First DriveThe 2014 version of Hyundai's ix35 soft-roader is a good-looking choice for style-focused buyers, although it lacks the driving enjoyment of some rivals
First DriveThe fuel-cell powered ix35 is capable of averaging the equivalent of 60mpg, all while offering zero local emissions
What is it?
This is a car with a lot on its plate. The ix35 is the replacement for the Tucson, Hyundai’s good-value proposition in the soft-roader market. But at the same time, the firm would love it to steal sales from lifestyle ‘crossover’ models, principally the Nissan Qashqai.
Those parameters have presumably been fed into some Korean supercomputer, which has number-crunched the following result: a car that’s bigger than the Tucson and the Qasqhai, but marginally smaller than a Ford Kuga. It's a decent-looking machine, too; there’s more than a touch of latter-day Infiniti about the multiple creases on the ix35’s flanks, but they do a good job of disguising its bulk.
When the car launches next spring, it will have just half of its eventual engine line-up: a 2.0 petrol and this 2.0 diesel. Hyundai is pinning big hopes to the smaller-capacity units that are due next autumn, a 1.6-litre petrol emitting 149g/km of CO2 and a new 1.7-litre diesel – in effect a bored-out version of the motor already used in the i30 – that will emit 139g/km. They both use stop-start to achieve these figures.
There is a more potent 182bhp 2.0-litre oil-burner, incidentally, but Hyundai UK sources say the firm is “unlikely” to bring it to Britain.
What’s it like?
Make no mistake: this is not a small car. The ix35 is almost 10cm longer than the Qashqai, and it feels every millimetre of that when you’re behind the wheel. In fact, while it’s ever so slightly narrower than a Kuga, it feels bigger; thick C-pillars don’t do all-round visibility many favours, and you sit up high compared with a Qashqai.
Still, the size does come in handy in the cabin, which feels more like a genuine SUV’s than a compromised crossover’s. There’s plenty of head and leg room all round; even with a 6ft driver up front, a similarly sized passenger will be perfectly comfortable behind him. The seats are pretty flat, but comfortable, and fit and finish are acceptable; soft-touch plastics are nowhere to be seen, but it’s durable rather than nasty.
On the road the Hyundai’s 2.0-litre turbodiesel motor doesn’t feel overawed by the car’s size; if anything, it’s a little too easy to light up the front tyres on all but bone-dry roads. Once your right foot learns to compensate for this, though, it’s easy to make rapid progress. The engine is gutsy from about 1500rpm, and while there’s a little more to come at 3500rpm, you’ll be ready to change up by then. The gearbox is a little baggy, but quick enough with a positive throw.
In handling terms, the ix35 feels more like a regular SUV than either the Qashqai or the Kuga. Body control is surprisingly decent, but this has come with a slight cost in ride quality, which is more easily unsettled and less subtly damped than the Ford’s. And while the steering feels accurate on the whole, it’s a little vague around the straight-ahead.
The ix35 is reasonably refined on motorways, where wind and road noise are well suppressed. But sixth gear is perhaps a little too short for British speeds; the engine is a little too noisy beyond 2500rpm, and you’ll be very close to that figure at 70mph.
Should I buy one?
The ix35 fails to nail one category convincingly, without ever causing real offence. With that in mind, its proposition could well come down to value – and it’s well placed to take deliver on that front. Our Premium model came equipped with 18in alloys, climate control, keyless entry and go, automatic headlights, folding door mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, heated seats, leather trim, panoramic sunroof and USB/iPod connectivity – yet when it goes on sale next spring, this variant is confidently tipped to sneak under £20,000.
At that price, and with that much kit, it’s well placed to embarrass the range-topping front-drive Qashqai diesel - which costs £22k – and offer a superior five-year warranty to boot. And when you consider that base ix35s could start as low as £16k, it’s hard to see how the car will not add to Hyundai’s burgeoning sales success in the UK.