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Brand New Hyundai Santa Fe

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Mike Stevens | Mar 18, 2009 | 11 Comments

Is Hyundai’s Santa Fe a sensible choice for the family with a yen for adventure? We put TMR’s ‘Mr Sensible’, Kez Casey, behind the wheel and told him not to come back without the answer.

Life is all about finding answers to challenging questions. Why does my dog seem to know things I don’t? How long can you keep pizza before it can no longer be classified as ‘breakfast’? Why do most of my friends seem strangely retarded?

Some of those quandaries are easier to answer than others. Some have no answers, some have dozens. Like here’s a real stumper: what car will I buy to cart my kids, my dog, my camping gear and all my sports crap on weekends, that will also look respectable for the work-day gig come Monday?

The problem isn’t a lack of options; in a crowded SUV market the answers are just too plentiful. So, which is right for you?

Hyundai has boldly tossed its hat into the ring in an attempt to solve your conundrum with the Santa Fe.

Hyundai’s seven-seat SUV contender comes with a good spread of models, a choice of V6 petrol or turbo-diesel engines and five or seven seat capacity. It would seem, on the face of it, to have all bases covered.

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TMR took some time out with two examples of the range-topping Santa Fe Elite CRDi. One came with Hyundai’s ‘Trek ‘n’ Tow’ pack. This accessory raises ride height, stiffens suspension and increases the tow-ball weight capacity for that particular breed of lunatic who enjoys caravanning and camping. (Ok, alright, and towing a boat.)

Both cars featured Hyundai’s 2.2 litre common-rail turbo-diesel engine coupled to a five-speed automatic. ESP Stability Control, ABS brakes and six airbags - including curtain airbags which extend to the third row - are also featured in the entire Santa Fe range.

So, a few weeks of country cruising, off-road trails, city commutes, DIY supplies hauling and family road trips should be just the thing to find out what the Santa Fe is made of.

A restrained exterior

Style-wise, the Santa Fe is more urban cruiser than rough-and-tumble muscled-up off-roader. Hyundai’s designers have chosen restraint and checked any hard-core off-roading pretensions at the door.

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There is no meaty bolt-on body cladding and no tough wheel arch flares; just smoothly finished sides with gentle curves and subtly blistered wheel arches. The only real giveaway to the car’s intent is the tall stance and ‘AWD’ badges fixed to the front guards.

At the front, low-set fog lights and twin-element headlights (underlined in an almost inverse BMW-way by park lights) remove the bulk from the front end. Even the simple two-bar chrome-trimmed grille resists the temptation to get heavy handed.

At the rear, wide tail-lights help reduce the visual height of the rear end.

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From some angles the Santa Fe almost looks as though it has forgotten it’s a big car and has tried to disguise itself as a euro-style hatchback. It is actually deceptively compact.

An almost surprising feature is the twin chrome-tipped tail pipes displayed proudly beneath the rear bumper - somewhat unexpected at the rear of a diesel.

Of all the exterior features of the Santa Fe, the one that attracted most comment among observers was the tailgate handle mounted to the right of the number-plate.

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Some thought it threw off the balance of the rear lines, but once it had been used a couple of times, all agreed it was a more useful leverage point for hoisting the tailgate then the usual release catch hidden behind a number plate garnish.


Versatile interior

As mentioned, from outside the Santa Fe hides its size well. That makes it quite surprising to climb aboard and see just how much room-to-move is available inside.

For front and middle row occupants, leg, head and shoulder room is rarely an issue. In the third row, the fold-flat functionality means that leg and knee room loses out. An adult can fit for short trips but the rear-most seating position is one best left to the kids.

With the rear seats in place, luggage space takes a hit. You won’t fill seven seats and still pack in a week’s worth of groceries. However for carrying a few cricket bags and a cut lunch the remaining space is adequate.

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One of the best impressions of the Sante Fe Elite’s interior is the way it’s trimmed. All seats are covered in black leather trim with red piping and perforations to dress things up.

Dark wood highlights on the dash and a silver nickel finish on the doors and centre stack add class. Perhaps even a little surprising, for the price, was the quality feel of everything that opened and closed.

Storage spaces were plentiful. Wide pockets with cup locators feature in both front and rear doors, the two-section centre console swallowed everything we could throw at it, and the lower half is chilled to keep drinks cool on long trips.

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To help keep the rug-rats in check on longer trips, a curved ‘conversation mirror’ folds neatly away into the roof console and is a parent’s best tool yet for keeping an eye on who “started it”.

Another useful tool is the six-stack CD player with iPod integration. This means everyone ‘gets a go’ at their favourite music play list (on second thoughts, best not to tell the rats about this one).

A noteworthy item is the climate control air conditioning piped throughout the cabin. Front seat occupants can independently set their own comfort level while those in the middle and rear rows are provided with vents in the outboard positions.

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The clobber for a weekend away for five people was easily stowed in the boot, while the passengers had plenty of space to sprawl in the interior.

The wide seats appear firm at first but after a few hours behind the wheel proved to be comfortable. There was also plenty of adjustment on the powered front seats and reclining centre row.

Points do have to be deducted, however, for the awkward operation of the folding centre row seats. There seems to be one too many stages to get them to fold out of the way for access to the rear seats.

With the head rests up the seat back can collide with front seats if they’re too far back. It’s a minor gripe but one worth mentioning if the rear seats are to be used often.

Off The Road

Focus your attention now, if you will, on the white Santa Fe pictured here. This was the unit fitted with the Trek ‘n’ Tow pack and thus the one we ventured off the highway with.

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Upgraded springs all round plus new dampers at the rear lift the ride height by 20mm and firm-up the ride slightly (although by the seat of your pants it’s hard to notice). If you plan on towing often this would be just thing.

