Quiet specs appeal
I pulled into a small Kildare town the other day at lunchtime and was taken aback by coincidence. There, on a slight slope, was a gap for parking between two motors. The one in front was a Hyundai Tucson; the one behind was a Nissan Qashqai.
I could hardly believe it because, you see, those two and the car I was driving are closely interlinked in a battle for your money.
My test car, the Hyundai ix35 effectively replaces the Tucson but the car that personifies the market it wants to exploit is the Nissan Qashqai, beloved of so many families.
First off, the ix35 is strikingly more clued into what has made the Qashqai the outstanding favourite it is. Where the Tucson was plain, if relentlessly pragmatic, this is tall, has cutting edge angle-on-curve design, and comes with just two-wheel-drive -- the sort of combination suburban buyers want to accompany their practical everyday needs. The Ford Kuga and it are the two best lookers in this class now.
Inside there's a decent, roomy cabin with a few embellishments around the steering wheel and dash, again very much in line with modern taste and layout. But some of the switchgear felt just a bit cheaper/plasticky than mommies might like. And they missed out on a few small things that would make a better first, possibly lasting, impression. For example, the gear knob could have done with a little bit of chrome or chrome imitation just to take that awful dark look away from the middle of the front. Small items, the details of minimal touch, can add immeasurably. It takes just a nudge or two to create a sense of greater embellishment.
There is more than decent room behind for two or three adults, plenty for three younger occupants, but with the full spare wheel occupying much of the depth of the boot, the cargo area was smaller than I'd have liked. Of course the rear seats fold (60/40) if you want more.
You notice I haven't used the term SUV (sports utility vehicle) at all. In essence this is classified as one, more on looks than anything else. But so, technically, are many other 'soft roaders'. I don't think there is an environmental issue any more with this class of vehicle. They look well -- this is quite striking if a little disproportionately tall -- have good room, give a great driving position and are invariably far better on emissions (thanks to predominantly diesel engines) than many a family saloon. But as far as the ix35 is concerned there are a couple of big items worthy of serious note.
The first is the price -- €3,000 or so lower than the outgoing Tucson.
This is effectively going to be the price level of the new 1.7-litre diesel (lower emissions), which gets here later this year. With an impressive spec sheet to accompany it, there is no doubt it is one of the better value soft-roaders out there. The second is the five-year unlimited mileage warranty on this model (only the ix35 for now). Sister company Kia is doing seven admittedly, but five is still a fair old headache-free stretch.
I honestly don't think, Kia apart, that the far eastern makers trumpet this nearly enough. Handling was decently taut and there was far less bodyroll than I expected, considering how tall it is. I have a major complaint about the lack of real adjustment on the steering wheel. Yes it nudges a fair bit up and down but not a millimetre in and out to give you a real chance of getting totally comfortable. But even that could not disguise the winner in the pack as far as I was concerned. The engine. It was flexible, responsive and quiet at motorway cruising speeds. That is a big thing, you know, because families travel distances in these and the last thing mommy wants is little Tommy unable to snooze because of engine noise. I'm told the 1.7-litre is even better.
Overall then, Hyundai have got most of the basics and one or two of the esoterics spot on, in a clever, tidy, appealing package.
When I looked at this and the Tucson in front of it during that coincidental lunchtime pit-stop last week, I had all the evidence needed to show how much of an advance this represents. When I looked at this and the Qashqai (just updated this week, by the way) behind it, I had all the evidence needed to show how much of an advance this needed to represent.