(Pocket-lint) - For many years the Nissan Qashqai has been the SUV to buy. Compact, comfortable, affordable, it has been the choice for young families across the UK.
But the race to compete has seen an explosion of compact SUV models - and the Hyundai Tuscan has plenty to offer as a rival. It looks slightly better proportioned than the Kia Sportage, a little more off-roady and fun when it comes to looks, while arriving at an affordable £22k starting price (still a little more pricey than the Nissan though).
The Tucson N Line, featured here, cuts a line through the centre of the model range, starting at £25,995, as Hyundai looks to raise the appeal and give this SUV a sporty edge.
It's all about design
The first important thing to get out of the way is that the N Line is a little like Audi's S Line or Ford's ST Line - it's a trim level rather than being a sporty version of the SUV. It's got the looks but not the guts. In Nissan's case, following the popularity of the Hyundai i30 N, the company has picked up some styling points to create this new trim level.
That includes custom bumpers and a darkened grille for a more aggressive look, as well as 19-inch black alloy wheels, alongside tweaks and changes to make it standout elsewhere. It arrives at a slight premium over other Tucson models, slipping in under the Premium and Premium SE trim levels, very much in the middle of the pack.
This mid-range trim, combined with sporty looks, puts it in a great place: it's a good-looking car and it gets some customisation details in the interior, such as the N branded steering wheel and gear shifter. We know that Audi sells a lot of S Line models for this very reason - it looks higher quality than the cheaper entry-level trim.
However, the N Line Nissan is very much the same car as the Tuscon: a well-proportioned five-seat SUV with some 513-litres of boot space providing enough for a folding buggy, a weekend away or perhaps the dog. There's enough head space in the second row of seats for adults, while it benefits from the raised driving position that so many want from a modern car.
Ok, it's not all about design. The N Line gets some suspension stiffening for a slightly firmer ride, while the steering is slightly more direct to give a more positive steering response than the regular models, but it isn't a "hot" SUV by any means.
Behind the wheel
The cockpit of the Tucson is a comfortable place to be. We mentioned the great visibility thanks to that raised ride height, which is drawing people towards SUVs or crossovers and away from traditional hatchbacks.
The interior keeps things pretty simple, with the display sitting atop the dash with an 8-inch touchscreen, flanked with buttons to control many aspects of the tech offering. Digital climate control and power connections for phones or accessories make up the rest of the centre console. There's also a Qi wireless charging pad for those with a compatible phone.
The Tucson supports both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, meaning that you can use those systems via a cable connection. Hyundai's own interface isn't the most sophisticated; while it offers a wide range of functions and is perfectly usable, graphically it looks a little dated. That said, buttons are easy to hit to direct control and the satnav system works well enough - although we'd rather use something like Waze from a connected smartphone.
Those smartphone connections - as well as Bluetooth - are standard on all models, while the 8-inch display is uprated over the 7-inch model that you'll get on the entry-level S Connect Tucson.
The driver display is conventional with analogue dials, while the central section is a smaller digital panel to show more dynamic information and give you control from the steering wheel - so you can easily change tracks or radio stations, as well as get driving directions if you're using the car's own navigation system.
There's a greater use of hard plastics in the interior of the Tucson than you might find in some other marques. There are leather touchpoints - and some fancy stitching to highlight the leather run across the dash - and the seats are mixed leather and suede, but remain perfectly supportive and comfortable.
As with other Hyundai models you feel like you're getting plenty for your money with a good level of spec overall for the price you're being asked.
On the road
Start-up the Tucson N Line and you'll be reminded that this is a trim level rather than a performance tuned racing model. There are 1.6-litre options in petrol and diesel. The latter is now a mild hybrid in this model, with a small 48V battery system to increase the efficiency and reduce consumption.
The downside of the diesel version is you lose the spare wheel space to accommodate the battery, but there's a reduction in emissions compared to the regular 136PS diesel available in the range. The manual takes the award for the lowest CO2 in the diesel, with these frugal diesels reporting some respectable miles per gallon (mpg) figures, although we've not been able to verify these.
Some might be drawn instead to the punchier 177PS petrol, as public opinion swings away from diesel in some areas. It won't give you the efficiency for the diesel and in our care-free driving of the 7-speed automatic we turned in about 28mpg on country roads.
How you want to use your Tucson will likely dictate your preference: motorway users will probably prefer the diesel and manual, while urban users the petrol automatic (although there are fewer options in N Line than elsewhere - the 2.0-litre 4WD option isn't available, for example).
Actually driving the Tucson is comfortable. Like many of these compact SUVs it's positive enough and easy to drive, while light in the steering to make manoeuvring into tight spaces easy. However, the N Line doesn't really elevate itself to being a sporty drive - this is still very much the family SUV, just wearing a pair of fancy trainers.
We also found the automatic to be responsive - it's better geared than some of Hyundai's older models, which always felt as though they a little slow to respond. Here you're more likely to slip it into D and never give it a second thought. There's also a whole host of safety features to keep you on the road, as well as real-time speed limit detection.
The suspension is perfectly capable at keeping things comfortable - it's not too firm despite some stiffening in this trim - and although the larger wheels bring better looks, you'll get a softer ride from the smaller standard wheels found in non-N Line. But we'd still take these black wheels on looks alone.
The N Line brings a better look than other models in the range for just a little more money. It delivers that high ride height, enough space front and back for passengers, and a boot that's capacious enough to accommodate most needs.
While there's a reduction in the number of engine options for this trim, Hyundai is charting a course straight down the centre of its offering - and that's likely to be popular for those looking at compact SUVs.
This model is ultimately more likely to convince people to spend a little more over the SE Nav, although all these Nissan models are fairly comparable in what you get bundled in.
For those looking for something a little more unique than a Kia Sportage or Nissan Qashqai, the Tucson N Line should definitely be on your shortlist.
Alternatives to consider
The Nissan Qashqai dominates this section. It starts a little cheaper - with much reduced options - but then competes in the middle with plenty of choices to be had. Space, an easy drive and plenty of tech defines the Qashqai - as well as ongoing desirability with young families.
The Sportage has muscled in on the Qashqai's territory with good value for money, and good standard equipment levels. Now with a 48V diesel hybrid option, the Sportage offers the same basic options as the Hyundai, but we don't think it looks quite as good.