Make Performance SUVs Affordable (Again?) – Hyundai Tucson Likely To Get The N Treatment

It’s time for performance SUVs to leave the luxury domain and make their way down into the mainstream.

And who better to bring a performance utility vehicle to the masses than the man who previously headed up BMW’s M division, Albert Biermann.

Biermann, after three decades at BMW and more than half a decade in charge at BMW M, joined the Hyundai Motor Group as head of vehicle test and high performance development in 2014. His list of responsibilities at Hyundai and Kia is lengthy. His aspirations for Hyundai’s N brand, according to Drive, are lofty.

But while conventional thought would lead you to believe Hyundai’s N performance sub-brand would focus on cars, Biermann says, “The fun-to-drive element is not limited to the size and segment of the car; you can create fun cars in every segment.”

As a result — and this won’t surprise anyone who remembers that Biermann’s previous position included oversight of M versions of the BMW X5 and BMW X6 — there’s likely a Hyundai Tucson N in the future.

The Tucson is certainly not a bad starting point. It’s a marketplace success for a Hyundai brand that’s faced some recent struggles in the United States. In fact, May 2017 was the highest-volume month in the history of the Tucson nameplate; the first month Tucson sales have ever topped the 10,000-unit mark.

In managing editor Mark Stevenson’s review from two summers ago, credit was given to the Tucson’s ride, handling, NVH, and exterior design. The Tucson is small enough to be nimble. It’s attractive enough to look good with a bodykit. It’s sufficiently underpowered to be able to make good use of a big boost in torque.

Of course, horsepower alone won’t turn the Tucson into a budget Audi SQ5. But Albert Biermann is a man, according to Automotive News Europe, who wants to, “leave his mark at the company by driving home the idea that every humble rubber bushing can be tuned for noise, vibration and harshness, or for ride comfort, or for durability.”

Stuffing the Santa Fe Sport’s 2.0-liter turbo under the hood of the Tucson isn’t all that N will be about.N, a letter based on Hyundai’s Namyang test track (not because it was the natural follow-up to Biermann’s time at BMW’s M, as if he’ll switch to Mazda and start an O brand next), would position the Tucson in a segment decidedly deficient in performance. That’s assuming the vehicle makes it to North America.

America’s three top-selling utility vehicles — Rogue, CR-V, RAV4 — don’t even offer 200 horsepower, let alone other performance enhancements.

The Ford Escape and Subaru Forester engine upgrades aren’t exactly accompanied by the goodies that would enable them to be considered ST or STI models. The story is similar with Kia’s Sportage.

You could argue that the dearth of competitive offerings speaks to the lack of demand. Or you could argue that the “all but confirmed” Hyundai Tucson N would be dipping its toes in unsullied water.

You could also argue that the world is not in need of performance crossovers. But in a higher price bracket, the world has spoken. There’s a market for such vehicles.

If Hyundai can do to the Tucson what the company has already done with the Elantra Sport, this won’t be a bad thing.

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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