2010 Hyundai Santa Fe First Drive Review Photo:
Mike Stevens | Nov, 03 2009 | 15 Comments

2010 Hyundai Santa Fe First Drive Review

ALTHOUGH IT WON'T be in showrooms until December, Hyundai Australia has decided to jump the gun and launch its updated Santa Fe a month ahead of dealership deliveries.

Timed to coincide with the new Santa Fe’s involvement in the 2010 Global Green Challenge, Hyundai used the launch to highlight the car’s new diesel powertrain, new transmissions and improved fuel economy.

The Santa Fe competing in the Green Challenge won the Medium SUV category – a good omen for Hyundai perhaps – but does the refreshed soft-roader kick goals in areas other than long-distance economy runs?


Cosmetically, the new Santa Fe is largely unchanged over the old. The grille, bumpers, sideskirts and wheels are different, but sheetmetal is the same.

Although mild, the external update is an improvement. The horizontally-slatted front grille borrows a few cues from the i30, and the more pronounced cheeks of the front bumper house new fog-light surrounds.

The lower air-dam, sideskirts and underside of the rear bumper continue to be finished in matte black plastic, but subtle tweaks in shaping modernise the lines.

Both front and rear light clusters have had the jewellery refreshed, although the basic shape is unchanged. The rear lamps, with contrasting white-on-red lenses, are nicely 'eye-grabbing'.

The twin tailpipes are new too, now featuring a trapezoidal chrome tip instead of the old oval one.


As with the exterior, the 2010 Santa Fe’s interior is also familiar but lightly refreshed.

The same basic layout remains, except clothed in new trim and with a few extra features. A faux carbon-fibre trim-strip runs across the dashboard and door cards, and is joined by aluminium-look accents and subtle touches of chrome.

The centre-stack and steering wheel are identical to the outgoing Santa Fe, but the higher-specification Elite and Highlander models now get a high-contrast “supervision” instrument cluster and keyless starter button.

The Highlander also gets leather upholstery and a reversing camera as standard, while all models benefit from rear-parking sensors.


A USB input for iPods and other music players is standard, and the Highlander boasts a six-CD stacker. Steering wheel-mounted audio controls feature on all variants, and are joined by cruise control buttons on the opposite side of the wheel.

All models score a wide-angle rear-seat monitoring mirror, which is housed in the roof console next to the flip-down sunglasses holder. A nifty gadget, and one that will no doubt be appreciated by parents of rowdy children.

All Santa Fe models get two third-row seats as standard. Those third-row passengers will like the fan controls that are fitted to the rear cabin of Elite and Highlander models. The Elite and Highlander are also equipped with dual-zone climate control.

Importantly, safety has been given a big boost for 2010. The updated Santa Fe range now wears a full 5-Star rating from ANCAP, scoring 33.34 points out of a possible 37 for occupant protection.


Front, side and full-length curtain airbags are standard on all models, as is electronic stability control, traction control and ABS with EBD and brake assist.

A rollover sensor is also part of the 2010 Santa Fe’s safety suite, firing the curtain airbags and front belt pretensioners should the car start to topple over.

But despite these improvements in appearance, specification and safety, the biggest changes are under the Santa Fe’s bonnet. The mechanical spec for the 2010 Santa Fe has come in for a serious upgrade over the model it replaces.

Gone is the old 2.2 litre CRDi diesel and V6 petrol engine, both replaced with the same R-series 2.2 litre diesel that powers the Santa Fe’s corporate cousin, the 2010 Kia Sorento.


Developed at a cost of roughly AU$227 million, the 2.2 litre R engine is a twin cam common-rail diesel that utilises a variable-geometry turbocharger to increase output.

Touted by Hyundai as the smallest, lightest and most powerful turbodiesel in its segment, its numbers certainly impress.

A healthy 145kW of power is generated at 3800rpm and torque peaks at 436Nm for auto-equipped models and 421Nm for manuals. Peak torque is produced between 1800 and 2500rpm, boosting low-down response.

In comparison, those numbers are a 27 percent increase over the old 2.2 diesel’s output.

Fuel consumption has improved by a claimed seven percent, bringing combined fuel economy to just 6.7 litres per 100km for the six-speed manual. The auto requires 7.5 l/100km over the same cycle.


It’s not just the engine that has undergone some significant changes: there’s new metal in the gearbox department too.

The six-speed automatic is an all-new design, offering a better spread of ratios, lighter weight, more compact dimensions and better mechanical efficiency than the current five-speed auto.

