A wintry blast from the Deep South gave David Thomson an ideal opportunity to put the new Hyundai iX35 through its paces.
Will we have to stop and fit chains before sampling the delights of fresh powder snow at the top of the skifield access road?
It's a question that preys on the mind of many an Otago snow-sports fan after a decent winter dump, and it is one of the reasons four-wheel-drives are so popular in this part of the world.
This time our luck was in.
Part-way to the top of Treble Cone, two-wheel-drive vehicles were required to pop their chains on.
However, like other four-wheel-drives, Hyundai's new iX35 was cleared to deliver its eager occupants to the chairlift without delay.
Though 4WDs dominate skifield car parks, ours appeared to be the only iX35 on the mountain that day.
Styling that is bold and fluid without being quirky helped it stand out from the crowd, and a question here and a comment there confirmed that it was being noticed and that Hyundai is now a well-respected player in the recreational four-wheel-drive market.
That path to credibility has been blazed by the Santa Fe, which continues in the Hyundai line as the company's larger SUV, and the Tucson, which the iX35 succeeds.
With the iX35, ground clearance has been trimmed by 16mm to 170mm, so one might justifiably argue that the new arrival is more of a crossover-wagon than the SUV it replaces.
The iX35 range opens with a $39,990 two-wheel-drive petrol-powered model, but the variant supplied for this test was the top-flight 2.0 CRDi Elite auto.
Hyundai asks $53,990 for this flagship version, which is a hefty $4000 premium on its identically-equipped petrol equivalent, the 2.4 Elite.
Leather trim, keyless entry and go, heated front seats, power-adjustment for the driver's seat, dual-zone climate control, a six-stack, seven-speaker sound system with iPod and USB plug-in, cruise control, automatic lights, trip -computer, a reversing camera, heated mirrors, and a multifunction steering wheel are the major comfort and convenience features in the Elite.
Front and side airbags, electronic stability programming, and 18-inch alloys are also fitted.
With an extra 10mm of wheelbase and additional space between the roof and the floor, the iX35 has a much roomier cabin than the Tucson.
Space gains are most impressive in the back seat, which offers sufficiently generous leg- and headroom to carry taller adults in comfort.
Children, however, unless seated in boosters, will find the vehicle's high-rising waistline restricts their side view. The top-hinged rear tailgate gives easy access to a decently square but not especially deep boot.
Its standard carrying capacity can be increased to 1353 litres by utilising the 60-40 split folding rear seat facility to the full.
As a passenger pointed out, Hyundai could have done even better by mounting the rear seats on rails to allow flexibility between boot space and legroom in the back.
Up front, the cabin is airy and attractive, and the quality of trim materials, fit and finish is impressive.
I found the driving position comfortable and visibility generally good, though that high waist and thick c-pillars do restrict left rear three-quarter vision.
Key controls and instruments are well positioned, but some secondary switches and displays could be better placed.
The button for the rear demister, for example, sits in awkward isolation off to the passenger side of the centre console, and the buttons to activate the hill-descent control and centre-diff lock are obscured from view by the steering wheel.
The outside temperature read-out would be better situated in the main instrument cluster between the rev counter and speedometer rather than low on the dash as part of the climate-control display.
In a segment where diesels sometimes come with manual transmission only, or a yesteryear four-speed as the automatic option, Hyundai's decision to furnish the iX35 diesel with a state-of-the-art six-speed automatic is a positive point of difference.
The automatic works nicely with a smooth and lusty 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine that pulls very strongly from low revs.
While performance was strong, Drivesouth was unable to match the car's standard-cycle fuel consumption figure of 7.5l/100km on test.
Still, our 8.2l/100km return seemed reasonable given the road conditions encountered along the way.
Left to its own devices, the iX35 varies power delivery between the wheels to optimise traction as conditions require.
The only manual override possible is to lock the delivery 50-50 front to rear, which was done during our snowy early morning climb.
The provision of a manual gearshift option via a Tiptronic-style shift gate also proved useful on test, enabling speed to be controlled during a slushy downhill descent with minimal recourse to the brakes.
Handling during normal on-road motoring is mild-mannered and secure, with the iX35 being true to the crossover/SUV type with its tendency to early understeer and some body roll when pushed.
The steering is decently weighted, but would be better if there was more feel and precision either side of straight ahead.
Ride quality is generally good, though the test car jiggled over small surface imperfections at highway speeds.
A dynamic area in which the iX35 can take a real bow is in aural refinement; with a smooth engine, well-contained wind roar and decently suppressed road rumble, it is a pleasantly quiet vehicle for long-distance motoring.
This feature was especially appreciated on a three-hour-plus Sunday night cruise home after a hard day on the slopes. HYUNDAI iX35 2.0R CRDi Elite auto Rating: + For: Styling, refinement, performance.
Against: Price, positioning of minor controls and switchgear.
Verdict: A solid addition to Hyundai's increasingly impressive stable.
SPECIFICATIONPrice: $53,990 (2.0R CRDi Elite auto).
Engine: 1995cc R-series four-cylinder turbo-diesel, max power 135kW@4000rpm, max torque 392Nm@1800-2500rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with sport shift, front/four-wheel drive.
Brakes and stability systems: Disc brakes, ABS, EBD, BAS, ESP.
Wheels, tyres: Alloy rims and 235/50 R18.
Fuel and economy: Diesel 7.5L/100km, capacity 55 litres.
Dimensions: Length 4410mm, width 1820mm, height 1655mm.
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