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They say when you’re onto a good thing you should stick with it, though that hasn’t stopped the Hyundai ix35 being tweaked and tuned despite its already impressive popularity.
For our test of the new Series II, we’ve nabbed the range-topping Hyundai ix35 Highlander costing $38,590, which is certainly well equipped for the money.
Externally, only minor details have been changed for the Hyundai ix35 – the headlights and 18-inch wheels, for example – so you might not immediately know you are looking at the Series II if you’re familiar with the original. Subtle changes won’t upset the faithful and that is usually a good thing when it comes to ongoing brand and, in this case, model loyalty.
Crucially, for those heading out of the city limits, Hyundai has specified a full-size spare tyre as part of the standard equipment, along with six airbags, front and rear parking sensors and a rear view camera. The 2014 Hyundai ix35 gets a five-star ANCAP rating across the range.
Hyundai led the charge in this country with the inception of its five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty and we like recommending a vehicle to a potential buyer that also includes 12 months complementary roadside assistance, and a complementary 1500km first service. (I’ve pointed plenty of friends and family toward both Hyundai and Kia vehicles for those reasons specifically.)
Up front, there’s a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine developing 136kW and 240Nm. The engine features direct injection, which is integral to the ix35’s smooth, linear power delivery and lower emissions. The ADR fuel return is a claimed 7.2 litres per 100 kilometres and the ix35 can accept bargain basement 91RON unleaded fuel.
We covered just over 200km, and managed a measured fuel return of 8.5L/100km. That’s not bad at all, considering much of our test distance was in reasonably heavy city traffic.
A spirited back road punt in the country left us a little nonplussed with the petrol engine, though. It feels a little breathless higher up in the rev range and requires hard work from your right foot to get the desired result. When driven back to back with the Kia Sportage we had on a recent comparison test, the Hyundai didn’t feel dramatically more proficient despite its extra 400cc displacement.
Importantly for the average driver, though, the 2.4L is better around town, and up to freeway speeds the engine does its job without too much fuss. Between 50 and 80km/h, the engine is smooth, quiet and has enough torque to ensure the gearbox isn’t constantly hunting between cogs.
Around-town drivability is assisted most ably by the excellent six-speed automatic, which shifts crisply and smoothly and always seems to find the right gear for the desired road speed. There’s no lurching in stop/start traffic, either, which is a consideration for those of us burdened with rush hour on a daily basis.
Underneath the subtly restyled exterior, the Hyundai ix35 features retuned suspension that has been locally tweaked to suit Australian road conditions.
It’s here we find our biggest gripe. While the suspension changes have all but eradicated the bouncing nature of the original model, it’s still way too firm for a family SUV.
And around town, out in the country, on the open road – you name the conditions – all our testers have noted how the ix35 manages to feel unsettled and fidgety.
Kia has found a much better ride/handling compromise with its twin-under-the-skin, the Sportage.
The cabin, like the exterior, has been subtly restyled as part of the Series II update. There’s new part-leather seat trim, and new soft-touch surfaces throughout the interior, too. The driver’s seat is electrically adjustable (both front seats are heated) with electric lumbar adjustment.
The second row seat features a 60/40 split and two-stage reclining, which makes a difference for passengers in terms of comfort. Cabin comfort is impressive for what is a compact SUV externally. I set the driver’s seat for my six-foot frame and I could still sit in the second row behind it comfortably enough. Three adults across the second row would be a tough ask over longer distances especially in regard to shoulder room.
As we’ve come to expect from Hyundai, the interface between the Bluetooth phone/audio device and the car’s entertainment system is easy to set up and works well once set up. Colleagues on the other end of telephone calls reported a clear phone connection. The sat nav system is likewise easy to use with an impressive touchscreen measuring 7.0 inches that is within easy reach and easy to see from any angle in varying light.
A step up from the mid-spec Elite model, Highlander grade vehicles come standard with a panoramic glass sunroof with interior sliding blind, electric folding side mirrors and privacy glass.
In top-spec Highlander guise with a petrol engine, the ix35 presents an interesting question. Choose the petrol engine? Opt for a mid-range Elite model? Consider the diesel engine? Petrol is the around town option, while I’d certainly recommend diesel for anyone covering longer distances regularly.
It’s hard to argue that the Hyundai ix35 Highlander isn’t well equipped for the price, though it’s still worth a long, hard look at the cheaper Elite. That said, opt for a Highlander model and you’ll still feel like your money has been well spent – if you can live with the ride.