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The Hyundai ix35 is a style-conscious soft-roader with lots of kit, but what about ability?

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Hyundai no longer needs to prove with the ix35 that it can match most European car market standards. It has been doing that since it launched the i30 in 2007.

But with this new model, Hyundai not only claims that it is offering quality for a low price, but it would also have us believe that the ix35 offers SUV looks and ability, compact MPV practicality and small hatchback levels of affordability. If you believe its maker, this is not simply a compact SUV but a crossover vehicle.

If you believe its maker, this is not simply a compact SUV but a crossover vehicle

Prices start at just over £17k for the base two-wheel-drive petrol model and stretch to past £25k for the top-spec 2.0 CRDi 4WD model tested here, so there’s no denying that the ix35 is priced competitively. But with the classy and hugely popular Nissan Qashqai and Peugeot 3008 as competition, it needs more than value on its side to win buyers over.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Hyundai ix35 front grille

The ix35 is clearly designed to appeal to style-conscious buyers, whichever demographic they fall into. The first Hyundai model to showcase the company’s ‘fluidic’ design language, the car's angular grille is a particularly distinctive feature, and to our eyes it suits the ix35 very well.

There is a pronounced sporty stance to the ix35. Its tapering side windows and roofline are designed to create a coupé look, and the sharply defined headlights and bonnet strakes are also intended to give the car a more aggressive character. It represents a bold leap forward from the often bland styling practised by Hyundai before, and makes it clear that the ix35 is a revolution next to the Tucson, its distinctly forgettable predecessor.

There is a pronounced sporty stance to the ix35

The ix35 is about the same length as a typical family hatchback. Hyundai points out that the ix35 is shorter than many C-segment hatches, although it is, in fact, longer than a Nissan Qashqai and by no means a small car at nearly 4.5 metres long.

It uses a platform that includes two separate lightweight subframes, from which MacPherson strut suspension is mounted at the front, with a multi-link set-up at the rear. Two-phase dampers adjust automatically for soft or firm settings, according to speed and road surface.

The four-wheel drive system is the same as that used in the bigger Santa Fe so it is a part-time system that, in normal conditions, sends 100 percent of the power to the front axle. If there is any loss of traction at the front, it can send up to 50 per cent of the power to the rear wheels. There’s also the option of locking the differential into 50/50 four-wheel drive mode at up to 25mph.

INTERIOR

Hyundai ix35 dashboard

It is in this area that the Hyundai ix35 makes the most persuasive case for itself. Interior finish is good, and the cabin is seemingly constructed with such precision and wise choice of materials that you barely notice that hardly any of them are soft to the touch.

Equipment levels are excellent, too. The standard equipment on our top-spec Premium model is class-leading, by some margin. Heated front and rear seats, ESP stability control, Bluetooth, panoramic glass sunroof, part-leather interior, rear parking sensors and automatic wipers and headlights are all included. The only reason to add options to a Premium model is if you want sat-nav, metallic paint or a full leather interior. Even the base Style models have a comprehensive kit list.

The ix35 lacks the glassy, airy feel and all-round visibility offered by rivals

Our test car came with the £800 media pack, which brings with it a colour touchscreen sat-nav and rear parking camera. Even without this option, the ix35 is a pleasant place to be, but it helps to make the interior feel high-class and cosseting.

The main interface is clear and usable, and all the switchgear feels solid and falls to hand easily. The driving position is good, and even though a broader range of adjustment would be welcome – particularly on how low you can set the driver’s seat – most people will find it comfortable.

Unfortunately, visibility is distinctly average all round. Large A- and B-pillars plus a high, narrow rear windscreen restrict vision. Large door mirrors help, but the ix35 still lacks the glassy, airy feel and all-round visibility offered by rivals such as the Nissan Qashqai and Skoda Yeti.

Passenger space is plentiful, although rear passengers may feel a little claustrophobic because of the rising waistline and raked-back roofline, which restricts head room for tall rear passengers. Boot space is very good, at 591 litres with the seats up. That beats the 540 litres offered by the Audi Q5 and embarrasses the Ford Kuga’s 360 litres. It is not the most practical load-carrier, though, because the fixed squab of the 60/40 rear seats prevents them from folding anywhere near flat.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Hyundai ix35 front quarter

It is the mid-range muscle of the 2.0-litre turbodiesel motor that will be of most appeal to ix35 drivers interested in the richer end of the model range. With the full 236lb ft of torque available from 1800rpm to 2500rpm, it’s easy to keep the engine comfortably in its powerband and make the most of the acceleration on offer. Otherwise, the outright pace is good for an SUV of this size and weight, with our test figures matching Hyundai’s claimed 0-62mph time of 10.2sec.

However, this is not the big seller in this range – that honour falls to the 114bhp 1.7 CRDi, which can only be had in two-wheel drive, as with the 133bhp 1.6 GDi petrol motor that forms the entry-level option. For all-wheel drive or an auto ‘box you have to opt for the bigger 2.0-litre diesel.

