2013 HYUNDAI SANTA FE REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Seven-seat SUV
Price: $45,990 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.3L/100km | tested: 12.5L/100km
Santa Fe, in Spanish, means “holy faith”.
Faith in Hyundai’s ability to build a decent SUV was in our minds when we decided to saddle up the Santa Fe for a soft beach-sand excursion.
But the Santa Fe isn’t really marketed to beachgoers. Sure, it’s for active types - those with a big family who want to go places - but isn't it really just a wagon with a bit of AWD versatility? After all, it’s a seven-seat SUV with all-wheel-drive, a raised ride height and plenty of space.
But here at TMR, we like to push things. And if Hyundai is going to build an all-wheel-drive wagon, we want to find out how well "all wheels drive it".
Quality: The Santa Fe is without a doubt the best-built Hyundai of the moment.
There’s nothing in the way of squeaks or rattles and the interior materials really appeal. Throughout, there's a good blend of textures and finishes across the car (although we found a mismatch in the leather in the front seats).
Comfort: Plenty of space means passengers in the first two rows will be happy on a long trips out to the local fishing spot. The third row is quite claustrophobic, but as a five-seater and occasional seven, the Santa Fe works well.
The leather seats are comfortable; electric adjustment for the driver, and equally comfortable for the passenger (who does without the electrics, but doesn’t seem to suffer) with excellent lower back support.
Equipment: On test was the Elite model. It's stocked with all the mod-cons you’d want.
Beautiful, clear satnav, dual-zone climate control, second-row vents with third row air-con, self-dimming rear view mirror, reversing camera and parking sensors, electric park brake with auto hold, phone and media Bluetooth, rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights, cruise control and rear passenger privacy blinds – phew. It really is a well-kitted vehicle.
Storage: There’s plenty of storage in here. Apart from the glovebox, there’s a space under the dash, huge door pockets shaped for a water bottle, under-armrest storage and heaps of cupholders.
The boot is a helpful 516 litres with the third row folded with 1615 litres available when the second row is flipped forward.
ON AND OFF THE ROAD
With ground clearance at 185mm, and no low range, rock-climbing was out of the question. Most owners, afterall, would rarely venture past a dirt trail.
But sand, that's loosely at the edge of the Santa Fe's remit. So, how does it go when faced with loose beach sand?
That's what we wanted to find out. It would be a challenge of the all-wheel-drive system. As a front-driver (essentially), with power sent rearward when required, the Santa Fe would need to be quick in ascertaining slip before the front wheels tried to dig their way to the earth’s core.
The AWD system of the last-gen Santa Fe was mediocre in this environment, and, even with the AWD lock engaged, it would overheat and revert back to FWD.
Heading to our "beach test", on the highway out of town the Santa Fe shone. Excellent handling for its size and shape, and a firm but comfortable ride.
Then, after turning off the highway onto a corrugated track to the coast, it was time to “air down”.
Tyre pressures for the test were set at 15psi. Any lower and a tyre could roll off the rim. Any higher and there was a risk of getting stuck.
After an hour of negotiating rocks, bushes and tracks, we hit the dunes.
Driveability: There are two heroes in this car. One is the engine. The other is the all-wheel-drive system.
The 2.2-litre turbodiesel belies its size with reall robust outputs. With 145kW and 421Nm on tap, it’s super-flexible and doesn’t bog down when faced with the continuous resistance of sand.
Instead, it clicks unfussed from gear-to-gear through the six-speed auto.
In normal conditions, power is fed to the front wheels. But, when extra grip is needed, it then gets fed to the rear to share the load.
If faced with tough going, you can lock it in AWD.
This is what we did to ensure the rear wheels played their part in the sand. (And despite hammering the Santa Fe for hours on end, not once did the system overheat or cut out.)
Hyundai’s Flex Steer system, however, is next to useless - there are three modes available but only one that works. In Comfort or Normal mode, it’s too slack and doesn’t feel connected to the wheels at all.
In Sport mode there’s enough weight to satisfy, but this really should be the default setting for all situations.
To drive in these conditions, traction control and stability control have to be turned off (a two-step process) - you don't want the wheels to clamp during wheelspin.
If you forget, any forward progress you make will be reduced to naught as the wheel brakes and buries you.
We found that the best way to drive the Santa Fe in these conditions was to ease onto the throttle off the line and then build up speed and keep it up, especially in the really boggy sections.
Its performance was a real surprise. When climbing the steeper sections, it became just a matter of taking a decent run-up, keeping the foot buried and letting the momentum carry us over the crest (without getting stranded on the sills).
For a light duty off-roader, the Santa Fe tackled the rough stuff a lot better than we expected. And, rewarding our faith, not once did it bury us.
Refinement: A strength of the Santa Fe is its refinement. So quiet is it that one of our off-roading companions asked, “Is this the diesel?” Yes, it was running at the time.
Sure, you can hear the revs as you’re gunning it, but it’s never boomy or grating.
Suspension: Using MacPherson strut fronts and multi-link rear, the Santa Fe is conventional - but with on-road handling that is better than most.
Off the road it’s perhaps firmer than necessary. It will find the bump stops quicker than a 'proper four-wheel-drive' when traversing ruts.
Braking: The hill-descent control works very well, though in the dunes a human foot is just as capable. Pedal feel is very good and braking is supplied by vented fronts and solid rear discs.
ANCAP rating: 5 Stars
Safety features: Seven airbags - driver & front passenger, front side airbags, side curtain airbags, and driver’s knee; ABS with brake force distribution and brake assist, stability management with stability control and traction control.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: 5 years/unlimited km.
Service costs: Hyundai’s capped price servicing limits the costs of each routine service. The first three services at 15,000km/12 month intervals are priced at $319 each for a total of $957.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Kia Sorento SLi diesel ($43,990) – With the same AWD system and engine as the Santa Fe, the Sorento is also a good buy. They’re twins but look different, so it comes down to personal preference (see Sorento reviews)
Ford Territory TX ($43,240) – No match for the Santa Fe’s off-road ability, the Territory is however more comfortable on the road. Its 2.7 litre diesel, though refined, is also pretty slow. (see Territory reviews)
Holden Captiva 7 LX ($43,490) The Captiva is left behind in all departments except space. The interior is cheap, the ride misjudged and the diesel is slower. Off-road it lacks the grunt that can pull the Santa Fe through (see Captiva reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Stuck? Not once. And neither did we have a nervous moment.
It was simple, really. But the confounded looks others gave us as we sailed past in the Santa Fe were proof that it was unexpected.
The final word should go to the guy who walked up to us after we stopped for a short break.
“That was just unbelievable. My brother just bought one of these and I told him not to bring it because he’d get stuck. Next time he can bring it – and he can pull me out."
On the very same section of beach a Patrol was struggling (with off-road tyres), a LandCruiser was only inching forward, a Rodeo had to be snatched out and a Wrangler was completely buried. That alone underlined our belief Hyundai has something a little special in the Santa Fe.
This is one really versatile and capable car. We wouldn't suggest you'd do what we did to it every day... but you can do it.
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.