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Classic vs modern - Hyundai ix35 up against Suzuki Sierra

How things have changed in the SUV realm.
How things have changed in the SUV realm. Iain Curry

THERE are two small SUVs in my life right now: both with four-cylinder engines, both with power going to all four wheels on demand, and both marketed with lifestyle in mind.

Yet the 18 years between the build date of these SUVs makes them so different in terms of performance, technology and safety that it graphically hits home how far the industry has come these past two decades.

The first car is my long-term loan Hyundai ix35 diesel, the other my much-loved privately owned 1996 Suzuki Sierra complete with 1.3-litre petrol engine and carburettor.

You want contrasts, you've got them.

Diesel power may have been scorned in passenger vehicles back in the mid-1990s, but the common-rail 2.0-litre four-cylinder in the 2014 ix35 is good for 135kW and a stonking 392Nm of torque.

As for the cutesy Sierra, oh dear. A measly 50kW is offered from its petrol four-potter, and with just 102Nm of torque, the modern Hyundai offers nearly four times the twist.

Weight wise, the mini Suzuki is only about half the mass of the feature-packed ix35. Amusingly, this makes the power-to-weight ratio between the two vehicles not too dissimilar, but on the road, they are worlds apart.

Needing high revs to get any sort of speed on the highway, the Sierra wails its way to about 100kmh and not much more. The ix35 gets up to speed in decent time too thanks to its bags of torque, and in impressive serenity too.

What makes it so interesting comparing these two cars is how our perception of what a small SUV is has changed over time. After all, both the ix35 and the Sierra's immediate replacement - the Jimny - are in the small SUV segment in Australia.

The Suzuki Sierra SJ40 shape was introduced in 1981 and was a global success story for the Japanese manufacturer. So much so its body altered little until a complete Sierra/Jimny redesign for 1998.

So even though my Sierra is less than 20 years old, the styling, technology and components used do feel very early 1980s. And no matter how well you remember that period, that's a long time ago now.

It means no airbags, no reasonable crash protection, no air-conditioning, no power steering, no traction control and antique leaf spring suspension.

And because it came from an era when the majority of Australians could actually drive a proper car, it features a good old five-speed manual.

Could you imagine a dealer trying to sell the Sierra now? Not much to show off to potential customers, being devoid of practically any toys at all.

Not so the ix35. Our test Hyundai SUV in Highlander spec means a grinning dealer's sales pitch includes sat nav, climate control, six airbags, Bluetooth, keyless entry, touch-screen, reversing camera, heated seats and super-intelligent stability control.

The Hyundai also swamps it size wise. Interestingly the two cars are of identical height, but the ix35 is a metre longer and a lot wider. That means it can do useful things the Sierra can't, like accommodate a fifth passenger and actually take some cargo. Maybe Suzuki thought we didn't want boots in 1996 ...

As much as I love my Sierra, of course most of my journeys are now in the ix35. Sitting in my heated leather seat, music streaming from my connected iPhone, I can use my touch-screen to plan my route via sat nav.

Every so often though, I hop in the Sierra. Why? Because I still love driving.

I much prefer the Hyundai for modern life, but the old Suzuki needs wrestling through the turns, and demands correct gear selection and revs kept up to keep momentum.

I relish the challenge, all with the roof down and the sun on my face.

It's so light and competent off road in low ratio that it's the one that comes with me to Double Island Point for sand driving. If I'm honest, I don't think the heavy all-wheel drive ix35 would cut it, so I won't risk it.

Even so, you can't fault progress. Despite its weight, size, equipment, and safety gear, the ix35 is more fuel efficient than the titchy Sierra.

Some fun may have gone out of driving these days, but fuel economy and greenness are king in 2014.

As are value, appeal and a long warranty, and it seems Suzuki lags here these days.

In the 1980s and early '90s the Suzuki Sierra used to own the small SUV segment in Australia. In 2013, Hyundai shifted 4364 ix35s for a 25% market share in the sub-$40K small SUV group. The modern Sierra Jimny sold 225 last year for a 1.3% market share.

How times change...

VITAL STATISTICS

Model: 1996 Suzuki Sierra.

Details: Two-door mini 4x4 SUV produced between 1981 and 1998.

Engine: 1.3-litre in-line four-cylinder petrol with single carburettor producing 50kW @ 6000rpm and 102Nm @ 4000rpm.

Transmission: Five-speed manual.

Length: 3430mm.

Width: 1460mm.

Height: 1680mm.

Kerb weight: 930kg.

Consumption: Approximately 8.0-litres/100km.

VITAL STATISTICS

Model: 2014 Hyundai ix35 2.0 CRDi Highlander.

Details: Four-door all-wheel-drive small SUV.

Engine: 2.0-litre in-line four-cylinder common rail diesel producing 135kW @ 4000rpm and 392Nm @ 1800-2500rpm.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic.

Length: 4410mm.

Width: 1820mm.

Height: 1680mm (with roof rails).

Kerb weight: 1706kg.

Consumption: 7.2-litres/100km.

Topics:  hyundai ix35 motoring road test