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Model tested: Hyundai ix35 Elite AWD 2.0-litre R-series turbo-Diesel six-speed automatic - $34,990. Manufacturers List Price
Ever try loading 3 surfboards, two kids, and whole bunch of other beach gear into your four-door sedan for a routine Sunday morning Nippers training session at your local surf club? It’s absolutely not possible, in any way, shape, or form. At least, not without roof racks, board straps, and more time than I have available on what should be a day of rest.
What about a quick trip to a landfill site to offload an old dishwasher and some unwanted bookcases. Try doing that in your Audi A8.
Those are just two of the many reasons why sales of SUVs continue to rise, month after month, with no sign of slowing down in the foreseeable future.
If you’re in the market for a thoroughly contemporary (if not futuristic) SUV with a heap of standard features, stacks of room, and class leading fuel economy with no obvious flaws, then you're probably going to end up at a Hyundai dealership to test drive an ix35.
Just like Hyundai’s super successful Hyundai i30 hatch, the Hyundai ix35 compact SUV is a game changer in the segment, but only if you choose the diesel powered variant. While that decision will cost you a few grand more for the ‘Eilte’ over the entry level and petrol powered ‘Active’, the result is that you’ll end up with one of the most efficient diesel powertrains in the class.
Allow me enlighten you. How about Melbourne to Adelaide and back to Melbourne again, on a single tank of diesel consuming just 4.88L/100km in a reasonably sized SUV. Remarkable, isn’t it? We thought so too.
While you’re never going achieve such frugal fuel consumption while running around suburbia all day, with multiple school pick-ups and all kinds of sport training, it does however mean that Hyundai’s 2.0-litre R-series turbo diesel offers class leading economy, but with absolutely no penalty in the “get up and go’ department.
Gone are the days when diesel cars had absolutely no ‘punch’ down low or up high (I’m thinking of the 1980 Peugeot 505 diesel I drove in LA years ago, in which you could flatten the throttle and nothing happened for 30 seconds). That all changed several years ago, when the common-rail diesels became the common sense choice for SUV buyers.
Just five minutes behind the wheel of the ix35, and you would be correct in thinking that anyone who buys a petrol-powered SUV over diesel, is either a relic from the twentieth century or a person in denial.
In this case, it’s only a 2.0-litre unit, but dump the right pedal in the ix35, and I defy any sane individual to utter a single word of complaint about the rate of acceleration this thing is capable of when pulling away from the lights or during in-gear overtaking.
Most people tend to think that buying a diesel is only good for saving a few litres of petrol each week. While that maybe a strong enough reason for many to make the switch from petrol when it comes to SUVs, the other equally important, but less acknowledged benefit, is the oversize dollop of torque available every time you prod the throttle.
It’s all about the low down torque with turbo diesels, and in the case of the ix35, there’s 392Nm of the stuff available from 1800-2500rpm. What that means to you and I, is effortless V6 like acceleration when climbing steep tarmac or cruising along undulating terrain.
Mind you, there’s a small amount of turbo lag if you jump on the throttle (that’s case with almost all diesels, if only fractional on the prestige makes) so best to squeeze on throttle progressively to minimise lag.
Today’s SUVs are also greener than ever before, especially in the compact class, and the ix35 is no exception, producing emissions of just under 200g/km. That's due to the overall efficiency of the engine with its particulate filter, as well as the vehicle’s relatively low kerb weight of 1700 kilograms. I say ‘low’ when you factor in it’s substantial load carrying capacity and interior space over a traditional sedan.
For all the praise that Hyundai’s latest SUV rightly deserves, there is a problem, too much diesel clatter. Whether the car is at idle, or on the move, you definitely know you’re driving a diesel with a muffled clatter sound under the bonnet, which unfortunately intrudes into the cabin. It’s something that could probably be rectified easily enough, with better insulation, as part of a mid-cycle update.
Despite the fact that the ix35 rides somewhat higher than the average sedan, you don’t need to climb up into the cabin, which is a requirement when boarding a four-wheel-drive off-road juggernaut, such as a Nissan Patrol or Toyota LandCruiser.
In fact, it’s barely any different from hopping into a sedan, except that you’ll find a lot more room up front and between passengers.
