Car reviews - Hyundai - ix35 - range
Improved dynamics and ride quality, spacious rear seat, value, broad range, powerful diesel alternative
Room for improvement
Residual hard cabin plastics, thirsty 2.4-litre engine, small cargo area
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13 Nov 2013
MOTORING writers and customers alike found plenty to appreciate in the Hyundai ix35 compact SUV when it swept on to the Australian market to replace the less lovely Tucson in 2010.
Stylishly dressed in the then-new Hyundai Fluidic Sculpture design language, armed with a trio of handy four-cylinder engines – including the most powerful diesel in the class with a desirable six-speed automatic transmission – and well equipped at value pricing, the ix35 was ready for showroom action.
The only problem was that Hyundai’s chassis engineers did not get the memo about Australia’s roads – the bumps, the lumps, the high-speed gravel-road touring and coarse bitumen surfaces.
The result was a vehicle that bumped, thumped and wandered a bit too much, letting down an otherwise commendable effort.
This time, as it prepared for the mid-life facelift for the ix35, Hyundai Australia was not going to make the same mistake, and it skitched its small but talented Aussie in-house chassis development team on to the ix35 as part of the Series II pull-through.
We are pleased to report that these product planners and engineers have ironed out the ix35’s wrinkles by refining the springs, dampers, anti-roll bars and steering to deliver a much improved driving experience.
Gone is the jarring impact harshness and woolly steering control, replaced by smooth and confidence-inspiring dynamics that at last can be compared with class benchmarks.
Road noise was also addressed by substituting the previous solid-fixed sub-frame with a soft-bushed item, and the result is a small SUV that rides and feels like a vehicle one class higher.
The two petrol engines – a 2.0-litre and 2.4-litre – both get direct injection this time around, and while performance is said to be improved, the difference is difficult to pick.
At the media launch, we tasted all three ix35 engines, including the 2.0-litre CRDi turbo-diesel that remains unchanged, across three models: base front-wheel-drive Active, mid-range Elite that comes in both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, and flagship AWD Highlander.
A Czech-made ix35 model called SE (Special Edition) is also offered in Australia with a choice of 2.0-litre petrol or diesel powertrains, but that was absent from the launch program that focussed on the Korean-made core models.
The smaller 2.0-litre 122kW petrol engine – now with more torque and a six-speed manual gearbox (up from five) as an alternative to the six-speed auto – is designed to compete with small SUVs such as the Mitsubishi ASX, Subaru XV and Nissan Dualis, which it does on relatively equal terms. Performance is on the adequate side of the scale, but most buyers of sub-$30,000 family vehicles will not expect a great deal more.
Those wanting more performance will need to step up to the mid-range Elite that offers the alternative of the bigger, more powerful – and thirstier – 2.4-litre Theta petrol engine that gets more power and torque in Series II, now putting out 136kW and 240Nm.
It is not hard to see that Hyundai has somewhat larger Japanese SUV competitors in its sights with this model that can go blow for blow with the likes of the Subaru Forester, Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V in performance, cabin space and equipment.
Unfortunately, the 2.4-litre ix35 is somewhat less efficient than most of its Japanese counterparts, consuming an official 9.8 litres per 100km combined fuel consumption, which is about 1.0L/100km off the pace.
And then there is the cream of the ix35 powertrain crop, the 2.0-litre diesel that can not only match the 2.4-litre petrol engine for power but blitz it on torque (392Nm) and fuel economy (7.2 litres per 100km).
The $2400 price premium for diesel will give some buyers pause for thought, but they should at least sample it before signing on the line.
We drove the ix35 models over a mix of urban and rural roads, highways and byways, bitumen and gravel, and came away with the impression that the ix35 is on the money.
Is it better dynamically than some of the medium Japanese SUVs? That’s a big call, as companies such as Mazda, Subaru, Toyota and Honda have recently moved the goalposts with their latest models. We will say the ix35 has at least caught up in one large stride, and all credit to Hyundai.
Road noise is commendably muted, even on dirt and on the lower profile tyres of the 18-inch alloys of the Highlander, and the ride quality over all but the harshest potholes is suitably damped.
Inside, the (slightly) reworked interior’s only blight is the retention of a couple bits of hard black plastic, such as the console binnacle on the dash, but the clear, simple controls, comfortable seats and general air of quality makes the ix35 pleasant family transport.
Hyundai designers have not shirked their responsibilities on cabin storage, with a deep central console bin, large door cavities and other nooks and crannies.
The back seat is particularly spacious, with loads of knee- and head-room, and although the rear bench seat is rather flat and low, the middle passenger at least does not have to park their rump on a hump.
The backrest of the rear seat now reclines for comfort and splits 60-40 for added load flexibility, which you might need, as the cargo area is comparatively shallow due to a space-hungry full-sized spare wheel. However, small items can be stowed in and around the spare wheel under the floor to maximise carrying capacity.
One of the best aspects of the ix35 is its value – each model is well equipped compared with rivals, with standard features such a Bluetooth audio streaming, touchscreen audio and steering wheel audio and cruise controls.
Now more than ever, the excuses for not considering a Korean vehicle are getting rather thin.
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