At every new car launch there’s a product presentation where the manufacturer tells you all about the car. They show some power figures, a few specification sheets and, more often than not, as slide that shows what the company sees as its main rivals. Since competitive advertising isn’t allowed, it’s up to the media to tell the public what else they should consider when they shop around in a particular segment.
For the most part it’s not that hard to work out which other models a new car is up against. You check the price, see what else is out there and pretty soon you have a nice line-up of competing vehicles.
At the recent Mokka launch, Opel drew a few questioning glances by stating that its new compact crossover would be going head-to-head with the Hyundai iX35. It seemed as though they had completely forgotten about the Renault Captur, Ford EcoSport, Citroën C4 Cactus, Renault Duster, Nissan Juke and Jeep Renegade, but there was method in their madness. Opel wasn’t going to mess around with the plebs. It was aiming higher, which made more sense when the pricing was revealed. The Mokka’s price starts where most of the other compact crossovers top out. Opel, it seems, wants to dominate that small space between top-of-the-line compact crossovers and entry-level medium-size SUVs. That’s not a bad strategy when you think about it. Instead of competing with a host of other models in the same price bracket, Opel is pitting advanced engine technology and luxury against old-fashioned comfort and space.
Would the average consumer sacrifice the added space of an iX35 in favour of something that is luxuriously appointed, powerful and very trendy?
To find out, we located an entry-level Hyundai iX35, which wasn’t as easy as you might think. Media testing vehicles tend to be top-of-the-line models, but we managed to get our hands on the one that most people would probably buy.
To compare apples with apples, or at least keep things in the same fruit basket, we opted for a top-of-the-line Mokka with a manual transmission. That’s as close as you can get for a comparison test with these two vehicles. This is borne out by the retail prices. The Hyundai iX35 2,0-litre premium manual costs R334 900, and the Mokka 1,4-litre turbocharged Cosmo with a manual gearbox sells for R335 500. There’s only a R600 difference between them, but which is the better?
Hyundai iX35 2,0-litre Premium
The current iX35’s replacement was revealed a few months ago, but we are not sure why this was considered necessary. Yes, it’s older than most of its competitors, but it just doesn’t feel that old. Hyundai could, in all honesty, keep on selling this car for at least another four years. It still looks good, thanks to a facelift early in 2014. At that time Hyundai also replaced the ageing 2,0-litre Theta petrol engine with an all-new 2,0-litre unit with 116kW and 192Nm on tap. It’s mated to a six-speed manual shifter, which sends the power to the front wheels only.
There are some glaring omissions in the cabin, but we’ll come to that later. For now we’ll focus on the sheer size of the car. Standing alone in the parking lot, the iX35 seems quite compact, but with a Mokka parked next to it, the difference in dimensions is noticeable.
This should make it the default choice for the average family man, but things aren’t that simple. Sure, space is important, but it’s not the “be all and end all” of family transport. There are other things to consider, such as luxury features and ride comfort, and in these departments the Mokka might do exceedingly well.
Opel Mokka 1,4 Cosmo manual
When you look at the Hyundai and Mokka side by side, the iX35 does look rather dated. This has nothing to do with style, however. We feel the older iX35 still has the upper hand in terms of rugged appeal.
The main differences between these two cars are to be found under the bonnet and on the inside.
The iX35 may have a brand-new 2,0-litre engine, but it is still old-fashioned compared to the Opel’s 1,4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine.
While the Mokka’s powertrain is 600cc down on the Hyundai, it develops just 13kW less, but adds an additional 8Nm compared to the iX35’s engine.
The advantages of a small capacity turbocharged engine are well known by now. You get the same power output as a larger motor while using less fuel. Higher altitudes also rob a naturally aspirated engine of a few horses, which means the 1,4-litre turbocharged unit in the Mokka feels more responsive and powerful on the highveld than the figures suggest.
The second difference, which most people will appreciate in the current economic climate, is the frugal nature of the 1,4-litre engine. Opel claims a combined fuel consumption figure of 6,0 l/100km for the Mokka, while Hyundai claims 8,5 l/100km. In the long run, that difference can save you a lot of money.
The differences in the cabin are understandable, since we are comparing an entry-level SUV with a top-of-the-line compact crossover.
Opel has included everything you could possibly want in the Mokka, including a modern infotainment system and a host of other niceties that will have the potential buyer drooling. It even has a 230V power outlet to charge a laptop – a first in SA.
To sum up, what we have in this contest is a tried, tested and loved vehicle versus a new, funky and advanced challenger. It’s space and practicality in an epic battle with the latest in automotive technology.
As the two cars are front-wheel drive only, we decided to confine the test mostly to the safety of good old tarmac. It made sense because that’s where most owners will drive them. On previous occasions, however, we have spent a lot of time off the beaten track in both vehicles, so we were in a good position to comment on their soft-roading abilities.
Our test route was nothing more than the daily grind, which included driving to and from work, transporting the family and hauling cargo from point A to point B.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult not to comment on a vehicle’s design, especially in the compact crossover segment where styling seems to be a hot topic. Just look at the Citroën C4 Cactus and Renault Captur!
Oddly, the Mokka is the more conservative vehicle of the two. Its design doesn’t excel but it doesn’t offend, either. If you want something that stands out, you can always order it in a funky orange colour.
On the other hand, Hyundai’s “fluidic sculpture” design language has done great things for the company and the iX35 is probably the best example of what the South Korean manufacturer is capable of in the style department.
