2013 HYUNDAI SANTA FE REVIEW
Vehicle style: Large SUV
Price: $49,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine: 2.2 litre turbo-diesel
Power: 145kW @ 3800rpm | Torque: 436Nm @ 1800rpm-2500rpm.
Fuel economy claimed: 7.3 l/100km | tested: 9.4 l/100km
Large SUVs now make up more than 11 percent of the new-car market. That remarkable shift in buyer preference can be explained by family buyers.
Families like their SUVs - full stop. The segment is now one of the most crowded in the local market.
Hyundai launched the Santa Fe here back in 2000. It was then an awkward and bulbous-looking vehicle that didn’t quite hit the mark.
But with a carmaker on the move – here and globally – and determined to make its mark, a lot can happen in 12 years.
Enter the 2013 model. And what a styling, packaging and value-for-money proposition it is.
For this test, we put the $49,990 top-spec Highlander turbo-diesel through its paces. It’s loaded with features and is a reassuringly good drive.
Quality: Would the Highlander’s good looks prove to be just skin deep? Not so. The new big Korean has one of the most stylish, high-quality interiors around.
We can’t fault the fit and finish. The blend of soft-touch and harder plastics is very well executed, the ergonomics are spot-on, and, at the wheel, there is a nice ‘cockpit feel’ for the driver.
The big easy-to-read tacho and speedo dials sit in deeply-sculpted circular recesses and all the switches and dials that matter are mounted nice and high on the centre-stack.
Comfort: The leather-clad front seats are well-shaped with enough hip-and-thigh bolstering for just about all driving conditions.
And there is a full house of creature comforts including air-conditioning for all three seating rows, and heated front and rear outboard-seats.
Third-row occupants don’t have a vast amount of legroom – fine for kids or for adults on shorter trips - but it’s easily accessed and just as easily folds neatly away.
Equipment: Armed with a mountainous inventory of features, the Highlander makes competitors such as the top-spec $62,740 Territory Titanium AWD diesel look positively poverty-stricken.
With the Highlander, included is a rear-vision camera/park-assist system, dusk-sensing headlights, electric lumbar support, a high-resolution seven-inch colour information screen with satellite navigation, cruise control and a 12-way powered driver’s seat.
There’s glovebox cooling, climate-control air-con, iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity, panoramic sunroof, HID Xenon headlights, electro-chromatic rear-vision mirror with a built-in compass, proximity key and start/stop button, a comprehensive driver-information system, and leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel.
Storage: With third row seats folded, there is 516 litres of cargo space, opening up to 1615 litres with second row seats also folded. Braked towing capacity is 2000kg.
Inside, there’s a useful glove box, ample bottle and cup holders, a tub beneath the centre armrest, lidded dash-top tray, roof-mounted sunglasses holder and console tray.
The rear passengers have door pockets and there is a clever under-floor space in the rear cargo area that stores the cargo blind when not in use.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Armed with its 436Nm of torque and very capable six-speed sports-shifting automatic transmission, the Santa Fe Highlander performs well on road.
The 2.2 litre diesel is as good as modern diesels get. It is effortless up hills, and equally untroubled if you have to overtake quickly. (And, from inside, it goes about it quietly.)
The only downside is that despite a heap of Australian pre-production testing and a three-mode steering system (comfort, normal and sport), the steering is still a little lifeless.
Not surprisingly, we found that ‘normal’ was the most pleasant.
Refinement: Irrespective of the road conditions, the Highlander is one of the more refined of modern SUVs with a quiet, serene on-road ambience.
Despite its 19-inch wheels and their 235/55 R19 rubber and big exterior mirrors, road and wind noise are very well damped.
Suspension: At the front the Highlander uses a MacPherson-strut arrangement with a 25mm stabiliser bar and dynamic dual-flow dampers. The rear has a fully independent multi-link set-up and a 21 mm solid stabiliser bar.
It’s not rocket science, but it works well. Being high, there’s naturally a bit of body roll and some understeer if motoring quickly. But it’s sensibly damped and, really, just right for family motoring.
Braking: With big discs all round (ventilated up front) and a full suite of electronic braking aids, the Highlander pulls up arrow true every time. Pedal feel is also predictable.
ANCAP rating: (Not yet tested)
Safety features: Standard is vehicle stability management, electronic stability and traction control, ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, hill-start assist and downhill brake control.
There are seven airbags, including a driver’s knee airbag, three-point seatbelts for all seven occupant positions and seatbelt pretensioners for the front seats.
There is also Hyundai’s new three-mode motor-driven power steering and advanced traction cornering-control system.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Five years, unlimited kilometre warranty with roadside assistance
Servicing costs: Service intervals are 15,000km or 12 months. Check with your dealer before purchase on servicing costs and charges.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Kia Sorento Platinum 2.2DT ($51,180): Close-cousin to the Santa Fe, and a new model is just weeks away. The Sorento has previously enjoyed a bit more styling edge, shared the same drivetrain mechanicals but offered better handling performance.
That’s changed with the new model Santa Fe. Buying choice will likely now come down to styling preference. (see Sorento reviews)
Ford Territory Titanium AWD 2.7DT ($63,240): In value-for-money terms it’s no contest against the heavily-featured Santa Fe. But the Ford has a super V6 diesel and benchmark handling, but is beaten by the Highlander for fuel consumption. (see Territory reviews)
Toyota Kluger Grande AWD 3.5i ($65,490): There’s no diesel, and it’s dearer even than the Territory Titanium.
The Kluger is as solid as a vault but can’t match the Highlander’s feature list or on-road dynamics. It’s also thirsty around town. (see Kluger reviews)
(Manufacturer’s list price shown; prices exclude on-road costs and charges.)
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The new Santa Fe Highlander offers a smart interior, a huge inventory of standard features and a robust feeling of quality.
Along with the sharply-styled i40 Tourer, it is among the best-looking of Hyundai’s current range.
Initially the company expects its dealer network to find homes for around 550 Santa Fe units a month – supplies permitting. But based on our first-drive experience, this figure will likely be conservative.
While not inexpensive, the Santa Fe Highlander is simply a quality car loaded with quality features. With seven seats as standard across the Santa Fe range, it offers value by the bucketful for family buyers.
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2.4 litre Petrol
- Active - six-speed manual - $36,990
- Active - six-speed automatic - $38,990
2.2 litre R-Series Diesel
- Active - six-speed manual - $39,990
- Active - six-speed automatic - $41,990
- Elite - six-speed automatic - $45,990
- Highlander - six-speed automatic - $49,990
Note: prices exclude on-road costs.