The ix35 is the first car to emerge from Hyundai to show off the company's new "fluidic design" philosophy and judging from the ix35, i45 sedan and upcoming Elantra-replacement, the company's on to a good thing. With its rounded shape, swooping roof, characteristic slashes and interesting details, the ix35 is a smart-looking compact four-wheel drive.
On the aesthetics front, the only complaint we have is with the garish chrome grille trim on the Elite and Highlander models, which seems to go against the grain of the rest of the car. Thankfully, light-coloured ix35s, such as our review vehicle, camouflage this design oversight well.
The base Active model comes fitted with 17-inch steel wheels; 17-inch and 18-inch alloys, respectively, are standard on the higher-spec Elite and Highlander variants. All models come equipped with rear fog lights, with the Highlander the only model to gain front fog lights.
Climb aboard the ix35 and it's clear that Hyundai's designers have upped the standard of their work here too. The dashboard is a pleasing combination of swooshes, pods and faux metal highlights. The neon blue interior lighting is funky, but it can be a bit trying on the eyes, even at its lowest intensity.
Although the cabin feels well made, the plastics are hard. Only the Highlander gains full leather upholstery, but given the sad and saggy look last year's Highlander had, we were quite glad to be in a cloth-trimmed vehicle. Driving comfort is hampered somewhat by the lack of steering wheel reach adjustment, seats that are rather too short and not particularly grippy, and head rests that are canted too far forward.
With its tall body, the ix35 is commodious for passengers both in the front and the back. Vertical boot space is hampered by the sloping roof line though. Points lost there are regained by the cargo nets and the removable cargo blind. Cargo space can be boosted by the rear seats, which split 70/30, but don't quite fold completely flat.
To look over, in and out of the ix35, see the more than 30 images in our in-depth Hyundai ix35 gallery.
For 2011, Hyundai has upgraded and standardised the entertainment system across the ix35 range, which now features Bluetooth for both hands-free and streaming audio. Phone pairing is painless and speedy, although listening to a wireless music stream does require one to hit the green Dial button and scroll through to BT Audio. The standard steering wheel controls allow the driver to easily change tracks, volume or music source.
Other audio sources include a single CD slot that is able to read data discs with MP3 and WMA files, AM/FM radio, an auxiliary jack and an iPod/iPhone-compatible USB port. Unlike previous models, the USB port doesn't require a Hyundai/Kia-specific cable, a standard issue Apple cable will suffice. Staring at the head unit reveals no obvious way to navigate music stored on USB sticks and Apple devices; to do this, just press and hold the Tune button for about three seconds.
Scrolling through thumb drives is zippy, but getting to your copy of "Zen Arcade" on an iOS 4 device would test even the patience of Mahatma Gandhi. Things aren't helped by the hypersensitivity of the Tune dial, which makes it all too easy to scroll across just as you're trying to the press the button.
There are six speakers located around the cabin, which, thanks to the wagon layout, sounds best from the rear seat. As the system does without a subwoofer, deep bassy music causes the speakers to reverberate. Overall, sound quality is decent, but not outstanding.
Navigating through vast digital music collection is a breeze, especially on iPods and iPhones, where the Tune dial allows for easy scrolling through huge lists. Picking the tunes from a USB stick or non-Apple MP3 player is easy too, although you do forgo the convenience of songs, artists, albums and playlists for plain folder and file navigation.
The steering wheel audio controls are handy, but Bluetooth hands-free has been omitted from Australia-bound ix35s for technical reasons; it should be available from September. Another omission that won't be rectified quite so soon is the lack of a factory sat nav option.
Although desirable designs are now the order of the day, Hyundai hasn't forgotten its value-for-money roots. On the safety front, all ix35s come equipped with ABS, brake force distribution, six airbags, and stability and traction control.
Rear fog lights, hill start assistance, hill descent control, electric windows, heated wing mirrors, cruise control and air conditioning are standard inclusions on the base Active.
In our accessory heavy age, it's nice that Hyundai's included three 12V outlets in the ix35's cabin. There are two in the dashboard, where one is masquerading as a cigarette lighter, and one in the boot.
The mid-range Elite model gains 17-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, automatic headlights, four-wheel drive, leather steering and gear knob, extendible sun visors, chromed exterior fixtures, keyless entry and start, and roof rails.
While the range-topping Highlander model adds 18-inch alloys, reversing camera with a display in the rear-view mirror, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, electric adjustment for the driver's seat, folding wing mirrors and a panorama sunroof.
On the road
Depending on your budget and choice of trim level, the ix35 is specified with a different array of engine, transmission and drive choices.
|Active||Elite and Highlander||Elite and Highlander|
|Engine||2-litre petrol||2.4-litre petrol||2-litre turbo-diesel|
|Transmission||5-speed manual or 6-speed auto||6-speed auto||6-speed auto|
|Driven wheels||Front wheels||All wheels||All wheels|
|Official fuel economy (L/100km)|
|CO² output (g/km)||201||219||198|
In normal conditions the ix35's four-wheel drive system directs all of its power to the front wheels. Only when those wheels begin to lose grip does it send power to the rear wheels. For light off-road work, the system can be forced to channel power 50/50 between the front and rear wheels. Helping out further is hill descent control that regulates the car's speed as you head down steep, rocky inclines.
Despite wearing alloy wheels 1-inch smaller than the Highlander model we reviewed last year, the ride on the Elite is still quite firm. This means that body roll is generally well controlled, but the ix35 clearly isn't a fan of changing directions quickly. The six-speed automatic is smooth shifting between gears; however, on more than occasion during sudden acceleration we caught it slipping or napping in neutral.
By far the biggest blemish on the ix35's handling copy book is its overly light steering. It not only feels disconnected from the tyres, but it makes the car hard to steer smoothly through corners, roundabouts and the like.
Our 2.4-litre petrol vehicle had a similar power output (130kW versus 135kW) to the turbo-diesel, but the shortfall of 162Nm of torque is evident when climbing hills. Turn the music down, floor the accelerator and you'll hear the motor's rather unmelodic buzzy tones. During short inner-city trips we saw figures ranging from 17.6 to 18.2L/100km. In longer cross-town trips the ix35 drank at a rate between 12.4 and 15.8L/100km, while on the highway consumption dropped to 7.9L/100km.
A few faults, like the lighter-than-air steering, mar this otherwise good-looking and desirable Hyundai. If the budget allows, we'd go for the turbo-diesel over the petrol engine.