Mark Higgins’ first drive 2014 Hyundai ix35 Highlander review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety and verdict.

In a nutshell : Originally launched in 2010, the Hyundai ix35 Series II arrived in 2013 with all the virtues of the original, plus a host of styling updates inside and out and big upgrades under the bonnet.

Practical Motoring says : When they enter the compact SUV segment shortly, Honda (with its HR-V) and Mazda (with the CX-3) will have to be on their game if they want to topple the undisputed king, the family-friendly Hyundai ix35, which delivers solid value and stylish versatility.

STARTING WITH A clean slate, the ix35 was penned at Hyundai’s German studio and became the first model conceived under the Fluidic Sculpture design theme, that’s seen on all Hyundai passenger vehicles today.

Up front is the familiar chromed hexagonal grille, swept back projection headlamps with LED positioning lights and large lower air intake. The highlander also sports chrome door handles, heavily inclined windscreen pillars, prominent wheel arches, privacy glass from the rear doors back, plastic lower protection panels for a touch of toughness and a rising belt line that melds into the triangular rear quarter windows in the large C-pillars. A sloping roofline, with panoramic sunroof leads to the steeply angled rear window and large opening tailgate with the wrap-around tail lamps. Finishing it off nicely are the double five-spoke, 18-inch alloy wheels on 225/55/18 Hankook Optimo tyres.

A proximity key is used to unlock the ix35 where, upon opening the door, we see black and metallic finishes used throughout the cabin. There’s a four-spoke leather trimmed steering wheel with cruise, audio and phone controls and behind it, in two ovalesque-shaped cylinders, the analogue tacho and speedo plus digital readouts for fuel, temperature and the trip computer. At night, they are backlit in an eye-pleasing blue.

2014 Hyundai ix35 Highlander review

The centre of the sculptured dash features the seven-inch touchscreen with first-rate graphics and operates the single CD, DVD player, grid-lined reversing camera, MP3 and easy to pair phone and Bluetooth audio. The ix35 has loads of storage options, 19 to be precise, spread across the console, which has the leather trimmed gated shift lever, door pockets and rear armrest, plus the obligatory cup and bottle holders which are found in the front and back. To keep prying eyes away there’s a luggage screen cover and the Highlander gets a handy cargo net to secure loose items.

All the controls are well laid out and are soft to touch. The durable plastics used throughout have a soft feel where necessary, like on the armrests, and door trims. The standard leather seats in the Highlander are supportive and comfortable and even after an extended journey their was no discomfort. The driver’s seat gets six-way electric movement plus electric movable lumbar support and both front pews get two-stage heating. The 60/40-split fold, rear seats are equally comfy and there’s a surprising amount of leg, foot and headroom in the back. There’s a full sized alloy spare under the floor of the 465 litre boot area, which grows to 1436 litres with the back seats folded down.

A full-length panoramic glass roof, with electric operation in the front with roll blinds for shade, adds to the sense of spaciousness. Despite the large pillars, rearward visibility is good, but the thick front pillars can get in the way of forward/side vision.

It’s been well documented that Australian engineers have injected a lot of local knowledge in optimising the ride, handling and steering of Hyundai passenger vehicles for our unique roads and the ix35 Highlander is at the front of the pack in terms of ride and handling across almost all surfaces. The ride is surprisingly firm but not hard which results in little body roll through corners. At around town speeds, the ix35 tends to thump into ruts and bumps, although it doesn’t ever become crashy, and the thing smooths out nicely as speed builds. That said, the ix35 is less than refined across corrugated surfaces becoming unsettled.

2014 Hyundai ix35 Highlander review

It’s a fair bet most ix35’s will spend their time trawling urban streets, shopping centre car parks, school and sports grounds as it serves its masters as a true family all rounder. With a relatively compact length (4410mm) and a shorter wheelbase then an i30 hatch (2640mm v 2650mm) the ix35 handled each discipline effortlessly. We also gave it a gallop across some rough roads and found the part-time all-wheel drive system worked quite well. Most of the time, the thing behaves as a front-driver, with the rear axle coming into play when there’s a loss of traction or the nose starts to run wide in a corner.

With the Series II model came improved electric power-steering which is quick and well weighted in the first few degrees off centre, but slows down and lightens up with more steering lock. The brake pedal too feels light although there’s decent bite.

Under the bonnet is a 135kW (at 4000rpm) and 392Nm (from 1800-2500rpm) 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine. There’s only one transmission to choose from, a six-speed auto with manual mode. For a diesel engine, it likes to rev, and thus engine noise intrudes into the cabin in the upper rev range. From standstill, the ix35’s acceleration is smooth and progressive and its mid-range power delivery makes overtaking a breeze. At 100km/h, it lopes along at 1750rpm and used just over 6L/100km. After a week of driving in and out of Melbourne, we averaged 8.1L/100km. As mentioned earlier, most of the time power is delivered only to the front wheels to reduce fuel consumption, while a part-time all-paw system controls torque distribution between the front and rear axles. There’s also a driver-selectable AWD lock offering 50:50 torque split between the front and rear axles when the going gets slippery.

As the range topper, you’d expect the Highlander to be well equipped, and Hyundai hasn’t disappointed with the stylish five-seater adding most of the kit from the lower models, then adding panoramic glass sunroof with interior sliding blind, electric folding side mirrors, privacy glass, multi-media system, leather trim, two-stage heated seats and 18-inch alloys.

The ix35 Series II gets a five-star tick of approval from ANCAP and has six airbags, Anti-lock Brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Electronic Stability Control, Traction Control Downhill Brake Control, Hill Start Assist Control, Vehicle Stability Management and a reversing camera.

Vehicle running costs, especially for families are a big factor and Hyundai were the ones to pioneer long warranties here. Although sister company Kia trumped them recently, the ix35 comes with Lifetime Capped Price Servicing, 5-years Unlimited Kilometre Warranty, 3-year map updating, one year complimentary Roadside Assist (extendable to 10 years), and 1,500km complimentary service, making it easy on the pocket.

2014 Hyundai ix35 Highlander

Price : $40,990 (+ORC)

Warranty : five years, unlimited kilometres

Safety : five star ANCAP

Engine : 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel

Power/Torque : 135kW/392Nm

Transmission : six speed auto (standard)

Body : 4410mm (L); 1820mm (W); 1650mm (H)

Weight : 1850kg

Thirst : 7.2L/100km (combined)


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