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Car reviews - Hyundai - ix35 - Highlander diesel

Our Opinion

We like
Still good value despite $1000 price rise, improved ride and steering feel, spacious interior, good pairing between punchy diesel engine and smooth-shifting auto, well equipped.
Room for improvement
Cabin still has slight cheap taint about it, lacklustre boot space, less-than-stellar diesel fuel use.

Gallery

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Hyundai logo17 Nov 2014

By BARRY PARK

Price and equipment

Hyundai’s ix35 range kicks off from $26,990 before on-roads for the Active specification featuring a 2.0-litre petrol four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual gearbox, and driving only the front wheels.

The diesel-engined Highlander we’re in is shopping as high up the Hyundai model range as you can go. Priced from $40,990 – a $1000 increase over the car it replaces – it features the punchy 2.0-litre oil-burning turbo four-pot feeding drive to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. The diesel comes at a $2400 premium over the 2.4-litre petrol version that ups performance from the 2.0-litre petrol-engined base variant.

It’s a smidgen expensive considering the most costly sharp-looking Subaru XV – albeit one powered by an underwhelming 2.0-litre flat-four petrol engine punching out to all four wheels via a continuously variable transmission – starts from $36,990.

Nissan’s popular high-riding Dualis – soon to become the Qashqai – tops out at $39,390 and gives the Hyundai a fright in terms of specification, although if you want a diesel under the bonnet it is only available in front-wheel drive with a 1.6-litre engine with a manual gearbox and priced from $30,290.

Mitsubishi’s roomy ASX also received a boost late last year, adding an automatic transmission option to the 2.2-litre diesel engine under its bonnet, vastly improving the appeal of the formerly manual-only model. It is priced from $36,490.

However, if the ix35 Highlander starts to look expensive – at that price it does rub elbows with premium names – just look at what it offers.

Standard equipment runs to a luxury car-like 18-inch alloy wheels in a new design (with a full-size alloy spare), dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, keyless entry and starting, reversing sensors along with a reversing camera, a leather-look steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, leather-look material around the gear selector, some bits of real leather on the mostly leather-look seats (don’t forget, a base-model BMW 3 Series also has synthetic cow), an electric seat for the driver with electric lumbar adjustment, upgraded dusk-sensing projector headlights, new metallic-look roof bars and more.

Other nice touches include dark-tinted windows behind the front seats, a pair of 12-volt charge points up front, a USB slot, trip computer, a compass in the automatically tinting rear-view mirror, folding heated body-colour wing mirrors, crisp-looking satellite navigation, and the bit that won my kids over, a dual sunroof over the front and rear seats.

The only bit that’s not that family friendly is the six-speaker audio system that lacks depth and distorts badly if you really want to crank a tune.

Interior

It doesn’t take long to see that Hyundai’s roots in cheap motoring haven’t all disappeared, even if they’re improved slightly as part of the Series II update.

Hard plastics abound, but they’re nicely presented and have an air of some quality about them.

Still, important contact points such as the door armrests are soft to the elbow, and the steering wheel and gearshift-lever boot are both clad in textureless leather trim, adding a sense you’re getting more than just the $26,990 entry-level variant.

The leather-clad front seats are nicely bolstered, have a dash-mounted heater switch and adjust electronically for a comfortable position, aided by a reach-and-rake adjust steering wheel.

The dash is made up of gentle curves framed with boomerang-like features around the centre console, which features a classy looking seven-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation that includes live traffic updates.

The cabin has plenty of small-item storage points, too, with a pair of 12-volt charge points framing a USB port atop a deep bucket in front of the gearshift lever.

A pair of cupholders sit alongside the handbrake, while down the back of the console, a deep, bulky armrest lifts up to reveal a shallow storage bin.

The rear seats, which split-fold 70:30, are comfortable enough for a growing family, and the rear doors each contain a bin big enough for drink bottles, while door pulls also offer handy stash space for a music player or phone.

The smallish boot is shallow but tall, with a good load height and a luggage area cover to keep contents away from prying eyes. The tailgate lifts tall, although shorter people will struggle with its height once it comes time to close it.

Engine and transmission

The big story with the Series II ix35 are the 2.0-litre and 2.4-litre petrol engines, which add direct injection to bring decent fuel efficiency and performance gains over the old versions. The 2.0-litre diesel engine powering our test car, paired with a six-speed auto, carries over unchanged from the previous generation.