Off road, the Trek ‘n’ Tow pack is handy, but the margin of its benefits over the ‘standard’ Santa Fe becomes less noticeable. That said the Santa Fe proved itself to be surprisingly capable in off-road situations.

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TMR took the Santa Fe to our Blackwood circuit. There are some loose tracks here with some steep rises, but much less demanding than the ‘heavy-duty’ tracks of the high country. With no low-range transfer case, just a ‘4WD lock’ button to engage on the dash, we kept clear of the more challenging four-wheel-drive trails.

That said, the changing terrain on the paths the Santa Fe took us down had us wondering if we’d ventured too far at times. The torquey diesel engine and all-wheel-drive had no such reservations, and remained untroubled hauling the show back out.

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The lack of real ride-height however proved a little problematic and limits the off-road prowess of the Hyundai. Deep ruts would sometimes have the Santa Fe dragging its underbody across the gravel track.

All in all, for most light duty mountain trails, sandy paths and gravel roads, the Santa Fe is a nicely versatile and competent performer – if you don’t stretch it too far, it should prove more than ideal in getting you off the beaten track.


On The Road

Realistically, the Santa Fe will most likely find itself put to work in loping runs up-country and domestic duties around town. This where the car excels and really demonstrates the breadth of its abilities.

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On the highway, Hyundai’s 2.2 litre turbo-diesel is both quiet and economical. Inside the cabin only a faint hint of engine noise is noticeable.

Wind and tyre noise are well suppressed too. Only with a window down was attention drawn to the ‘woofly’ diesel note and low rev turbo whistle.

The best fuel economy returned on a country highway cruise was 8.0 litres/100 km with the potential to improve (we had strong head winds buffeting the car).

Around town in stop-start conditions that figure rose to 14.7 litres/100km which is still in the ball-park for a vehicle of its size and weight.

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The manual mode for the automatic transmission was best left alone, being slow to respond to inputs. Otherwise, imperceptible shifts and well-matched five forward ratios meant the Santa Fe was brisk enough when overtaking (and away from the lights) and a relaxing highway drive.

(How the 2.2 diesel and auto would perform with a horse float behind may be open to question, but the diesel’s ample torque would suggest it will be up to the task.)

Around town, the natural environment (it would seem) of the SUV, the Santa Fe was easy to park and simple to manoeuvre. Over the shoulder vision is a little patchy due to the narrow cargo bay windows, but expansive side mirrors help to clear up concerns over rearward vision.

Conclusion

The Santa Fe covers a lot of bases. It functions capably as family transport, a people mover and a weekend getaway machine.

As a light duty off-roader or traversing the black-top, it is competent, reasonably cheap to run, quiet, comfortable and stylish. Not easily achieved in the one vehicle.

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If you tow, or want to get the family away and off the beaten track, then Hyundai offers a useful device for doing so.

It is not oversized – it’s about ‘right’ - no bone-jarring ride, no agricultural compromises, just a nicely finished, easy to live with, versatile wagon.

So, if your questions about the demands of a vehicle are becoming more complex, then Hyundai has served up a simple answer.

Throw in a low price and it makes a strong case for the Sanfa Fe for family-hauling duties.

Final Word

Forget pretensions and complexities. The Santa Fe offers a solidly built, comfortable and commodious seven-seater with a few nice bells and whistles on the top-spec Elite.

If value-for-money matters to you without compromising on space or safety, then the Santa Fe Elite CRDi serves up all the necessary ingredients.

The handsome looks and ease of use are great little bonuses to cap off the package.

Kez likes:

  • Handsome styling and practical Interior
  • Good value buying
  • Frugal thirst and capable engine
  • Conversation Mirror
  • Plenty of interior storage

Kez dislikes:

  • Awkward folding middle seats
  • Slow manual-mode gearshifts
  • Restricted over-shoulder visibility

Gallery

Specifications

Engine: 2.2 litre (2188 cc) four-cylinder
Fuel System: Common Rail Direct injection (CRDi) Turbo Diesel
Valve gear: Single overhead cam shaft, 4 valves per cylinder
Fuel Consumption (claimed, crew cab 4X4): 8.1 l/100km (combined)
Induction: Intercooled turbo
Power: 114 kW @ 4000 rpm
Torque: 343 Nm @ 1800-2500 rpm
Compression: 17.3:1
Bore x stroke: 87.0 mm × 92.0 mm
Transmission 5 speed Manual (not available with Elite) / 5 speed selectronic automatic with HiVec (tested)
4WD System: Electronically-controlled on-demand AWD including driver selectable centre differential lock for 50 / 50 front / rear.
Suspension: Front: independent MacPherson strut with coil springs and anti-roll stabiliser bar

Rear: independent multi-link with coil springs and anti-roll stabiliser bar

Front: Front and rear double acting telescopic gas, cylindrical shock absorbers

Brakes: Front: 298 mm ventilated discs with fl oating twin spot callipers

Rear: 302 mm solid discs

Also: ABS, EBD

Nanny Stuff: ABS, EBD, ESP, TCS, Front fog lamps Rear fog lamps Day / night, rear view mirror, Rear high mount centre stop lamp, Automatic dusk sensing headlights on in dark, Warning lights (seatbelt, door ajar, check engine).

View specs at Hyundai.com.au for full list.

Wheels: 6 spoke 18 × 7.0J alloy wheels, Full size spare alloy wheel
Tyres: 235 / 60 R18 tyres
Towing Capacity: Braked/Unbraked: 2000 / 750 kg

Roof cross bars: 100kg

Towball weight: 150kg

Cargo Capacity: Behind first row / second row: 2213 / 969 SAE litres
Kerb Weight: 1996kg
Price: Santa Fe CRDi Elite: $46,990
Get the best deal on this car!
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