2013 HYUNDAI SANTA FE REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Large SUV
Price: $38,990 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy listed: 9.0 l/100km | tested: 11.2 l/100km
Hyundai’s Santa Fe has reached its third iteration and, as with the previous incarnation, has picked up some big improvements.
From its class-leading size and bulging feature-list, to the cohesive, handsome design, the Santa Fe has “winner” written all over it.
It’s still not perfect, of course, but the niggles have receded to just the most minor of irritations rather than glaring deficiencies.
Quality: The Santa Fe is very, very well put together. With this new model, Hyundai not only seems to have closed the gap to companies like Honda, but opened up a new one - by pulling in front.
The quality of the materials in the light and airy cabin is above its Japanese competitors, and fit and finish is first class.
We like the clever mix of finishes and textures (on the dash and elsewhere) and you have to go prodding to find a plastic surface that is hard or unpleasant.
Not everything is quite thought-through, however - the middle row doesn’t fold flat and the release handles for all the seats can be a bit of a struggle.
Comfort: The front seats are superbly comfortable, even in this bottom-of-the-range Active. The range of adjustments - including height and electric lumbar adjustment for the driver - mean no trouble finding the right driving position.
At the wheel, there is a sense of sitting in the car rather than on it, and there is the right shaping for effortless longer trips.
The outboard seats in the second row are similarly well-shaped, but the middle-seat’s backrest elicited complaints from all ages.
The very back row of folding jump seats is never going to be a popular choice, but kids up to 12 will fit happily-enough and even get air-conditioning vents and cupholders.
Taller kids won’t be as happy there as their knees will be in their faces (causing numb bums) and the glass of the rear hatch is uncomfortably close.
Equipment: This Active trim level puts almost every other large SUV on notice. It kicks off the range with all-wheel drive and the third row of seats as standard.
Also included is a rear-facing camera with front and rear parking sensors, air-conditioning for all three rows, comprehensive stereo with USB or Bluetooth streaming and single CD. The 4.3-inch screen is on the small side, but is plenty for the stereo but might cause some squinting when operating as a camera.
There are three 12V power adapters, two in the front and one in the back.
The projector beam headlights have an auto dusk sensing feature and also have LED positioning lights. Hill-start assist is also standard, in combination with downhill brake control for the slippery stuff and cruise control for the flat straight stuff.
Storage: The Santa Fe is full of cubby holes and storage bins. Each door has pockets with water bottle recesses, the centre console has two large bins, one covered and a small change or phone holder. There’s space under the stereo for half a loaf of bread.
There’s also small bin in the centre of the dash with a pop-up lid and a sunglasses holder on the ceiling completes the odds-and-ends storage.
Cargo volume is 516 litres with the third row folded and 1615 litres with the middle row stowed.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Given its substantial size and weight, the 2.4litre 141kW/242Nm direct-injected petrol 'four' has a big job hauling the 1727kg monster around.
It certainly couldn’t be accused of being fast, but it does an adequate job. Even with five adults on board it can be hustled along when necessary for overtaking or merging into swift-flowing traffic.
All round, the Sante Fe is an easy car to drive. Some won't like the diving bonnet though - unless you sit really high, you’ve no idea where the bonnet ends. The steering also has nothing to say to you about the road surface and feels remote.
That said, on the open road it’s a relaxed cruiser although strong crosswinds can unsettle it.
Around town, the Econ button takes the edge off the throttle and is mapped for early upshifts. This can make it a bit 'doughy' underfoot unless crawling along in traffic, so it’s best left to slow situations.
Off-road, the Santa Fe is only suitable for light duties; the low leading edge of the front bumper will limit any ambitions on a boulder-strewn track. Downhill brake control however means you can leave the slippery downhill work to the computers and just steer.
Refinement: One of the big surprises of the GDI petrol is just how quiet it is in normal driving - you can hardly hear it.
Work it really hard however and it can sound thrashy and a little coarse (you've got to be stretching it out), but vibration, wind and tyre noise is well-suppressed all the way to the legal limit.
The six-speed transmission is generally smooth but will downshift abruptly in response to a floored throttle, which is the only time the engine will make its presence felt.
Suspension: The chassis is reasonably agile but there’s a bit of slop in the suspension, which can cause an anxious moment if you have to swerve to avoid something. It’s nothing serious, but the body can take a little while to 'catch up' with the chassis.
The ride is soft and deals with almost everything you can throw at it. The steering’s three modes however are completely artificial and merely adjust the weight through the wheel.
Braking: The brakes are up to the job of washing off speed, but aren’t spectacular. The raft of electronic assists will keep things from getting scary in the wet or on loose surfaces.
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 Si 2WD 3.5 ($37,490) - The base Sorento misses out on all-wheel drive but picks up a 204kW/335Nm V6 engine. Like its Santa Fe sister, it is a fine-looking, well equipped car with plenty of space.
The details between the Hyundai and Kia will be the decider. (see Sorento reviews)
Ford Territory TX ($39,990) - The Territory’s in-line six trumps the Hyundai for power with the venerable 4.0 litre straight six petrol. It will use more fuel, though, and third row of seating is an optional extra.
The interior is now well beaten by the fresher Hyundai’s. (see Territory reviews)
Toyota Kluger ($39,990) The Kluger KX-R starts at $39,990, goes without the third row of seats, all-wheel drive and yet is substantially heavier than the Santa Fe.
It does have the Toyota badge however and long-standing reputation for quality and dependability. And a stingy equipment list. (see Kluger reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Hyundai Santa Fe costs the same as Japanese contenders almost a full size smaller. Match it up to the segment leading Kluger and Territory and the Korean 'family wagon' is not only comparable in quality and capability, but arguably the better buy.
While hardly the last word in SUVs, the new Santa Fe has planted itself at the front of the pack by virtue of doing most things well. (And its failings are relatively minor.)
If you're in the market for a family wagon with seven-seats and SUV versatility, you can do worse than Hyundai's robust Santa Fe.
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.