Ireland's own - why we can't get enough of the Hyundai Tucson
EVEN in the wildest dreams of Hyundai's own salesmen, it is unlikely that the Oracle of Delphi herself could have predicted just how wildly popular its new Tucson was going to become, writes William Scholes.
Irish motorists in particular love the Tucson. It has dominated the 2016 sales charts in the Republic and vies with the perpetually popular Ford Fiesta for the top spot in Northern Ireland.
If ever there was a case of a car company bringing to market a new model at exactly the right time, the Tucson would seem to be it.
For a start, it's a crossover - that is, an example of the type of car that mashes up the high-riding seating position and stance of an SUV with the ease of use and running costs of a family hatchback.
From a standing start just a few years ago, crossovers now account for more than a quarter of the European car market, with their market share forecast to keep on growing.
Second, the Tucson looks great. It hits the visual cues that most buyers in this part of the market want with the same accuracy as the last Kia Sportage and the Range Rover Evoque; like an All Blacks backline, the Hyundai is chunky and broad-shouldered, yet also handsome and imbued with real presence and hints of athleticism.
As the aforementioned Evoque and Sportage illustrate - as do other vehicles of this sort, such as the Mazda CX-3 and Renault Kadjar - style seems to be disproportionately important in the crossover marketplace compared to other sectors. It's worth wondering if the new Sportage would be selling as well as the Tucson if Kia hadn't messed up the car's grille and headlamp treatment...
Third, it's a Hyundai, which means a long five-year, unlimited mileage warranty. Funnily enough, car buyers tend to like that sort of thing.
They also seem to like the fact that Hyundais tend to represent good value for money - though ironically, the specific model of Tucson I tested could not be described in that way - and that the dealers are highly regarded.
Being a zeitgeisty crossover blessed with good looks and a decent warranty and price tag mean the Tucson gets off to a flying start when it comes to showroom appeal.
Helping seal the deal is a cavernous interior and boot. Up front is as roomy as you could reasonably hope, and few rivals accommodate three adults so generously across their back seat.
Put all that together and it is easy to understand why, before you've even driven it, the Tucson has been such a success for Hyundai.
Its predecessor, the awkward-looking-from-some-angles ix35, was a decent car which occasionally troubled the top 10 registration charts; with the Tucson, Hyundai has comprehensively addressed that car's shortcomings, and is reaping the rewards.
In Northern Ireland, it has regularly topped the monthly registration charts since the start of the year.
According to figures compiled by trade body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, between the start of January and the end of August, a total of 1,336 Tucsons have been registered in the north.
It's a stellar performance, especially against the Ford Fiesta (1,553 registered), a best-seller for so long that Last of the Summer Wine was considered edgy when it was launched.
That it is beating other established favourites - Volkswagen's Golf and Polo, the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra - helps demonstrate not only the Tucson's own popularity but the pressure that the crossover-style of vehicle is placing on old-school hatchbacks.
The SMMT figures also show that the Tucson is well ahead of direct rivals such as the Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage and Ford Kuga. In that context, of the volume sellers, Renault must be wondering why its excellent Kadjar isn't also fighting for a top 10 place, never mind number one spot.
But it is in the Republic that the Tucson has really hit the target. It's the country's best-selling car, with 7,230 examples registered so far this year - well ahead of the second-placed Golf's 4,681 - according to figures from the Society of the Irish Motor Industry.
That represents half of Hyundai's total, and helps explain why it is ahead of Toyota as the Republic's favourite car brand with a 10.9 per cent market share.
The Society of the Irish Motor Industry shares much more detail about its statistics than its UK counterpart, so we also know that a mere 187 of the Tucsons registered in the Republic this year have been fuelled by petrol and almost a third painted white.
On paper, then, the Tucson is a compelling package thanks to its brilliant style-to-space-to-value ratio.
On the road, however, things are a little more average. The test car was equipped with a 2.0-litre diesel engine which, it is claimed, produces 182bhp; that's entirely possible, but paired with a disappointing six-speed automatic gearbox it felt lacklustre and, well, a bit last generation. It was also thirsty.
Underlining the inadequacy of the engine and transmission was the fact that my week with the Tucson was followed by a week with Volkswagen's new Tiguan. It had a seven-speed double-clutch automatic gearbox and a less powerful engine, but felt like a rocketship after the pedestrian Tucson. It was also considerably more economical.
The test car was in range-topping 'Premium SE' trim. It was well equipped - the seats were ventilated and the steering wheel heated, for example, though the power-tailgate was temperamental - but priced over-ambitiously and to be avoided; £33k feels too expensive for any Tucson.
No, where the Tucson rules is lower down the price list; somewhere between £23,000 and £24,500 gets a SE Nav model with all the toys you could want, front-wheel-drive - few really need four-wheel-drive on a car like this - a manual gearbox and Hyundai's modest 1.7-litre diesel engine.
Specify your Tucson thus, and you will begin to understand why the likeable Hyundai has become Ireland's favourite car of 2016.
:: AT A GLANCE
Hyundai Tucson 2.0 CRDi 185PS 4WD Automatic Premium SE
Price: £32,700. As tested £33,320, with metallic paint £620
Engine and transmission: 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel turbo, six-speed automatic gearbox, four-wheel-drive; 182bhp, 295lb/ft
Performance: Top speed 125mph, 0-62mph in 9.5 seconds
Fuel consumption: 43.5mpg (EU combined); 30.6mpg (real world)
CO2, road tax, benefit in kind: 170g/km - £300 in first year, then £210 annually - 34 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Five stars (86/85/71/71)