This is the home of automobile road tests in South Africa. We drive South African cars, SUVs and LCVs under South African conditions. It also just happens that most of the vehicles we drive are world cars as well, so what you read here probably applies to the models you can get at home.
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Published in The Witness Motoring on Wednesday February 16, 2011
Between them, Hyundai and Kia have three candidates among the ten finalists for 2011 SA Car of the Year. Two of them are 2.0 litre diesel SUVs with automatic transmission and four-wheel drive, with the only real differences being in equipment levels and prices. We arranged a test drive of the more upmarket Hyundai iX35.
Introduced to SA buyers in May 2010 to replace the popular Tucson (the name is still used in some overseas markets), the iX35 is slightly larger than its predecessor and uses new engines and gearboxes. It was also completely restyled. Hyundai moved away from the distinctly hatchback proportions of the Tucson, resulting in a sleek, low-line one-box shape. This "fluidic" design language breaks new ground expressed in sweeping, gently curved lines flowing rearward and providing a look of athleticism not typically associated with this class of vehicle.
Preferring the term CUV, for crossover utility vehicle, Hyundai does not pretend that the iX35 is a rugged explorer of extreme terrain or a carrier of emergency medical teams to disaster zones. With ground clearance of 170 mm, 4x4 on demand only, no low range and just centre-differential locking, it is unashamedly a soft-roader. Its downhill crawl capability and being able to switch off the ESP when desired are bonus features that make it more versatile.
What the iX35 does do well is carry a family of up to five grown people in comfort, over varying terrain and in all but the harshest weather. There are a couple of observations though. With just two passengers in the back seat, you could fold down the centre armrest to get at the additional pair of cup holders. You can drive along goat tracks and ford shallow streams, but be on the lookout for bigger rocks and logs, because ground clearance is limited.
Its ride and composure on potholed and washboarded dirt roads was excellent as was handling and general behaviour on asphalt. There was none of the slightly top-heavy feeling one often finds on taller vehicles with off-road pretensions and it probably came as close to exhibiting car-like behaviour as one can get in an SUV. Part of the secret is possibly in the tyres, Kumho Solus KL21s that are fitted as OE on these vehicles.
They are described as "a touring all-season tyre developed for crossovers, sport utility vehicles and prestigious pickups, designed to combine ride comfort and low noise with year-round handling and traction, even in light snow." The description continues: "As crossovers have higher centres of gravity compared with sedans, stability is vital. The straight rib design and solid centre rib greatly enhance handling and stability and give consistent rib stiffness for precise steering feel." So now we know: SUVs can be just as particular about correct road rubber as high-performance saloon cars are.
Being the top model in the range, the diesel 4x4 automatic boasts a couple of extras not found on lesser machines. It is fitted with a two-part glass sunroof that extends almost the full length of the car and it is the only one with full keyless access and pushbutton starting and engine switchoff. What this means to a harassed driver is that there is no need to scratch around in a bag or pockets in search of keys. One simply has to walk up to the driver's door, touch the black button on the door handle, get in and fire up the engine, while the key remains wherever he or she has chosen to keep it. This is almost worth the extra money as a safety feature on its own.
Just a couple of niggles: while knee room in the back seat is good, headroom could best be described as adequate for taller folk because the sunroof steals some space. Exiting is generally good thanks to very low sills, but the curve of doorways over rear wheel arches can catch thighs on the way out. You might also have noticed that I referred to "a family of five grown people" a few paragraphs up. There are no ISOFIX anchor points for baby seats, so if that is a priority, you may need to look elsewhere.
The iX35 is attractive, solidly built and soundly engineered. It also does what it was designed to do very competently and is a worthy candidate in its quest for SA Car of the Year. Competition will be fierce with nine other vehicles in contention over two days of gruelling testing at the ex-military Gerotek proving grounds near Pretoria. The transparent judgements of 26 independent jurors will finally decide, so may the best car, pickup or SUV win.
Price: R379 900
Engine: 1 995 cc four-cylinder common rail diesel, turbocharged
Power: 130 kW at 4 000 rpm
Torque: 392 Nm between 1 800 and 2 500 rpm
Zero to 100 km/h: 10.3 seconds
Maximum speed: 195 km/h
Real life fuel consumption over approx. 300 km: about 9.3 l/100 km
Tank: 55 litres
Fuel: 50-ppm diesel
Ground clearance: 170 mm
Approach/departure/rampover angles: 28.9/26.1/17 degrees
Wading depth: 500 mm
Maximum towing mass (braked/unbraked): 1 600/750 kg
Warranty and roadside assistance: 5 years/150 000 km
Service plan: 5 years/100 000 km
This is a one-man show, which means that road test cars entrusted to me are driven only by me. Some reviewers hand test cars over to their partners to use as day-to-day transport and barely experience them for themselves.
What this means to you is that every car reviewed is given my own personal evaluation and receives my own seat of the pants judgement - no second hand input here.
Every car goes through real world testing; on city streets littered with potholes, speed bumps and rumble strips, on freeways and if its profile demands, dirt roads as well.
I am based in Pietermaritzburg, KZN, South Africa. This is the central hub of the KZN Midlands farming community; the place farmers go to to buy their supplies and equipment, truck their goods to market, send their kids to school and go to kick back and relax.
So occasionally a cow, a goat or a horse may add a little local colour by finding its way into the story or one of the pictures. It's all part of the ambience!
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