It sticks to 135kW of power and 392Nm of torque through a narrow 1800-2500rpm rev band, and will officially only use a combined 7.2L/100km of fuel – a figure not really achievable in the real world if you drive it normally and you use at least 1.0L/100km more. By comparison, the petrol-engined cars officially range from 8.2L/100km for the manual 2.0 FWD, and 9.8L/100km for the 2.0 AWD auto.

The six-speed auto does a decent job of keeping the engine in its torquey sweet spot, with minimal lag from a standing start – an all-too-common diesel trait, even to this day.

Ride and handling

Hyundai has copped its fair share of flak over the on-road attributes of its cars over time, and has turned it into a positive.

The car-maker has its own crack engineering team that sends its feedback directly to Korea, with the result being cars that handle Australian roads much better than before.

For the ix35, changes for Series II include different front and rear springs and stabiliser bars, and changes to the suspension sub-frame’s bushes to help reduce harshness and vibration.

It works well, with the ix35 showing only a little bit of nervousness at low speed as bigger bumps make their way into the cabin. At highway speeds, where the previous chassis showed its shortcomings, the ix35 is as settled and comfortable as its rivals, with even road roar from coarse-chip surfaces reduced despite the low-profile Kumho hoops fitted to our test car.

The steering, too, is much improved. The older ix35 needed constant, minor corrections at freeways speeds, but a new, faster microprocessor produces a much crisper sensation, even if it does still lack decent feel.

The range-topping Highlander includes all-wheel drive as standard. We didn’t get a chance to try it in the rain, which is where all-paw traction would shine, but it can instantly send equal amounts of drive to the front and rear wheels where needed.

Safety and servicing

The previous ix35 series earned itself a top five-star safety rating, which carries through to the fresher car.

The airbag count stands at a class-competitive six, all seats have adjustable headrests, there’s a reversing camera that shows up on the centre console display, and both front seats have seatbelt reminders.

Hyundai offers capped-price servicing for all its vehicles, including the ix35.

For the diesel version, it’s $399 a visit, about $100 more than for the AWD petrol-engined version, which makes it the most expensive Hyundai-badged car to service.

One of the big attractions of the Hyundai badge is its long five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.

Verdict

The mid-life makeover of the ix35 has resulted in a car that is much improved, and now a worthy contender in the view of rivals that have traditionally out-performed it on the road.

Yes, it is more expensive, but Hyundai Australia needs to pay for those ride and handling improvements somehow, and the extra spend is therefore justified considering what you get.

The slug, though, are those big service costs relative to the petrol engines that are associated with the ix35’s perky little diesel engine.

Rivals

Volkswagen Tiguan 103 TDI Pacific (From $38,490 before on-roads)Low-speed grumbles from six-speed dual-clutch auto blight a brilliantly fuel-efficient 2.0L drivetrain and vastly superior roadholding. Nicely appointed interior, too, but don’t expect to squeeze much in Tiguan’s tiny boot.

Mitsubishi ASX Aspire AWD (From $36,490 before on-roads)Boxy shape opens up to a roomy, sunroof-friendly interior, and punchy 2.2L diesel recently gained a continuously variable transmission (with paddle shifters) to give an auto option. Not the most comfortable seats, and engine shows down-low lag in city driving.

Peugeot 4008 Allure (From $38,490 before on-roads)Mitsubishi ASX underneath with a different 2.0-litre drivetrain and suspension set-up. Has all the same ASX attributes with a more comfy interior and a sharp-looking exterior design to the front and rear, but Japanese origins means it lacks much of the character that makes a Peugeot what it is.

Specs

MAKE/MODEL: Hyundai ix35 Highlander
ENGINE: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo diesel
LAYOUT: Front-engined, all-wheel drive
POWER: 135kW@4000rpm
TORQUE: 392Nm@1800-2500rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6sp auto
0-100km/h: N/a
TOP SPEED: N/a
FUEL: 7.2L/100km
EMISSIONS: 189g/km CO2
WEIGHT: 1708kg
SUSPENSION: MacPherson (f)/Multilink (r)
STEERING: Electrically assisted rack and pinion
BRAKES: Ventilated disc (f)/disc (r)
PRICE: From $40,990 before on-roads

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