ix35 is more than ready to give well-established Japanese stalwarts a good old-fashioned kicking
- 2010 Hyundai ix35 Highlander; 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo-diesel; six-speed automatic; SUV: $37,990*
Words by Matt Brogan | Photos by Josh Thomas & Hyundai Australia
Hyundai's Tucson replacement, the all-new Hyundai ix35, is an intriguingly styled and thoroughly modern compact SUV that boasts a generous standard equipment list, a strong and economical turbo-diesel engine and, despite its seemingly diminutive proportions, a spacious, intelligently designed five-seat cabin and accommodating cargo area - more than adequate for the needs of a growing family.
Best of all at just $37,990*, the top-spec Hyundai ix35 Highlander (as tested this week) is more than ready to give well-established Japanese stalwarts a real run for their money in meeting the street-savvy SUV buyer's unsparing expectations of safety, performance, practicality and value. But does it succeed?
The short answer is yes. The ix35 is infinitely better than its dated predecessor, and will undoubtedly impress even the most finicky of SUV customers to no end. But in saying that, Hyundai haven't topped its segment rivals just yet - even if they are about to give some staunch market nameplates a good old-fashioned kicking.
What Hyundai have succeeded in doing with the new ix35 is leveling the SUV playing field, closing the Japanese-Korean divide, and now have a product that is equally as good as any same-priced market competitor. Not a bad achievement given the brand's comparatively brief history.
In keeping with Hyundai's value-driven one-upmanship, the range-topping ix35 Highlander boasts an impressive and extensive list of standard features, many of which other brands only offer as pricey optional extras.
Inside and out ix35 Highlander clearly prides itself on packing more value in to every last nook and cranny of the car with standard Bluetooth connectivity and rear seat ventilation outlets the only obvious omissions in an otherwise satisfying kit list.
Pleasingly, the ix35 offers a spacious, quiet and airy cabin made all the more bright by its panoramic, electrically-operated dual sunroof. Heated (front only), leather-clad seating is electrically operated on the driver's side and also features lumbar support. The seats are well contoured and quite supportive, but annoyingly have the headrest positioned too far forward to optimise your driving position - the poor driver's stance is further exacerbated by the lack of reach adjustment from the steering wheel.
If however you do find the driving position doesn't phase you, your back seat passengers will enjoy a most comfortable and roomy experience with acres of leg room and an elevated seating position for better visibility. A shame then only floor-level ventilation is offered to the rear pews. All three rear seat positions offer three-point inertia reel seatbelts, head restraints and ISOFIX preparation for child seats and baby capsules. Four cup holders and a fold down centre armrest are rest are also included.
Maneuvering the ix35 through tight city lanes and narrow parking buildings is a cinch, its combination of light steering and a tight turning circle (10.58 metres) make parking a breeze. The rear-view mirror is equipped with a reversing camera (with overlay guidance lines) and an auto-dimming function for night driving. Sadly, the otherwise excellent visibility from the driver's seat is let down by a chunky 'C' and 'D' pillars and small, upswept cargo bay window that hinders the view of traffic when backing on a 45-degree angle.
As Hyundai's quality fit and finish continues to impress, we find all of ix35's swtichgear and instrumentation to be of a very high standard. All controls are well placed, easy to operate and intuitive of function. Highlights include the punchy six-CD tuner with full iPod connectivity and steering wheel-mounted remote controls, keyless push-button start and classy blue back-lit instrument cluster. Cruise control, dual-zone climate control air conditioning, dusk-sensing headlamps, power windows and mirrors are also offered as standard.
But the real hero of the ix35 has to be Hyundai's brawny 2.0-litre R Series turbo-diesel engine. The four-cylinder unit is smooth, reasonably quiet (especially when cruising) and delivers an impressive 135kW of power from 4000rpm while still managing a combined fuel economy figure of just 7.5L/100km. This week, we achieved 7.8L/100km through a 50:50 blend of city and highway driving.
As with most modern diesels, the ix35's powerplant uses common rail technology to ensure more precise fuel delivery and an electronically controlled variable vane turbocharger for gutsy low-down pulling power (392Nm @ 1800-2500rpm). Turbo lag is so minute it's barely worth a mention, and because of Hyundai's smooth, decisive six-speed automatic transmission, acceleration from standstill is purposeful and brisk (0-100km/h is managed in 10.2 seconds).
Equally impressive is the ix35's in-gear acceleration, and even with a car full of passengers and their baggage, the diesel-powered SUV manages overtaking with ease. Large hills are ironed flat, the rev counter barely moving a mil', and when it comes to tackling some semi-serious off-roading, ix35 has plenty of torque to spare.
To help out in those slippery situations, the ix35 features on-demand all-wheel drive which can be locked in 4WD mode below 30km/h. Approach, ramp brake over and departure angles (28.1-degrees/17.0-degrees/26.9-degrees) will also allow access in to more places than you'd expect, while ground clearance (at 170mm) is suitable for moderate soft-roading duties. The ix35 Highlander also includes Hill Descent Control, Electronic Stability Program and Traction Control as standard.
On the road, the ix35 is a stable and confident handling SUV, its nimble cornering abilities and sharp steering feel offering a driving experience closer to that of a mid-sized hatchback. The only real let down here is that there's a noticeable compromise between grippy handling and a comfy ride, the strut (front) / multi-link (rear) arrangement - which Hyundai say has been tuned for local conditions - almost too firm for the car's family orientation.
Up the back, a 591-litre cargo area offers plenty of room for those family weekends away and comes standard with a retractable - and removable - two-position retractable cargo blind that stows neatly out of the way when not in use. Should you need to carry bulky items, the ix35's 60:40 split fold rear seats fold flat to expand the total area to 1436-litres. Standard roof rails add an additional 100kg of cargo capacity, and if that's still not enough, the ix35 will tow up to 1600 kilograms (braked) when fitted with a diesel engine.
With Hill-Start Assist Control, Hill Descent Control, six airbags (front, side and curtain), Electronic Stability Control, Traction Control and ABS braking with Electronic Brake-force Distribution the ix35 Highlander offers an excellent level of standard safety equipment. We expect the Hyundai ix35 to achieve a five-star ANCAP safety rating when it is tested later this year.
In a market full to the brim with competition (we counted 16 direct rivals), the sub-$40K SUV sector can be a minefield for the uninformed buyer. But with the Hyundai ix35 showing a maturity we now expect from the Korean brand, there's no reason this one shouldn't be on your shopping list.
- For a review & road test of the petrol-powered Hyundai ix35, click on this link.
- For a video review & road test of the Hyundai ix35 range, click on this link.
CarAdvice Overall Rating: How does it Drive: How does it Look: How does it Go:
*Pricing is a guide as recommended to us by the manufacturer and does not include dealer delivery, on-road or statutory charges.