Europe’s car sales slump is having a positive knock-on effect for Australia’s importers at least, with the Hyundai ix35 one of the beneficiaries.
Proving to be significantly more popular than the Tucson it replaced in early 2010, Hyundai Australia has taken advantage of a freeing up of supply on the Continent to help meet local demand.
That advantage is the Hyundai ix35 Special Edition, a model built in the Czech Republic rather than South Korea where every other version of the small SUV comes from.
The SE model is based on the ix35’s entry-level trim, Active, and costs from $29,990 in 2.0-litre front-wheel-drive petrol form or from $34,990 for diesel all-wheel drive.
This is the only ix35 grade where you’ll find glovebox cooling, heated rear seats and projector beam headlights.
An Active diesel isn’t available in the regular range, either, but over the petrol Active the SE gains 17-inch wheels with alloy rather than steel rims, leather/leatherette seats, tinted rear glass, auto-dimming rear view mirror incorporating rear-view camera, heated front seats and side mirrors that can be folded electrically.
Justifying the $5000 premium for the diesel over the petrol SE is going to be focused more on driveability – and whether you need AWD – than fuel economy.
The ix35 diesel claims to use only a litre less per 100km than the petrol – 7.5 v 8.5L/100km.
The contrast between the two engines is otherwise stark, though. Where the 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol offers 122kW and 197Nm, and is rather underwhelming, the 2.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder not only has a bit of extra power with 135kW but more importantly almost double the torque output – 392Nm.
Combined with a six-speed auto that is active enough without being overly busy to keep the engine in the peak-torque zone between 1800 and 2500rpm and you have a mix that delivers the kind of everyday real-world performance that matters most to motorists.
The Hyundai ix35 diesel is brisk off the mark at junctions or roundabouts, and has the easy mid-range shove that ensures overtaking and moves into traffic spaces are off the minimal-stress type.
It’s rarely less than a noisy affair, however. Diesel clatter is especially loud at idle, and even once moving the ix35 CRDi rattles way on a light throttle.
Tyre roar from the ix35 SE’s 225/60 17-inch Kumho Solus rubber also gets progressively louder from around town (where it’s below average) to country roads (where it can overwhelm conversations).
Driving the Hyundai ix35 SE reveals how closely Hyundai Australia matched its local suspension tuning to the European approach, though this isn’t a good thing.
The SE suffers from virtually identical ride and handling issues to ix35s we’ve driven previously here.
Head onto a typical Australian country road and Hyundai’s small SUV bucks and rolls over undulations and cambers, displaying a lack of body control unexpected from the otherwise too-firm set-up.
The steering is more consistent than that of the schizophrenic helm in big-brother Santa Fe, though there’s rack rattle over mid-corner bumps.
It does allow you to hold a line accurately enough once committed to a corner, but the ix35 is initially lethargic on turn-in and the rear end seems similarly reluctant to follow.
There’s good traction from the ix35’s on-demand all-wheel-drive system, though grip from the tyres themselves starts to run out at the front end if you start to drive more spiritedly.
Around town, the Hyundai ix35 has less suppleness than some sports cars we could name and the result is a ride that is consistently bumpy and occasionally harsh when sharper surface irregularities are encountered.
Hyundai Australia is working on ix35 chassis tuning ahead of a facelifted model arriving later this year. If the company can find vastly improved ride comfort at a minimum, it will complement the areas where the SUV is strong.
And many of those positives revolve around the cabin.
It’s true that most of the interior plastics of the Hyundai ix35 are of the rock-hard variety, but the choice of surface textures ensures a quality look, if not feel, to the cabin. A case can also be made for their long-term durability.
The main dash, for example, features pimpled plastic that mimics a softer-touch texture, and padded materials are in key places such as door armrests and console bin lid, while the SE also features a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearlever.
We’re always fans of window and mirror switches that are angled conveniently for the driver, and other controls are easy to reach and locate.
Plenty of space for storing items about the cabin, too, and the dual grab-handles where the centre console meets the bottom of the centre stack are a neat offroader-style design cue.
The driving position is a touch upright and less car-like than the Santa Fe’s, while the seat is also a little flat.
The main negative in the rear seats is a lack of air vents, though there’s good legroom for what is one of the smaller SUVs in the market and three adults wouldn’t complain too much about being spread across the rear bench providing the trip wasn’t excessively long.
And heated (outer) rear seats is a rare feature in any vehicle.
Boot space is also impressive for the vehicle’s size (17mm shorter than even the 4410mm-long Tiguan).
At 591 litres, it comfortably fits a decent-sized pram, hides a full-size spare under the floor, and offers more cargo room behind the seats than the bigger CX-5 (403 litres) and Toyota RAV4 (506L), as well as the Tiguan (391 litres).
Its maximum cargo space isn’t quite as large as those rivals, though, and the 60/40 rear seats fold to an acute angle rather than completely flat.
The Hyundai ix35, then, offers a well presented and well packaged interior, in addition to a sound diesel engine.
And at $34,990 for the diesel SE, the Hyundai is sharply priced against direct rivals such as the CX-5 diesel ($39,990) and Tiguan 103TDI ($39,470), and comparable to the Mitsubishi ASX diesel (from $34,990) and twin Kia Sportage (from $35,990).
A lack of refined driving manners, however, costs the SUV crucial marks in a highly competitive segment.