2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Active, Elite And Highlander Launch Review Photo:
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2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Australian Launch Review - Gallery Photo:
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Tim O'Brien | Sep, 14 2012 | 33 Comments


Vehicle style: Large SUV wagon

Specifications Reviewed
Engine Power/Torque Fuel Use (l/100km)
2.2 litre CRDi diesel 145kW/436Nm 6.6 (man), 7.3 (auto)
2.4 litre GDi petrol 141kW/242Nm 9.0 (manual, auto)


Smooth, comfortable, spacious and - in diesel trim - effortless on-road. And priced just right for family buyers from middle Australia. That's Hyundai's new Santa Fe.

And, certain to do it no harm in the showroom, this new model, the third generation from the powerhouse Korean manufacturer, is sharply and appealingly styled.

For those who may have found Hyundai's recent styling themes a tad overdone, there's a more subdued and classier edge to the new Santa Fe's lines.

So: drives good, priced good, looks good. If that's not a recipe for success then we need to start looking for a new recipe book.

We gave all three spec-levels a shakedown in the backblocks behind the Hunter Valley - Active, Elite and Highlander, and all autos. The route took in a good mix of rough and rutted gravel, broken secondary roads, and highway.

If there are any gaping shortcomings to the new Santa Fe's capabilities, we didn't find them.

There's a caveat though. The 2.4 litre petrol is a bit underwhelming; it's not expressly poor, but the marginally more expensive 2.2 diesel is far the better car. If you're in the market for an AWD family wagon, this is one you should seriously consider.


The interior

It's difficult to fault this interior. For ergonomics, feature list and style, it's among the better in the segment and packs value that very few can match.

With a soft-touch dash, nicely matched textures, and tight alignment of trim panels, there is a snug feel to the Santa Fe and a sense that there's been no scrimping on quality.

It doesn't have the understated elegance that Audi has made into an artform, but things are where they should be and it's all pretty easy on the eye.

And the metal and faux carbon fibre highlights have a premium look and feel. So too the seats.

The perforated leather and leatherette in Elite and Highlander models looks and feels good, it's soft to touch and supple to sit in. But, equally, there's nothing poverty-pack about the tightly woven and durable feel to the Active's fabric trim.

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We think across all grades the seats lack a little width and underthigh support, but the overwhelming impression with the Santa Fe's interior is one of premium quality.

So, no debits to be found with the new Santa Fe's accommodation, in neither style nor function.

Better still, as far as family buyers are concerned, each in the range comes standard with seven seats.

The third row tucks away easily (and deploys just as easily) leaving a flat boot. But should all three rows be called into play when shuffling the fruits of the loins around, there's ample kneeroom in the second row and reasonable space in the third for younger passengers.

Those in the third row however will feel like they have been banished to a cave - the Santa Fe's rising belt-line leaves no rear window to speak of (a wagon-style glasshouse would be better) - but there's a bit more padding and shape than in most third rows, and headrests.

The feature list is very extensive. Without running through everything, all grades get seven airbags, including side curtain-airbags and driver's knee airbag. There is also the full suite of electronic safety aids like ABS and stability control.

Rear view camera and rear park assist are standard on all, even the entry Active, as is Bluetooth with audio streaming, air-con (with rear air-con), multi-function steering wheel, trip computer, auto headlamps with escort function, touch screen with MP3 and CD player, quality sound system, cruise control and retractable cargo blind.

Step up to the Elite and, among other additions, you can add leather and leatherette seats, 18-inch alloys (over the 17-inch on the Active), climate control aircon, proximity key with start button, electronic park brake (over the foot-activated park brake in the Active), premium audio with speakers everywhere, SUNA live traffic (and three year MapCare plan), rain-sensing wipers, cornering lights, and glove-box cooling.

The Highlander adds panoramic glass sunroof, front and rear seat warmers, driver's integrated memory seat, HID Xenon headlamps with washers, auto-dipping side mirrors and 19-inch alloys and 235/55 R19 tyres.


On The Road

Yes, the Santa Fe's on-road performance is a bit of a surprise. We're used to Kia having the whip-hand on Hyundai when it comes to ride and handling on Australian roads. But there's nothing wrong with the Santa Fe's driving dynamics.

