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| May, 04 2010 | 3 Comments

Model reviewed

2010 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander

The 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe is the South Korean company's entrant in the booming mid-size SUV market. With seven seats and a leg-up on its competitors in terms of value, it has 'the goods' to take on the more established offerings from Toyota, Ford and Holden.

The range topping Highlander offers a range of features to sweeten the deal, but when it costs over $10,000 more than the base Santa Fe, is it really worth shelling out the extra?


What's new?

The current shape of the Santa Fe has been with us for over a year now. Completely different to its predecessor; it is bigger, better balanced, and comes with vastly improved handling and styling.

Under the bonnet is also a different story with Hyundai's potent R-Series 2.2 litre diesel engine - offering considerably improved fuel consumption and buckets of pulling power.

The Santa Fe comes in three models, SLX, Elite and Highlander. The Highlander is the premium package, and very well-configured.


What's the appeal?

A safe, seven-seat crossover SUV packed with plenty of features, the Santa Fe undercuts the competition on value for money and, arguably, for refinement and style. It also comes with one of the best diesel engines in the segment.

Interestingly, one of its toughest competitors is its near cousin from Kia, the very able Sorrento.


What features does it have?

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All Hyundai Sante Fe models come standard with three rows of seating, cruise control, iPod/USB connectivity, and remote audio controls on the steering wheel.

The range-topping Highlander also comes with auto headlights, climate control, a reverse-parking camera, leather seating, an electrically-adjustable front-passenger seat, an MP3-compatible six-stack CD audio system, 18-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers, a sunroof and an electro-chromatic mirror.

These features don't come cheap though - the Highlander variant costs almost $5,000 more than the next model in the range, while the basic Santa Fe SLX is more than $10,000 less than the Highlander.


What's under the bonnet?

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The Santa Fe Highlander is powered by Hyundai’s new 2.2-litre R-Series turbo-diesel engine, which drives all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission (there is no manual available for the Highlander variant).

The engine produces 145kW of power and 436Nm of torque: an impressive amount of twisting power that is immediately apparent when you need extra grunt for towing or overtaking.


How does it drive?

For a mid-size SUV, the Santa Fe Highlander's drive is surprisingly car-like. On a winding road it feels like any other family wagon, rather than an SUV, and the feedback from the steering wheel is as good as any of its competitors.

Most importantly, the drive is comfortable for both driver and passengers. As a seven-seater SUV, it's likely the Santa Fe will - more often than not - have at least a few passengers to please, and the comfortable seats and well-tuned suspension make for pleasant progress.

The new 2.2 litre diesel engine is also a star performer. Although it is a diesel, it doesn't have the familiar truck-like rattling at low revs nor the intrusive noise levels that have plagued (and continue to plague) some diesel offerings. Pulling power is great for overtaking, as well as towing, and the fuel consumption figures make the Santa Fe Highlander easy on your wallet in the long run.

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The six-speed automatic transmission is also adept; it is reasonably decisive when cornering in putting the right gear underfoot, doesn't 'hunt' unnecessarily on inclines and is not easily flustered in varying driving conditions.

Our only gripe with the Santa Fe was that if you pack on too much speed into a corner, understeer - or running a little wide - is fairly evident. But, in normal driving, the all-wheel-drive system performed very well both on-road and off-road.

That said, although the Santa Fe has quite reasonable ground clearance suitable for lighter off-tarmac forays, not having a genuine low-range transfer case means it is not suitable for steep fire-trails and real off-road work (you will need a Challenger or Prado for that).

Around town, with light steering at low speeds, good all-round vision and car-like manners, the Highlander has no trouble coping with tight supermarket car-parks or the morning 'school run'. With good urban fuel consumption (thanks to that diesel), it makes a lot of sense as versatile family transport.


Interior quality and feel

The 2010 Santa Fe Highlander comes standard with leather. This gives a quite luxurious feel to what is essentially a typical SUV interior. Hyundai's designers have been clever in the way they have combined materials - there is not too much of the inevitable hard plastic around - and the 'feel' inside is quite good.

The glovebox and other storage compartments all closed properly and with the right 'clunk', and there is a general feeling of well-built solidity; something that we have now come to expect from Hyundai.


