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Hyundai Terracan CRDi

It has flaws but, boy, it's has a great engine and is outstanding value.

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • Flexible 7 seater cabin
  • Wonderful technology turbo diesel
  • 'Old school' 4WD on-road feel
  • Bargain price
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The Hyundai Terracan CRDi certainly has a big wow factor.

For under $40 grand you get a smooth and sophisticated turbo diesel engine, comfortable 7 seater cabin, excellent fuel economy and – with newly upgraded suspension – the flexibility to tow a trailer up to 2500kg. Kinda makes the high 40s/low-50s ask for the comparable Toyota Prado and Mitsubishi Pajero look like daylight robbery...

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The updated Terracan has a revised suspension tune that addresses the widespread criticism of the original model’s handling and roadholding. A locally developed Trek’n’Tow suspension upgrade (comprising Eibach rear coils, Edelbrock dampers and special bump-stops) apparently gives the Terracan improved on-road behaviour - but it still suffers from excess body roll and limited front suspension travel. Part of the problem is the Terracan uses antiquated torsion bar front springs together with a 5-link live axle rear.

This is not a 4WD that can be driven like an everyday sedan – a sticker on the driver’s sun visor says it all. There’s a picture of an overturning vehicle and the caption, “Avoid abrupt manoeuvres and excessive speed”...

If you’re content to drive around at moderate pace and not push the envelope, the Terracan is very much in its element - smooth, effortless, frugal and comfortable riding (though with an obviously high unsprung mass).

But the biggest news is the release of the Terracan’s turbo diesel engine – a first for Hyundai.

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Using current diesel technology – common rail electronic-controlled direct injection – the 2.9 litre 4 cylinder runs a DOHC, 16-valve head and a 19.3:1 static compression ratio boosted by a turbocharger with a top-mount air-to-air intercooler. It’s a great engine – easy to start, tractable and smooth when cold and with relatively low smoke emissions. But it does have a distinct diesel clatter.

Throttle response is soft but there’s a generous 345Nm wave of torque to ride from 1750 to 3000 rpm. At part-throttle, the Terracan CRDi wafts along without a hint of stress. All-out performance is better than we’d imagined from a 2197kg vehicle with a modest 120kW. With some torque converter stall applied off the line, the automatic CDRi can leap to 100 km/h in under 12 seconds.

The fuel economy of the CRDi is extremely impressive. Hyundai claims 10.3 litres of diesel per 100km average consumption (ADR 81/01) – about a third less than the petrol V6 variant... We achieved 11.2 litres per 100km in mainly start-stop conditions. Interestingly, the tall-geared auto version is said to give superior open-road fuel economy to the manual version.

A 5-speed manual gearbox is fitted as standard equipment but our test vehicle was equipped with Hyundai’s AUD$2100 optional 4-speed automatic. The auto trans is well adapted to the torque characteristics of the turbo diesel engine but we would like to see a sequential shift mechanism. Switching out overdrive does help when you’re decelerating with a heavy load hooked on the back but proper gear control is preferable.

Interestingly, depending on spec, the Terracan is available with different 4WD systems.

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The top-line Highlander model comes with an electronically-controlled ‘on demand’ type 4WD system. On the other hand, the conventional Terracan (as tested) uses a manually engaged 4WD system with electronic shift transfer – a centre console wheel that enables you to easily select between RWD, 4WD high-range and 4WD low-range. Unfortunately, you’re forced to use RWD for the vast majority of conditions – high and low-range 4WD modes lock the driveline at 50:50 front-to-rear and so cannot be used on non-slip surfaces. Note that 4WD can be engaged at speeds up to 80 km/h.

In any case, the Terracan’s off-road ability is compromised by its bitumen-oriented Hankook 255/65 16 tyres, which achieve relatively low on-road noise levels. A full-size alloy spare wheel is held in a cradle under the rear.

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With a separate chassis and its new Trek’n’Tow suspension, the Terracan has a maximum towing capacity of 2500kg (braked). We employed the Terracan for a home relocation and found that it tows a fully-packed 8 x 5 cage trailer with consummate ease. Oh, and note that the Terracan’s sliding roof cross-bars can support an evenly distributed 34kg load – we didn’t try these, but we imagine they would exacerbate the vehicle’s tendency to lean.

Braking these loads are 303mm ventilated front and 315mm ventilated rear discs with EBD and ABS. We found the brake pedal too soft but there were no problems with braking performance during our test.

The steering system uses an old recirculating ball and nut design with power assistance. Steering feel and weight at the straight-ahead position are poor – a characteristics that are magnified when there’s a heavy load tugging on the back. Given the category of vehicle, the turning circle is surprisingly compact.

On board, the Terracan is big on flexibility.

For people-moving duties it can accommodate 7 people in three rows of seats – buckets at the front, a triple bench in the middle and dual seats at the rear. There’s ample leg and head room in the front and second row, but the adjustable second row backrest is too laid back for our tastes (even when adjusted to be as upright as possible). The third row rear seats are obviously intended for children only – a knees-up seating position is essential and access is poor. On the upside, all seating positions feature adjustable height head restraints and there are 3 child seat anchor points.

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In 7-seater configuration, the Terracan maintains excellent rear cargo space – easily enough to do the weekly shopping. For larger loads, the third row seats can be individually folded up against the side of the vehicle. This gives much improved cargo volume, even though the folded seats eat partially into the cargo zone.

For bulk carrying, the 60/40 split second row seat can have its backrest folded forward. If desired, the whole second row seat assembly can also be tumbled forward against the back of the front seats. This gives an impressive 1.56 metre cargo length to the lift-up hatch. Unfortunately, the resulting cargo floor is stepped and the tumble action of the seat requires a very firm hand. The head restraints must also be removed prior to tumbling.

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Interior features are as you’d expect in a budget-oriented 4WD. There are the usual power windows, dual airbags, air and cruise control (with the main switch a long stretch away and the steering wheel controls unilluminated). A MP3/CD head unit is tied to 6 speakers to deliver sound quality best described as “adequate” – bass is not a strong point. Leather and woodgrain look trim can be found in the up-spec Highlander version.

Notable absentees from the cabin are a compass, altimeter, sun visor extensions, a driver’s vanity mirror and climate control (as fitted in the Highlander version).

And the styling? Well, it’s different.

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From some angles, the Terracan CRDi looks very flash – its projector headlights and bonnet scoop give a much bolder appearance than you’d expect for such a modestly priced vehicle. Unfortunately, the passenger’s side rear wheel arch flare has an ugly cut-out for the fuel filler flap and there are various fussy detail lines. It’s certainly quirky.

So, assessed purely on its on-road merit, the Terracan CRDi is a mixed bag – its dynamics are still flawed and the steering lacks feel to give the driver absolute confidence. But the big motivators are that wonderful turbo diesel engine and its low price - there’s simply no other comparable 7 seater 4WD in the ballpark. Add Hyundai’s transferable 5 year/130,000km warranty and you have a package with real strength.

The Terracan CDRi automatic was provided for this test by Hyundai Australia.

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