It’s worth noting that comments on styling are nothing more than a reflection of the reviewer’s personal taste. In our office we couldn’t agree on which vehicle won this particular part of the shoot-out. One of us prefers the iX35 while the other doesn’t like the Hyundai’s design at all.
We don’t have any real gripes about the Mokka. It looks good enough on its own, but it does feel less special when you consider what the French manufacturers are doing with their compact crossovers these days.
Things start to go backwards fairly quickly for the Hyundai once you hop from the iX35 into the Mokka – and it has nothing to do with the quality of the materials. In this regard both cars are very similar, with both making use of high quality plastic and soft touch materials.
The main difference becomes apparent when you start pushing buttons. In the Mokka this action will keep you busy for a few minutes, but the entry-level iX35 has to make do without a few choice luxuries you would find higher up in its model line-up.
Not surprisingly, then, leaving the interior of the iX35 for the Mokka is like stepping out of your TV room and into an Imax theatre. The Mokka Cosmo is equipped with everything the modern driver demands, as well as a few choice features that you don’t expect at the price.
The most impressive of these is Opel’s IntelliLink infotainment system. At its core, it’s a fancy radio that allows for radio/CD/MP3/aux/Bluetooth playback, but it also connects the driver to the outside world via a host of apps that can be downloaded to any modern smartphone. The choice is wide, but allow us to tell you about Stitcher, which is included as standard. It’s a global podcast radio app that allows the driver access to more than 10 000 podcasts and live radio shows from around the world.
The IntelliLink system operates via a seven-inch button-operated interface. It’s highly intuitive and we found ourselves comfortable and connected within minutes.
There’s also voice control for some functions, and the car can even “read” aloud any incoming SMSs, or display them on the screen. Just one word of warning, however – don’t use this feature if you have passengers. Some messages are best left to the safety of a smartphone’s touch-screen! Also, the friendly lady who lives inside the dashboard speaks only English. Listening to her trying to read an Afrikaans message was one of the funniest things we’ve heard in a car.
In Cosmo guise you also get rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming headlamps, rear parking sensors, heated front seats, leather seats, heated steering wheel and a 230V power socket. All of this is in addition to the entry-level Mokka, which is already lavishly equipped with climate control, cruise control and a multi-function steering wheel, among other things.
Compared to all of that, the iX35 feels a bit barren. But its standard features list is impressive in its own right, with air conditioning, a decent sound system with Bluetooth connectivity, trip computer, electric windows and a rear-view display on the rear-view mirror all being included as standard. That’s basically everything you need, but we couldn’t help feeling a bit cheated by two major omissions.
The first was the lack of a multi-function steering wheel, which isn’t that bad, but annoying when you are used to a long-termer that costs around R80 000 less but includes this feature as standard. The second problem is the lack of cruise control. It should be a standard feature in any vehicle costing more than R150 000.
On the road (and off it)
From behind the wheel these are two very different cars, with neither being the loser because of it.
The Hyundai is more pragmatic in the way it rides and handles. It’s deeply comfortable, and noise intrusions are minimal. It can also go around a corner without falling over, which gives it a pass in our handling test.
Ergonomically speaking, it’s very good. All the major controls fall easily within reach and the gear change is positive and smooth. It does absolutely everything it’s supposed to do, and very well considering its age.
The Mokka is more engaging, thanks to its smaller proportions and turbocharged engine. It’s no hot hatch, but it isn’t a slouch, either.
The bits underneath the Mokka’s body have been carried over from other models in the Opel range and it really shows. It’s nice to drive and there’s even some “hooligan fun” to be had if and when the mood strikes.
In town, it settles down very well. There’s some initial turbo lag, but it’s gone and forgotten within milliseconds. Gear changes are slick, while the ride quality is just as impressive as in the iX35.
When it comes to a spot of soft-roading, the iX35 is undoubtedly the better option. Its suspension is a lot softer, which makes it more compliant and comfortable on the rough stuff. There’s more than enough grip, even with power going only through the front wheels. If you see yourself as a weekend adventurer, the iX35 is definitely the one you should spend your hard-earned cash on.
The Mokka doesn’t mind a dirt road at all, but it’s fairly obvious that it was designed and built to be at home on suburban roads.
Within the confines of the city, it’s easier to drive, see out of and manoeuvre into tight parking spaces.
Value for money
When it comes to value for money, things start getting slightly grey. The truth is that we only chose the iX35 because Opel chose to name it specifically as a rival in its product presentation. For R335 000 you can get entry-level versions of almost all of the mid-size SUVs out there, including the Mazda CX-5, Toyota Rav4, Ford Kuga and Nissan Qashqai/X-Trail. You still won’t get the same level of specification as in the Mokka, but most of these cars offer a decent amount of standard specification.
There’s also the option of saving around R50 000 by getting a top-spec Ford EcoSport, Citroën C4 Cactus or Renault Captur. Opel may not regard these vehicles as direct rivals, but we do, and we definitely advise our readers to check out all of the compact crossover options before signing on the dotted line.
Cars like the Cactus and Captur get very close to matching the generous specification levels of the Mokka, but retail for a lot less.
With that in mind, we need to decide on a final winner. Only one car can be left standing and our vote goes to the Mokka.
Sure, the iX35 has space on its side, but the Mokka isn’t exactly devoid of space. The iX35 is just bigger, which simply isn’t enough for a victory over the lavishly equipped, nice to drive, deceptively powerful and impressively frugal Mokka.