That said it doesn’t feel large on the road, or even when you’re peddling around corners at a reasonable pace. This is an SUV that is both agile and drives pretty much like a car. That means minimal body roll and a very well behaved chassis, especially under brakes.
Full time electronic all-wheel-drive is standard across the Elite and Highlander variants in the ix35 line-up and has been particularly useful during recent downpours in my end of Sydney. Several roads were flooded around my area and while cars had to creep through the mud pools, I simply cruised though at the legal 50km/h local limit without a hitch. The system also works a treat when pulling away from standstill in the wet, without any loss of traction whatsoever.
The ride is best described, as firm, as it seems overall compliance has been compromised in the interest of minimising body lean through corners. Mind you, it’s not something that will bother most folks, with so many other positives, but I do think that with a little more suspension tuning, the ix35 could be further improved by offering a slightly less fidgety ride over below average road surfaces.
There’s plenty of weight loaded into the steering too, right from dead centre through to lock. That’s a good thing, as the ix35 is quick to respond to steering inputs and goes precisely where you point it. Put that down to its well-sorted chassis, as this kind of driver feedback is unusual in this segment.
There’s no such compromise when it comes to Hyundais' six-speed automatic transmission though, with many manufacturers in this segment still employing four and five-speed autos, due to the cost benefit. It’s a proprietary unit developed specifically for transverse engine applications and works a treat with this diesel. I often use the sequential manual mode, for additional pace when climbing hills and passing other cars.
Hyundai has made somewhat of a name for itself when it comes to supplying higher levels of standard kit than most of its competitors in the same segment, and the ix35 is no exception.
The mid-spec model we have in our long-term garage is called the Elite, and as the name suggests, it’s a cut above what many other manufacturers in this class would call mid-spec.
The upholstery is a tasteful combination of leather and fabric, and far more practical in a red-hot Australian summer, than full leather trim can be.
Naturally, there’s electric everything in the ix35, but with one notable exception on this spec, being auto folding side mirrors. I would have thought this feature mandatory on an SUV class vehicle these days, regardless of the trim level.
The ‘Auto on’ headlights are a surprisingly useful feature although, even better, if that useful bit of technology were joined by an ‘auto wiper’ function, which is more about safety these days, than any luxury connotation. It allows drivers to focus entirely on the road ahead, especially during those annoying intermittent rain showers, common on the Eastern seaboard.
There’s no SatNav or large touch screen in the Elite (nor in the top spec Highlander), but what you do get, is a thoroughly decent audio unit, with solid highs and lows, and full iPod/iPhone integration. That means you can control your music selection and volume via the steering wheel mounted buttons, and at the same time, charge your unit.
Switchgear and instrument dials are well laid out and easy to access, and you won’t need to read the owner’s manual before operating any of the functions, and that includes changing the date and time, which often requires an electrical engineering degree to work out the correct buttons and sequence.
The blue lit background of the main dials are also easy to read at night unlike the red glow that some manufacturers use, which are almost impossible to read at night without reading glasses (that's for the over 40's group, at least).
Apart from the abundance of storage spaces in all shapes and sizes, my favourite and most useful feature is the cargo net that lays flat across the rear boot area, which can consume up to 15 grocery bags (tried and road tested). That means, you can drive normally without arriving home to find drink bottles, fruit, and vegies playing ‘catch me if you can’ behind the rear seats.
You’ll appreciate the height of the cargo tray too it’s just above waist height for easy loading of heavy items, without the need to bend your back and a resulting visit to the chiropractor.
The compromise here, is that there isn’t a lot of depth to the cargo area, due mostly to the full size spare wheel sitting under the floor tray. That’s not really a problem I suppose, as the load area is extra wide and the rear tailgate provides a massive aperture for load entry.
Fold the rear seats flat though (well, almost flat), and there is a huge load space for transporting furniture/TV, BBQs, which of course can save you hundreds of dollars each year in delivery fees from department stores, not to mention the convenience.
Back to fuel economy. I'm getting just under 700km per 55-litre tank on a diet of strictly suburbia, which just goes to show you how economically unfriendly the stop, start, accelerate, style of city driving can be.
Stay tuned for another report on the ix35 in a few weeks.