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Hyundai ix35 Highlander 2014 review: long term 2

EXPERT RATING
7

Halfway through our long-term custodianship of the Atomic Orange Hyundai ix35 Highlander something strange happened.

The performance and fuel economy both suddenly improved. The engine noise went from slightly breathless to grumbly-but-muted. It was still bright orange and was still a Hyundai - what's happened?

There was no subterfuge. It's because we had swapped from a petrol to a diesel and we think this means we've now got the best of the ix35 range.

Engine / Transmission

The vocal, torque-deficient (relatively speaking...) petrol was replaced with a much happier, surprisingly revvy 2.0 litre diesel. Hyundai claims 7.2L/100km on the combined cycle from the 135kW/392Nm engine, but we just like the fact it has so much extra torque to lug the big body around.

Coupled only to the six-speed automatic, it is a much better car around town and goes without saying it's better on the highway for a range of reasons - overtaking doesn't require as much forward planning as well as the (increasingly rare) unquestioning co-operation of the person being passed.

Driving

The extra weight over the nose doesn't seem to have done it any real harm and the petrol's 12.2L/100km average has seen an immediate drop to 11.6L/100km, which will surely stretch as the miles pile on.

The overall feel between petrol and diesel is that it's the same, but better. The transmission is still slick and smart, the ride impressive, especially compared with the pre-refresh version and the interior, while a bit sparse-looking, is holding up well. We still don't like the front seats, though - they're too broad and lacking in lateral support.

The seats' lack of bolstering and shapeliness might make it easy to get in and out, but you have to hold on to the steering wheel in the corners and that's tiring. The front seat passenger has to brace themselves in a way we hadn't experienced since the awful front seats of the Subaru Forester XT, seats so unhelpful that you're better off kneeling.

The steering is perhaps a little more vague than the petrol. Part of that could be the diesel's extra weight but the electric assistance is inconsistent and the wheel is loathe to self-centre, often needing a bit of help to return it to straight ahead.

The handling could still do with some finessing too. Turning in to a corner there's a bit of a lurch before the springs and dampers catch the weight, but from there on it's competent and grippy. Get rid of the lurch, throw on a better set of tyres and it will keep a CX-5 honest. It's way better than when it was first launched, though.

One problem that carried over from the petrol is the over-active traction control. Trying to boost out of a T-junction can be a bit hairy as the electronics cut the power abruptly when it detects even the tiniest of slips.

Normally, this would be business-as-usual for a car so equipped, but we find ourselves shouting frantically at the engine to give the power back - it's gone for quite a bit longer than is strictly necessary and leads to sometimes deserved abuse from approaching traffic.

Switching the traction off, however, solves the problem and makes the same manoeuvre seamless. Given the car has terrific all-wheel drive grip, the Darth Vader-like stranglehold enforced by the traction control could perhaps be reduced.

In the last few weeks, the ix35 has had to suffer the indignity of sharing the driveway with a couple of its competitors - the Honda CR-V diesel and the Mazda CX-5 Akera.

Rather than dimming our view of the brightly-coloured Hyundai, it threw into sharp relief its considerable strengths. It bested the Honda for engine responsiveness and power and is far better value than the top-of-the-range Mazda, if only partly because it's missing just one or two of that car's safety features but is a handy $10,000 cheaper. It's also got better rear access than the Mazda, which is pretty important for families.

Verdict

We'd still wish for a more Mazda-like interior (the Santa Fe proves that can't be too far away) and the Honda's interior space is unbeatable in the class, but the ix35 has struck a pretty impressive balance between the two, making it a viable first choice.

See previous: 2015 Hyundai ix35 review | long term 1

Pricing guides

$15,990
Based on 229 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
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$9,999
Highest Price
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Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Active (fwd) 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $13,977 – 15,990 2014 Hyundai IX35 2014 Active (fwd) Pricing and Specs
Elite (awd) 2.4L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $12,990 – 20,888 2014 Hyundai IX35 2014 Elite (awd) Pricing and Specs
Elite (fwd) 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $9,999 – 19,990 2014 Hyundai IX35 2014 Elite (fwd) Pricing and Specs
Highlander (awd) 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $11,530 – 25,990 2014 Hyundai IX35 2014 Highlander (awd) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7
Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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Pricing Guide

$9,999

Lowest price, based on 213 car listings in the last 6 months

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