2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid feels at home with its range

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Are plug-in hybrids the training wheels of this transitional era? On a 50-plus-mile loop of the bachelorette party capital of the south, Nashville, the 2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid gives aid and comfort to drivers who can’t yet commit to going battery-only.

Within Hyundai’s lineup, it’s a compact alternative to the mid-size Hyundai Santa Fe Plug-In Hybrid, which earns EPA ratings of 31 miles/33 mpg combined. Slightly smaller, it’s also slightly more efficient. Rated by the EPA at 33 miles of electric range, 80 MPGe, and 35 mpg combined (higher than early estimates), the Tucson PHEV posts some of the more impressive figures in the blossoming crop of plug-in hybrid compact crossovers.

2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid test drive, Nashville, TN

2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid test drive, Nashville, TN

2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid test drive, Nashville, TN

2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid test drive, Nashville, TN

2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid test drive, Nashville, TN

2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid test drive, Nashville, TN

2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid test drive, Nashville, TN

2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid test drive, Nashville, TN

The 2022 Tucson PHEV doesn’t differ radically from gas-powered models, at least in terms of styling. It’s still a rave outside, less entrancing inside.

The body and interior vary little from the gas-powered Tucson; under its hood the Plug-In Hybrid adopts a 1.6-liter turbo-4 and 6-speed automatic, paired with a single front-mounted electric motor and a 13.8-kwh battery pack for a net 261 hp. Hyundai supplies a standard 7.2-kw onboard charger which permits recharges on a Level 2 240-volt source in under two hours. 

On this impromptu ride loop into the western exurbs of Music City, the PHEV Tucson’s powertrain wheels along in near silence, save for the impatient moments when I need to pass and push deeply into the throttle. I temper my enthusiasm with the energy-flow gauge on the digital cluster: When it spins the engine and moans a bit, I back off to make the most of the 29-mile predicted electric range.

The plug-in Tucson has three modes from which to choose. There’s automatic mode, which does the brain work of choosing drive modes; a hybrid mode which preserves charge state; and EV mode, which drinks all the juice supplied by the battery pack, tapping into engine power only in extreme-need situations like long hill climbs. 

2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid test drive, Nashville, TN

2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid test drive, Nashville, TN

2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid test drive, Nashville, TN

2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid test drive, Nashville, TN

2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid test drive, Nashville, TN

2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid test drive, Nashville, TN

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The Tucson’s plug-in bits net 33 EPA-rated miles of electric driving, with little more than a reconfigured fuel port and some badges to tell the tale.

It’s a geeky thrill to see 136 miles per gallon show up on the gauge at the bottom of the SUV’s instrument cluster—although it’s gaming the system in a way that doesn’t include the impact of the electricity you put in. Electric driving is more noticeable tire noise, because there’s so little of the Tucson Hybrid’s usual grainy 4-cylinder chatter to hear. It’s novel to hear and feel transmission shifts in an electric-mode vehicle, however slight the perceptions, too. The Tucson PHEV doesn’t have the flashy rear electric motor of the hot-rod RAV4 Prime, but its standard all-wheel drive might give some wet-weather comfort to drivers north of Nashville.   

I was able to extract 25 of the predicted 29 miles of electric range when the Tucson first  switched itself into hybrid mode, with about 4 miles of range left. That translated to an on-screen reading of 31% left in the pack (as it saves the rest for mileage-boosting as a hybrid). I stopped and turned around to find a photo spot, and it re-engaged in electric mode that lasted for another mile or so on the trip back to town. 

In a fit of hopeless optimism, I stopped at a Blink charging station in Ashland City, with about 14 miles left on the return trip. After a few muddled attempts through a tiny, damaged touchscreen, I gave up on recharging the car and instead recharged myself with some local brew—coffee, not moonshine. 

2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid test drive, Nashville, TN

2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid test drive, Nashville, TN

The likelihood of someone else needing this charging spot is equal to the likelihood of this town going for Bernie in ‘24.

 

Its powertrain smoothness can’t be denied but the Tucson Plug-In Hybrid throws its weight around in ways that distinguish it from the other Tucson SUVs. It can bound when recovering from big pavement gaps—the ride’s mostly taut and composed, but it can heave when all the weight of its batteries get jostled by gaping chasms in the road. Nashville’s growing fast, and there are plenty of those hiccups.

Not unlike other EVs, the plug-in Tucson has steering with on-center play, then enough friction and weight to register as different. The force doesn’t respond in a linear way to changing road conditions, so it feels numb in a way that’s entirely familiar to many electric-car drivers. 

What’s also familiar, is the clot of shiny black plastic in this Tucson Plug-In Hybrid. For a car costing more than $44,000, the black-on-black cabin and its mid-grade finishes were the most obvious place for improvements. Otherwise, the interior yields scads of usable space, with incredible head and knee room for front and back-seat passengers alike. 

2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid test drive, Nashville, TN

2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid test drive, Nashville, TN

2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid test drive, Nashville, TN

2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid test drive, Nashville, TN

2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid test drive, Nashville, TN

2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid test drive, Nashville, TN

The Tucson PHEV’s under-floor storage can hide small electronics, a charging cable, and possibly a signature flatbread.

 

How does all this compare with the RAV4 Prime?The Tucson Plug-In Hybrid can’t beat the Toyota RAV4 Prime in electric range (42 miles) or gas mileage (38 mpg combined), but the Tucson undercuts the RAV4 Prime in price. It costs $36,645 for the base SEL, compared to the RAV4 Prime SE’s $41,515 sticker price. The fancier Tucson Plug-In Hybrid Limited runs $44,445, versus the RAV4 Prime XSE’s Monroney number of $44,835. 

Worth noting: the RAV4 Prime’s 18.1-kwh battery pack means it’s eligible for the full $7,500 federal EV tax credit. In the Tucson, the credit is $6,587 due to its smaller 13.8-kwh pack. The credits make price differences negligible. For most drivers, the differences will come down to taste and availability.

The Tucson PHEV drives with a little less verve, to be sure. But its outré shape has a distinctive appeal, and its EPA-rated range of 33 electric miles seems within reach. As with the RAV4 Prime, it’s a matter of finding one on a lot. Training wheels were never so pricey—but have always been this important.

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