2023 Hyundai Tucson Plug-in Hybrid Review and Test Drive
This compact crossover SUV could be your first step toward future EV ownership.
Anyone who has shopped for a new car recently is likely familiar with the availability of electric vehicles (EVs). Automakers are introducing more EVs each year, often in addition to or in place of existing vehicles powered by gas engines. If you're EV curious but not quite ready to kick the fossil-fuel habit, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) such as the 2023 Hyundai Tucson Plug-in Hybrid might be right for you.
With a 2023 Tucson Plug-in Hybrid, you can drive the compact crossover SUV like a traditional hybrid, filling it up at the gas station and getting good gas mileage or plugging it in. However, if you never plan to plug it in, you should get a Tucson Hybrid instead.
What makes this SUV special is that you can plug it in at home or at one of a growing number of charging stations nationwide, recharge its battery, and enjoy an EPA-estimated 33 miles of purely electric driving before the SUV switches over to traditional hybrid operation. Effectively, owning a Tucson Plug-in Hybrid lets you dip your toes into the EV pond rather than diving in headfirst.
Plug-in hybrids have been around for years, but Hyundai added one to the Tucson lineup when it completely redesigned the Tucson for the 2022 model year. Changes for 2023 are relatively minor and focus primarily on extra standard features. Key competitors include the Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrid, Kia Sportage Plug-in Hybrid, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, and the Toyota RAV4 Prime.
For the 2023 model year, the Hyundai Tucson Plug-in Hybrid comes in SEL and Limited trim levels. Base prices range from the high $30,000s to the mid-$40,000s, including the destination charge to ship the SUV from the Ulsan, South Korea, factory that builds it to your local dealership.
For this 2023 Tucson Plug-in Hybrid review, I test-drove the Limited in southern Maine. It came with carpeted floor mats, bringing the manufacturer's suggested retail price to $46,105, including the $1,335 destination charge. Hyundai provided the vehicle for this Tucson Plug-in Hybrid review.
2023 Hyundai Tucson Plug-in Hybrid: The Design
As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Well, this beholder's eyes don't see much beauty in Hyundai's current design language. The 2023 Tucson Plug-in Hybrid, with its bulging side body panels, sharp beltline creases, and odd blend of curves and angles might not appeal to everyone. However, the Hyundai Santa Fe does have an attractive silhouette.
My impressions of the interior are more favorable. While the exterior is overly busy, the Tucson Plug-in Hybrid's cabin appears relatively understated but modern. Controls are intuitive and well placed. My Limited test vehicle featured soft-touch materials on most surfaces surrounding the driver. However, Hyundai uses hard plastics on the sides of the center console and in less visible areas.
Hyundai covers the Limited's seats in what feels like durable hides and wraps the manually tilting and telescoping steering wheel in soft leather. Power-adjustable front seats offer three settings for heat and ventilation, and the driver also benefits from a lumbar adjustment and a heated steering wheel. Since I was test-driving in Maine in January, I was pleased to find how quickly and effectively that feature performed.
The second row of this five-passenger compact crossover consists of a split bench seat with a seatback set at a comfortable recline angle. With my 5-foot, 8-inch frame, I had plenty of room and was perfectly content back there, but taller occupants might take issue with the hard plastic front seatback panels rubbing against their knees. The Limited adds heat for the outboard rear seating positions, though I was surprised to find the controls on the door panel, not the center console. Instead, that's home to USB ports and heating and air conditioning vents.
Suppose you need to transport stuff instead of people. In that case, the rear seat folds flat to expand cargo space from 31.9 cu-ft to 66.3 cu-ft of cargo space accessible via a power liftgate. Other storage provisions include door pockets and cupholders, seatback nets, usable space under the front armrest, front cubbies with power outlets, and a wireless smartphone charging pad.
2023 Hyundai Tucson Plug-in Hybrid: The Technology
Technology exists for many reasons, but in vehicles, automakers typically focus on improving efficiency, advancing safety, or making the life of a driver simpler, more convenient, or more enjoyable. Unfortunately, users often find the result more frustrating than beneficial regarding that last part.
That's not an issue with the 2023 Hyundai Tucson Plug-in Hybrid Limited. Once seated, the driver faces a 10.3-inch customizable digital gauge cluster behind the steering wheel, with a separate 10.3-inch touchscreen display for the infotainment system positioned atop the center of the dashboard. While this might appear intimidating to the technology averse, Hyundai makes setup incredibly easy. For example, you can pair your smartphone to the car via Bluetooth in seconds. However, I was disappointed to learn that connecting my iPhone to the Tucson Plug-in Hybrid's Apple CarPlay feature required a USB cable. The performance of Hyundai's voice-recognition system far outweighs that complaint. Simply put, it's one of the best I've tested — better than the comparable technology many mainstream luxury automakers offer.