What did our passengers think?

As the range-topper, the Santa Fe highlander comes with a bunch of goodies to please those up-front and in the backseat. Passengers will be impressed by the soft leather interior and the legroom in the rear. Additionally, the iPod/USB connectivity allows you to switch music sources quickly to keep everyone happy.

Unfortunately, if you were keen on a DVD entertainment system (a $1000 option in lesser models), Hyundai isn't able to fit it to the range-topping Highlander as the sunroof is in the way, a possible sore point for easily-bored passengers.


Luggage space

With all seven seats in place, luggage space is seriously limited in the Santa Fe Highlander. With less people, luggage space improves. Lay the third row of seats down and there is 969 litres available. With just the front seats in place, you'll have over 2200 litres of storage space.

Additionally, there are numerous smaller storage areas scattered throughout the cabin for small items.


How safe is it?

The Santa Fe Highlander achieves ANCAP's highest safety rating of 5-Stars. It features ESP, traction control, ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, active front head restraints which also adjust four ways, six airbags and a full-size alloy spare wheel as standard.


Fuel Consumption and Green Rating

Hyundai claims the diesel-powered Santa Fe Highlander with an automatic transmission achieves 8.1 litres/100km - a figure that matches the hybrid Lexus RX400h SUV, making it one of the most economical SUVs available.

In reality, our experience saw an average of around 9.5 litres/100km in a mix of both highway and city driving. On the highway, the revs tend to stay low and average fuel consumption can dip to below 8.0 litres/100km, but city driving of course has the opposite effect.

In terms of CO2 emissions, the Santa Fe Highlander emits 197g/km, a figure that betters similar petrol-powered competitors such as the Toyota Kluger, and is impressive for a vehicle of the Santa Fe's size.


How does it compare?

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The mid-size SUV market has always been competitive, but for some time now Toyota has dominated the sales rankings.

The Santa Fe Highlander however, does give the Japanese something to worry about. Engine performance and reliability is on par with Japanese offerings such as the Toyota Kluger, and both cars offer similar features and quality in their respective price ranges.

Dollar for dollar, the capable Hyundai arguably represents better value for money although it loses on resale value.

While the heavy-duty 4WD Toyota Prado dominates the segment, the strong-selling Holden Captiva (which edges out the Kluger in sales) is perhaps the more natural competitor. Of the two, we would choose the Santa Fe for its better diesel, refinement and accommodation.

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There is also the Kia Sorento, another Korean offering that competes directly with the Santa Fe.

The Sorento is even cheaper than the Santa Fe and features the same diesel engine (Kia and Hyundai - sister companies - developed the engine together).

For its fresher styling and similar capability, we would choose the Sorento ahead of the Santa Fe.

Ultimately, the choice will come down to just how luxurious you want your car to be. With the Toyota Kluger, there is the opportunity to option it to over $70,000 with a range of luxury appointments, while the Santa Fe keeps things simpler.


Is it expensive to maintain?

Maintenance costs should be minimal - Hyundai's new engines are generally reliable, and they offer one free service early after you buy the car to make sure everything is running correctly. After this, service intervals are once a year or every 15,000km.



Hyundai has one of the best vehicle warranties on the market - a five year, unlimited kilometre warranty for private vehicles. Additionally, Santa Fe buyers get a year of roadside assistance for free.


Colour combinations

Exterior colours include White Vanilla, Hyper Metallic, Bronze, Steel Blue, Phantom Black and Carbon Grey. Interior trim is limited to just Cocoa Black Leather in the Highlander.


How much?

The lower-spec Hyundai Santa Fe retails for $37,990 (plus on-road costs). The subject of this review, the range-topping Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander, is priced from $48,490 (plus on-road costs).


Our verdict

It is hard to find fault with any Hyundai these days. They are well priced, well built, quality vehicles and their sales performance in Australia is testament to this.

The Santa Fe has these qualities in spades, and adds to them with an up-to-the-minute, powerful and efficient diesel drive-train that, quite simply, betters the competition.

Except, of course, the Kia Sorento.

In fact when it comes to diesel-powered SUVs in this price range, the Sorento is the only fly in the Santa Fe's ointment.

The Santa Fe won't disappoint, but the Sorento may surprise you more.

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