We’d recommend you go for the smaller diesel motor

Most of the time the ix35’s 2.0 diesel motor is refined enough, but it’s gruff when cold and intrudes into the cabin through the bulkhead if you’re working the engine more than moderately. Engine noise is naturally less evident when cruising at higher speeds, although it could be quietened further with little effort. Because of its ample torque, the flagship diesel ix35 could use a longer sixth gear than its current top ratio, which leaves it spinning at about 2500rpm at 70mph. The 1.7-litre CRDI is quieter like-for-like, but the need to work it slightly harder than the 2.0-litre offsets that advantage slightly.

Our test economy will be of concern to prospective buyers, too. At just 36.2mpg, it fell a long way short of the official combined figure of 47.9mpg for the 2.0-litre CRDi. Our touring figure of 43.8mpg, which was recorded over a specific test route at a moderate touring pace, proves that better fuel economy is achievable, but to get it requires more conscious effort than should be necessary.

For this reason, and because the 1.7 CRDi makes for a very respectable engine in terms of its response and refinement, we’d recommend you go for the smaller diesel motor. It makes more financial sense in just about every way, and is likely to regularly get closer to Hyundai's combined economy claim of 48.7mpg. You just need to be able to live without four-wheel drive.

While the 2.0-litre petrol may seem a good option for saving even more cash thanks to its £1500 saving over the cheapest diesel, you will sacrifice a great deal. Though power is quoted at 161bhp, torque is only 143lb ft and is delivered high up in the rev range at 4600rpm. This means, unlike in the diesels, maintaining speed is very hard work. The situation is made worse in the petrol thanks to its boomy engine note and rubbery gearshift. If you want an ix35, choosing between the diesels should be the only engine choice you make.

RIDE & HANDLING

Hyundai ix35 cornering

The Hyundai ix35 rides more firmly than most other soft-roaders. The difference between the two settings that its dampers adopt is quite subtle, the most noticeable variation being a reduction in body roll when you make more demands of its chassis.

Whether you’re asking a lot of the chassis or not, its firmness comes with a lack of isolation at low speeds, where the ix35 thumps (although doesn’t crash) across potholes and road imperfections. At higher speeds, the ride improves as it soaks up bumps and potholes better. On the motorway, it’s nearer to the top of the class for isolation, although there is also more noise through the suspension than you get with most of its rivals. For this reason, we'd recommend the 17in alloy wheels that come with Style specification rather than Hyundai's Premium-level 18s, because the extra tyre sidewall will add to the chassis' capacity to isolate bumps and noise.

The ix35 rides more firmly than most other soft-roaders

The most peculiar thing about the way the ix35 drives, though, is its electrically assisted steering, which has quick responses to a few degrees just off straight ahead but then seems dulled as more lock goes on. So changing lane on a motorway takes merely a change in pressure on the rim. When maintaining a curve or taking an urban roundabout, though, we frequently found ourselves having to wind on more lock than we’d originally expected. Its weighting is good and, while there’s no feel to speak of, there’s a pleasing amount of self-centring force.

In general use, the ix35’s part-time four-wheel drive system makes no difference to its handling. As mentioned earlier, all the power is sent to the front wheels under normal conditions, aiding economy and emissions. Power is diverted to the rear only when the fronts detect spin, which is generally only under hard acceleration out of corners or on low-grip surfaces. The system reacts quickly to front slip and restores order rapidly.

The four-wheel drive system will also cut in to help keep the car on line if the nose starts to wash wide in a bend. This was only ever noticeable under hard driving on our wet track but adds another element of safety and handling precision to the set-up.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Hyundai ix35 crossover

Compare the ix35 to soft-roaders and it is clearly a class leader in terms of its purchase and running costs. The Premium model undercuts equivalent rivals such as the Ford Kuga by a very substantial amount, and the entry-level diesel has a list price incentive relative to the equivalent Peugeot 3008, too. Running costs are also good, although Hyundai doesn't offer a  sub-120g/km model as you’ll find in the Nissan Qashqai, which puts it on the back foot for business users.

Given that the standard equipment list, even on the base ix35 Style, is extremely generous and that residual values are predicted to be among the best in this class, owners should have little cause for complaint about value for money. The unlimited-mileage, five-year warranty is one last temptation that only one other rival – sister company Kia – can beat.

Owners should have little cause for complaint about value for money

Avoid the base-level 1.6-litre GDi petrol: it's short on torque for a car this heavy, and a false economy because it won't return anything like the economy of the 1.7-litre CRDi. The same story is true for the 2.0-litre petrol, which unfortunately offers no discernible benefit over the equivalent diesel other than price.

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VERDICT

3.5 star Hyundai ix35

Hyundai has established itself as a maker of very capable vehicles, so it is no longer a surprise when it turns out a good car like the ix35. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the ix35 is that, despite an absence of premium-feel surfacing inside, its interior seldom feels like it is built down to the price that it obviously has been.

Its powertrain and dynamics are slightly less convincing. An occasional lack of engine refinement with some versions, and a ride that could, and should, be better at town speeds, are the biggest indications that Hyundai still operates towards the value end of the market. That’s a bigger problem when you’re in a sector like this one, where customers have ‘wants’ rather than ‘needs’.

The ix35 is competent, sharply designed and excellent value

Nonetheless, the ix35 is competent, attractive to look at and, above all, excellent value for people who want an affordable route into soft-roader ownership.

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Hyundai ix35 2010-2015 First drives