Like an Amazon Alexa virtual assistant you might have at home, you can ask your 2023 Tucson PHEV any question and you'll receive an answer. As you speak, the system transcribes on the center screen what it's hearing. If you notice that something got lost in translation, you can correct it. If there are no mistakes, the system will execute your command. There's no need to navigate through multiple layers or remember specific phrases. For example, issuing a command for navigation, then a point of interest, I can say something like "nearest hospital," and the system provides directions to that location. Use this same approach to turn the heated seats on or off, tune the radio to any AM/FM or satellite radio station, and more.
Hyundai pays equal attention to the safety-related technology in the 2023 Tucson Plug-in Hybrid. Its SmartSense suite of advanced driver-assistance systems includes forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert, safe-exit assist (helps prevent kids from exiting into traffic), and driver monitoring. In addition, the Limited adds several upgrades, such as a camera-based blind-spot monitoring system with a display in the gauge cluster. Users can configure the individual safety components using the center touchscreen.
With every feature activated, I headed for a test drive along Interstate 95 and several Maine backroads. The adaptive cruise control worked as intended by maintaining my set pace and distance from preceding vehicles, and I opted to let the Tucson Plug-in Hybrid automatically adjust my speed to match posted limits. As I've experienced with other vehicles, this feature accurately reads the signs it recognizes but doesn't see every sign. Remember that as you transition from a 70-mph highway to a 45-mph exit ramp.
Hyundai bundles that technology with lane-keeping assist, which beeps as you drift out of your lane and provides not-so-subtle corrective steering. A similar lane-centering feature does what its name implies, albeit with seemingly constant and noticeable minor steering adjustments. Drivers must always keep their hands on the wheel.
Thankfully, my test drive didn't require evaluating crashworthiness. But, the 2023 Hyundai Tucson's crash-test ratings earned it a Top Safety Pick+ award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for the 2022 calendar year. At the time of this writing, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had not published an overall rating for the 2023 Tucson Plug-in Hybrid but please visit the website for updates.
2023 Hyundai Tucson Plug-in Hybrid: The Drive
Hyundai equips the 2023 Tucson Plug-in Hybrid with a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder gas engine paired with a 66.9-kWh (90 horsepower) electric motor, 13.8-kWh lithium-ion battery, and 7.2-kW on-board charger. Net output is 261 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, delivered to 19-inch wheels and tires via a six-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel-drive system.
Before diving into this Tucson's driving dynamics, let's take a quick look at the plug-in bits. The EPA suggests drivers will average 35 mpg and cover up to 33 miles on electric power alone. In addition, Hyundai claims you can fully charge the battery in less than two hours when connected to a 240-volt outlet.
I only have access to a 120-volt outdoor outlet at home, so I plugged in the Tucson and left the SUV to charge for the day while I worked. When I returned 10 hours later, I had a fully charged battery, and the gauge cluster displayed 33 miles of electric range. Coupled with the 335 miles for the gas engine, I could expect to drive 368 miles before refueling or recharging.
Based on my test drive, the EPA estimates were nearly spot on. After 32 miles, I noticed the battery range was back to zero, and my final fuel economy calculation was 35.9 mpg. That resulted from regular driving and not purposely taking it easy to maximize efficiency.
On paper, the plug-in hybrid system's power output is impressive for a compact crossover SUV. On the road, it feels like a lively performer. When you select Sport mode, the Tucson Plug-in Hybrid delivers snappy response and improved steering feedback. If you like to attack highway exit ramps enthusiastically, this is the setup for you. You still have access to the same horsepower and torque in Smart or Eco mode, but you'll need to show the gas pedal some tough love when merging into fast-moving traffic.
From a ride and handling perspective, the Tucson PHEV did an admirable job of soaking up the bumps and bruises afflicting many of Maine's backroads. I did my best to avoid the most cavernous potholes but crossed the occasional crater without unsettling the suspension.
Is the 2023 Hyundai Tucson Plug-in Hybrid a Good SUV?
Compared to the Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrid, available in a single front-wheel-drive configuration, the Hyundai promises all-weather traction, more power, greater towing capacity, a lower base price, and a superior warranty.
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV also offers an excellent warranty, a third-row seat, and an extra five miles of electric range. Still, some versions of the Outlander are considerably more expensive, and all fall short of the Tucson's 2,000-pound maximum tow capacity.
That leaves the 2023 Tucson Plug-in Hybrid's most potent rival, the Toyota RAV4 Prime — a model that leads this group regarding horsepower, electric range, and towing capacity. The Toyota also offers complimentary scheduled maintenance like the Hyundai does but not for as long a period of time.
Another option is the Tucson PHEV's corporate cousin, the Kia Sportage Plug-in Hybrid, a carbon copy in many respects.
Despite such stiff competition, the 2023 Hyundai Tucson Plug-in Hybrid is one of the best in its segment, deserving of a top spot on a buyer's short list of contenders.