It uses 62 fewer parts than the outgoing auto and is a completely sealed unit – improving reliability and lowering maintenance demands.

The manual is new to the Santa Fe as well. A six-speeder, the manual transmission boasts another ratio over the old five-speed manual, enabling more efficient high-speed cruising and better acceleration through the gears.


It’s also a more sophisticated unit. Rather than linking the shifter mechanism with the gearbox via a cable, the new six-speed manual actuates its gear selectors via solenoids mounted on the gearbox casing. The result is more precise shifts, better shifting feel and less wear and tear on the gearbox.

Thanks to new internals, the new manual is also more compact. According to a Hyundai representative, its internal layout also makes it ideal as the basis for a future twin-clutch gearbox… so watch this space.

The suspension is revised for 2010 featuring new spring-rates and damper valving. According to Hyundai, the changes don’t make the Santa Fe stiffer or softer, but more progressive in how the suspension responds to the road.

Handling is also enhanced by a quicker steering rack, which is geared for three turns lock-to-lock, rather than the current model’s 3.2 turns.


So what is the sum of all these changes? We drove the base model Santa Fe SLX manual and the top-spec Santa Fe Highlander auto around Adelaide’s urban roads and hilly surrounds to find out.

Right from 'go', the Santa Fe feels perkier and more lively.

With peak torque arriving at 1800rpm, acceleration is effortless and smooth. Our first chariot was the base SLX manual; the pairing of the R-series diesel with the six-speed manual gearbox makes a very appealing combo.

Clutch take-up is a little abrupt, but easy to get accustomed to. The shifter feels great, and slots into each gate smoothly. Ratio spacing is also well thought-out, and it’s a cinch to exploit all that torque and leave the gearbox in a higher gear than normal.

Manual-equipped cars come with a gear change advisory display in the instrument cluster. Dubbed the “Eco coach”, it alerts the driver to change up or down in order to improve fuel economy.


The R engine is a smooth and (relatively) quiet unit. Hyundai has fitted the new motor with twin balancer shafts to help quell vibration, and it works a treat. There’s hardly any pulsing or rocking coming from the engine bay; the R engine exhibits the smoothness of a petrol engine.

There’s still some of that characteristic diesel clatter at idle and under acceleration, but it’s well muffled and the average Joe isn’t likely to be bothered by it. Road noise is a little high when traversing coarse asphalt, but that’s more a byproduct of the Santa Fe’s big wagon body

Over Adelaide’s twisting mountain roads, the Santa Fe is surprisingly sprightly. Acceleration is brisk (for a mid-sized SUV), and the quicker rack makes it a sharper steer.

The suspension improvements are also easy to appreciate. The Santa Fe is soft – almost too soft – over bumpy suburban tarmac, but hit some undulating roads and the damping rates firm up, improving handling.

There’s still a fair amount of body roll, but it’s not as boat-like as some others in its segment.


The Highlander auto exhibited the same dynamics as the base auto, but the extra weight of the range-topper could definitely be felt. Still, the six-speed auto rarely put a foot wrong when selecting a cog, and overall performance was good.

As with most tiptronic autos, there’s a small delay when changing gears manually using the shifter’s plus/minus plane, but there’s little reason to use it. The shift mapping is intelligent enough to determine when power or frugality is needed, and it does a good job of choosing the right gear for the occasion.

So, as a facelift, the 2010 Santa Fe is externally mild, but worlds apart from its predecessor mechanically.

With its R-engined Santa Fe line-up, Hyundai has improved the handling, performance and mechanical sophistication of its well-regarded SUV. Although there’s no longer a petrol engine in the line-up, you won’t miss it: the diesel is a great all-round performer and well-matched to the Santa Fe.


We didn’t have much time to assess the Santa Fe’s fuel economy nor to fully explore its spacious cabin during the launch event, but we’ll have a full review up on TMR soon.

The 2010 Santa Fe officially goes on sale on December 1 2009, with retail pricing as follows:

2010 Santa Fe range list prices:

  • New Santa Fe 7 seat SLX R-2.2 turbo Diesel 6-speed manual $37,990
  • New Santa Fe 7 seat SLX R-2.2 turbo Diesel 6-speed auto $39,990
  • New Santa Fe 7 seat Elite R-2.2 turbo Diesel 6-speed auto $43,990
  • New Santa Fe 7 seat Highlander 2.2 R turbo Diesel 6-speed auto $48,490

All prices exclude on-road costs

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