And, as far as the 2.2 diesel is concerned, absolutely nothing wrong with its performance.

The 2.4-litre GDi petrol however (available only in Active models), is a bit crude and outclassed in this category.

Although utilising the latest in direct injection (GDi) technology, and producing a healthy-enough 141kW @ 6300rpm and maximum torque of 242Nm @ 4250rpm, it feels lifeless underfoot and is a bit 'buzzy' at higher revs.

It might work better with the manual transmission, but mating a hard-working 2.4 litres to the six-speed auto makes things a bit fidgety and unsettled.

It's not something you'll notice around town, but when under load in the hills, we found the transmission's tendancy to hunt back and forth for ratios - in trying to keep the engine on the boil - a little tedious.

The potent R-Series 2.2-litre CRDi diesel engine, available to all models, is such a good unit you have to wonder why Hyundai bothered with the petrol.

Featuring a variable geometry turbo, it produces a lusty 421Nm (in manual trim) and 436Nm (in auto), available from 1800rpm-2500rpm.

And, at the top end, there's 145kW on song at 3800rpm. It's a very good engine.

It's got all the grunt of a big old six, spins readily, will belt uphill and down dale effortlessly (absolutely untroubled by the Santa Fe's 1.8 tonne heft), and, on listed fuel consumption, does it with the thirst of smallish hatch.

Better still, it's quieter - much quieter - than the petrol.

From outside the car, there's no mistaking the ticking-rattle of a diesel at idle. But from inside, it's beautifully quiet. Even when working hard, like when pulling out of a corner or overtaking, it's neither harsh nor intrusive.

We averaged fuel use of 9.4 l/100km in the 2.2 diesel auto and 10.7 l/100km at the wheel of the Active petrol auto.

For NVH - noise, vibration and harshness - Hyundai's new Santa Fe is now among the best in the sector; a match for the Territory, and with the kind of cocooned and upmarket feel of far more expensive machinery.

The McPherson strut front end, and multi-link rear, works very well.

All models, Active, Elite and Highlander, drive exactly as a family car should. Thanks to a rigid body (with increased rigidity over the superseded model), the Santa Fe feels robust, provides enough initial compliance to soak up heavier bumps, and is untroubled by juddery corrugations.

We were pretty surprised by the Santa Fe's ability to deal with a rapid punt on some rough and rutted forest gravel roads. Here, the stability control allows just a little oversteer on the loose stuff to be a bit of fun.

Again, the heavier diesel-engined models work better. The Active 2.4 GDi petrol, with less weight in the nose, has a tendancy to run a little wide when cornering at speed; initial turn-in is noticably slower than in the equivalent diesel (but we're talking at the margins).

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Also, I'm not sure I'm entirely sold on the steering feel. It's a bit 'solid' at the straight-ahead, and small corrections feel as if pushing against a detent.

When cornering though, the feel and assistance is pretty good.

Braking too, with ventilated discs up front, and solid rear, is also good.

Lastly, braked towing capacity for the manual Active is 2500kg, and 2000kg for all automatics. The downball capacity is just 100kg however.

Cargo storage with the third row folded is 516 litres; fold the second row seats and 1615 litres opens up - easily enough for a mountain bike (and luggage). Second and third row seats are 'one-touch' flat folding.


Launch Drive Verdict

Hyundai's new Santa Fe is a very satisfying drive and - absolutely certainly - very good family buying.

It's well-designed, and equally well executed. Whichever model you choose - Active, the mid-spec Elite, or heavily-featured Highlander - there is a snug quality feel and a sense of a vehicle that has been built to last.

We think that of three very well-featured models, the mid-spec Elite is the one to choose. For trim and features, it was hard to pick from the Highlander at launch; that was telling us something.

Each in the new Santa Fe range packs a lot of car, and quality, behind the purchase price.

But perhaps the new Santa Fe is more a tale of two engines. The diesel blitzes the petrol on almost every score. And, though dearer, it's certainly worth the extra $3k stretch (and you will be rewarded when it's time to trade-in).

We think it will save you money over the longer term of ownership, and you'll certainly enjoy it more at the wheel.



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.

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