THE FRONT DRIVE 35
Two driven wheels is plenty for most people most of the time but how does Hyundai's ix35 fare without a 4x4 transmission? Steve Walker reports.
Ten Second Review
4x4s don't have to be four-wheel-drive and the ix35 proves it, just about. The advantage in performance and economy that the 2WD models leverage over the 4x4s aren't huge and neither is the pricing differential but all of these factors combine just about give the 2WD an edge. It's best in Style trim with the 2.0 CRDi diesel engine and the ix35 itself makes a good fist of the compact 4x4 game, particularly from a value for money perspective.
So what have we here? Yet another compact 4x4 that further complicates the decision-making process for anyone who thinks their life would be enhanced by a chunky soft-roader? Yes and no. The Hyundai ix35 unmistakably is a compact SUV of sorts and yes, it's one of a huge number of such vehicles that people who quite fancy the idea of a taller, more rugged family car now have to trawl through. What it isn't, is a 4x4, at least not in the 2WD guise that we're investigating here and that most customers will end-up buying. Should a lack of four driven wheels put you off? Is Hyundai's variation on the theme worth forgoing all the others for? Let's find out. You may have noticed that the whole 4x4 thing has caught on in quite a big way. From diminutive urban runabouts to vast all-terrain status symbols for the wealthy elite, 4x4s are an increasingly common sight on UK roads. What you may not know is that many of the lower and middle-ranking models aren't 4x4s at all. The whole 4x4 craze has been founded on the more active image, higher driving position, easier access and greater imperviousness to kerbs and traffic calming measures that these vehicles give you over an ordinary family car. Most people can take or leave the actual 4x4 mechanicals that give these cars their name. In the interests of lowering fuel consumption and expense, the two-wheel-drive four-wheel-drive has taken off and most models in the ix35's class are offered with the option of front-wheel-drive so this Hyundai has plenty of rivals.
What a 4x4 transmission gives you is extra grip. You might notice it when powering up a Namibian sand dune or picking your way across the Arctic tundra in northern Siberia but you'll scarcely notice it's there on the M6 or the Brixton Hill one-way system. Without serious under body protection, locking differentials and a low range gearbox, most models of the Hyundai ix35's would soon come to grief on anything more challenging than a gravel car park anyway. If you stick to the tarmac, the only significant benefits of all wheel drive come in icy conditions or on very wet roads. In 2WD form, the ix35 has less grip and this can be felt when accelerating hard, particularly in the powerful 2.0 CRDi diesel model. You might get a touch of wheelspin when pulling out of junctions or feel the sheering wheel tug slightly in your hands as the front wheels battle for purchase. Otherwise, the front-wheel-drive models have exemplary manners. The ride is smooth and although there's a little more roll through the corners than in the best handling compact 4x4s, it's nothing serious. More relevant is the light but accurate steering that makes the ix35 easy to place on the road and manoeuvre. Forward visibility is extremely good, aided by the elevated ride height but the view out the back is less than panoramic, especially with the rear wiper only reaching a fraction of a back screen that has a tendency to attract grime. Performance from the 2.0 CRDi model we tried was very impressive. The engine can sound a little rough at times but it's never noisy and with 320Nm of torque, it has a big surge of acceleration when you need it. 0-62mph takes 9.4s while a 4x4 ix35 with the same engine takes 10.2s partly due to its 70kg increase in weight.
Design and Build
The ix35 is one of the most adventurously styled Hyundai models we've seen. Its aggressive nose and sharply contoured flanks bear more than a passing resemblance to the Ford Kuga but perhaps that's just a coincidence. The curves mask the chunky 4x4 dimensions very effectively and help give the car its alert stance on the road. The cabin is pretty good though perhaps not as successful as the exterior from a design perspective. You really couldn't grumble about the amount of space on offer inside with rear legroom plentiful and a 591-litre boot with a wide aperture and a flat floor for sliding items inside. The rear seats split 60:40, folding down to create a 1,436-litre capacity but they don't slide or recline. There's a nicely sculpted steering wheel that feels good in the hands and the textured plastics on the dash give an air of quality but the materials used for the door inserts and lower down on the dash and the centre console are less classy. The ix35 has lots space for odds and ends with its large door pockets and big storage bin under the armrest but the central display screen is mounted at a shallow angle and is difficult to read in strong sunlight. This is a shame because the neat graphics and touch-screen control interface makes it very pleasant to use when you can view it.
Market and Model
The 161bhp 2.0-litre petrol and 134bhp 2.0-litre CRDi diesel engines are offered in 2WD form with the choice of Style or Premium trim levels. The basic specification of the ix35 includes air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, heated front seats, Down Hill Brake Control for descending steep gradients, 17" alloy wheels and electric heated mirrors. There's also safety kit including active head restraints, six airbags and ESP stability control. The Premium models get leather trim, climate control and a panoramic sunroof amongst other features. Compare these specifications with those of rival models and the ix35's pricing looks even more reasonable. The price premium Hyundai is charging for a 4x4 model over the 2WD is £1,000. That's not a huge amount to pay for the extra traction but will still only be worthwhile if you plan on driving situations where you will use it.
Cost of Ownership
Without the weight of the 4x4 mechanicals, the 2WD ix35 models gain lower running costs but the difference isn't huge. A 2.0 CRDi model returns 49.6mph with all-wheel-drive and 51.4mpg without. Emissions of CO2 are measured at 149g/km and 147g/km respectively. Go for the 2.0-litre petrol engine and you'll get 37.7mpg combined economy with 177g/km emissions. It's also worth noting that the extra weight of features fitted to the Premium models increases fuel consumption by around 5mpg.
For most compact 4x4 buyers, the difference between a front and four wheel-drive model will be negligible. Like many of its contemporaries, the Hyundai ix35 offers customers the choice and although the premium for a quartet of driven wheels is temptingly small, most will stick with the 2WD option. Hyundai's soft-roader ticks the important boxes with its attractive looks and elevated driving position. It's also practical in a refreshingly straightforward way and although aspects of the cabin design and materials used are a little below par for the class, the ix35 comes with loads of equipment at accessible prices. The 2.0 CRDi diesel is a fine engine with powerful performance and the driving experience is well judged for the kind of usage the typical ix35 owner will have in mind.