim
Propulsion: 1.6-liter turbocharged GDI four-cylinder and plug-in electric motor hybrid generating 261 hp (combined gas and electric).
Drivetrain Configuration: Front engine and motor, all-wheel drive
Pure Electric Range: 33 miles (EPA-rated)
Electric + Gasoline: 80 MPGe (EPA-rated)
Combined EPA: 35 MPG (EPA-rated)
Performance: 7.6 seconds 0-60 mph (manufacturer’s estimate)
EPA Size Rating: Small Sport Utility Vehicle 4WD (the EPA’s classification based on interior and cargo volume)
For more information on the Hyundai Tucson PHEV, click here.
About The Author
Roy Nakano gave birth to LACar in the late '90s, having previously delivered LA Audio File back in the '80s. Aside from the occasional review, Roy likes to stray off the beaten automotive path: "Six Degrees of Reparations" reflected on the regretful ethical paths taken by car companies throughout history. "Traveling Through the Past and Present of the Green Book" looked at businesses that took a stand against racism and the man that wrote the book on where to find them. "Best Cars to Drive in Rush Hour Traffic" was an LACar guide published in the pre-GPS era. "In Search of the First Datsun 510 Tuner" looked at one of the milestones in the origin of import tuners.