Crossover Christmas: At home with the Hyundai ix35
In three short years the crossover (cars with an SUV style profile but little or no off-road potential) has emerged as one of the most popular market niches in the UK.
The incredible sales success of the Nissan Qashqai has seen almost every mainstream manufacturer jump on the family-friendly bandwagon, and there are now a multitude of affordable, two-wheel drive, high-sided vehicles to choose from.
That's all well and good for 95 per cent of the year, but December once again proved an an icy cold reminder of why the four-wheel drive grunt 'n' grip of conventional SUVs was actually the key to their original appeal.
Of course, most crossover manufacturers have an answer for this. Situated somewhere at the pricier end of their range will be the all-wheel drive alternative to their two-wheel drive bestsellers. These will not have all the technical whistles and bells of a 'proper' 4x4, but their adaptive drivetrains are nonetheless pitched as a step up from the capabilities of the cheaper, lighter and more economical 2WD alternatives.
Faced with a Christmas deep in the Surrey hills we decided it was high time to find out if the four-wheel drive crossovers could really justify their extra expense and handle two weeks of family festivities surrounded by snow and ice.
First to answer the call was Hyundai with its handsome ix35. Sister car to the even better looking Kia Sportage, the Korean soft roader had already impressed us with its tidy handling and decent comfort when we drove it last spring, but now it had to prove itself in far more punishing conditions.
First impressions were good; Hyundai kindly delivered a top spec 2.0 CRDi Premium model which included the excellent touchscreen satellite navigation (an £800 option) and contrast leather trim (£700) to go with its already generous standard kit.
Second impressions suffered slightly when we failed to stop on an icy unmade driveway and gently collided with a poorly parked Volvo XC90. In fairness to the ix35, a Challenger tank would have struggled to pull up on the slippery slope, and aside from a cracked numberplate, the Hyundai was completely undamaged thanks to its flexible plastic nose.
Beyond the treacherous descent (which would claim more victims as the week passed) the ix35 did gradually proved itself a match for the snow and ice on the countrysides farm tracks that surrounded our Christmas bolt hole.
By default the car's four-wheel drive system sends all of the engine's 134bhp to the front wheels to aid economy with power only finding its way to the rear wheels when it senses a loss of traction. Quite often this mode was sufficient to pull the ix35 through the light snow, but as the dusting compacted into a half mile ice rink there was also the option to lock the differential into a basic 50/50 four-wheel drive configuration up to 25mph.
As the temperature sunk to almost -10 this function proved critical in getting to and from the house down a single track access road already littered with abandoned hatchbacks. Obviously the Hyundai's talent has its limitations – there's no low range gearbox and not enough ground clearance for genuine off-roading – but if transport during the nation's annual dusting is your only concern then there's no reason why the all-wheel drive ix35 shouldn't go on your shopping list.
Especially given the fact that the crossover performed the rest of its Christmas duties in admirable style. Despite officially wearing the 'compact' descriptive, the car was instantly seized on as 'big' by family elders and therefore ideal for festive transportation. Elderly relatives clucked in approval at the ease of access and the impression of space compared to the hatchbacks they were usually driven around in. The built-in sat nav was treated with the referential wonder usually reserved for Mayan pottery.
Inevitably younger occupants were slightly more critical; prodding some of the ix35's cheaper plastic with disdain and questioning the refinement of the diesel lump under the bonnet, but most were duly impressed by Hyundai's £22,245 asking price.
Two weeks behind the wheel had certainly left us satisfied with the Korean crossover. There are niggles of course – a tendency to crash over bumps at the back, the oddly weighted steering, a slightly wishy-washy manual gearbox – but by and large the ix35 went about its business with the docile charm of most decent family cars. Apart from those moments when it successfully dropped us at the door in a snow storm. On those occasions we properly loved it.