Vehicle Style: Large SUV
Engine/trans: 145kW/421Nm 2.2 diesel 4cyl | 6sp auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.3 l/100km | tested: 7.7 l/100km
Updated late last year, the Hyundai Santa Fe now gets some extra gear inside, as well as a revised suspension-tune to better handle Australian roads.
Both Elite and Highlander models get a powered tailgate in the upgrade, but it's the range-topping Highlander that comes 'with the lot'. It's packing features like lane-departure warning, ventilated front seats and a self-parking system.
All fine and dandy, but we elected to test the mid-grade Elite diesel instead because its $48,490 pricetag puts on the right side of the $50k barrier.
The Elite’s spec sheet isn’t quite as extensive as the Highlander’s but it’s not sparse either.
Offered only in diesel automatic AWD configuration, the Elite also has a powertrain and drivetrain that’s well-suited to buyer demands in this segment.
After a few days behind the wheel we found plenty to like - and few things to dislike - about Hyundai’s big SUV.
Standard features: Keyless entry and ignition, power tailgate, powered driver’s seat, leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, independent ventilation controls for third row, cruise control, trip computer, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlamps, electronic parking brake.
Infotainment: Sat-nav, 7-inch touchscreen interface, AM/FM/CD stereo, 10 speakers, Bluetooth audio and phone integration, USB audio input, steeering wheel-mounted audio controls
Luggage space: Third row folded: 516 litres, second and third row folded: 1615 litres
The Santa Fe’s high stance and seating position affords a commanding view of the road ahead, and the seating position is a relaxed and comfortable one.
Material quality is not the best we’ve seen in the segment though. Rough textures and hard plastics adorn the lower dash and centre console, and the flip-up covers for the USB and 12-volt outlets feel flimsy.
The layout of buttons for the controls is intuitive enough, but the infotainment unit can be fiddly to use at times - especially when trying to figure out which menu allows control over, say, the map orientation.
The sat-nav graphics also look chintzy and aftermarket, though it does at least display some useful data like speed limits and which street number is to either side of the car.
The second row seats slide fore and aft to give third row occupants a little more legroom (or a little less, if you’re cruel), and offer plenty of space.
Outward vision from the second row is decent despite the Santa Fe’s rising beltline, and B-pillar mounted air-vents and dark-tinted privacy glass help keep passengers cool.
Getting in and out of the third row is difficult especially for adults, and only really practical from the passenger-side door.
The left-third of the second row slides separately from the rest of the bench and features a flip-and-slide-forward action, but it doesn’t move forward far enough and those relegated to the third row have to clamber over the corner of the seat base.
Once you’re back there it’s dark, short on headroom and definitely limited in legroom - even with the sliding second row moved forward.
The knees-up seating position doesn’t help, and neither does the thin padding on the third-row seat squab.
Unless you’re a child or a fairly compact adult, stay out of the Santa Fe’s third row. On the plus side, at least third row occupants get their own air-vents and fan speed control, as well as cupholders and storage pockets.
There’s just a thin sliver of cargo space behind the third row when it’s raised, roughly equivalent in size and shape to a single full-sized golf bag.
Fold the third row down and you get a more usable 516 litre space, and, if you need more, just drop the second row (via nifty boot-mounted release handles) for a more sizable 1615 litre load area.
ON THE ROAD
- 145kW/421Nm 2.2 litre turbo diesel inline four
- Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode, all-wheel drive
- Electric power steering, variable weighting (3 modes)
- Disc brakes
- MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear suspension.
The Santa Fe’s 2.2 litre turbo diesel four cylinder makes 145kW and 421Nm of torque, and easily lugs around the big Hyundai’s 1.8-tonne frame.
Hooked up to a six-speed automatic and an all-wheel drive drivetrain, the Santa Fe also features a fuel-saving eco mode that curiously makes it easier to drive. We’ll explain.
For example at 60km/h the engine is turning over at roughly 2000rpm in Normal mode, whereas hitting the Eco button sees revs fall to around 1300rpm as the gearbox selects a higher gear.
Not hard to see how that saves fuel, but with plenty of low-end torque it doesn’t actually harm performance all that much. Yes, peak torque arrives at 1800rpm, but there’s still plenty of urge available below that.
So much so that we loaded the Santa Fe up with five adults and noticed just a slight decrease in performance due to the extra weight. But not enough to bother switching the drivetrain back into Normal mode.
It really is economical, too. With the majority of our trips done with either plenty of passengers or cargo aboard and on a mix of urban and highway, the Santa Fe drank just 7.7 litres per 100km on average.
That’s just 0.4 l/100km off the official claim, and remarkable considering it was often carrying a substantial amount of extra weight.
Besides being fuel-efficient, the Santa Fe has also got the ride comfort necessary for a family bus.
There’s plenty of tyre sidewall between the Santa Fe Elite’s 18-inch alloys and the road to soak up minor imperfections, and the suspension tune ably irons out all but the choppiest of roads.
It’s got better body control than a Toyota Kluger, for instance, and doesn’t pitch or wallow as much as the Toyota does over a winding road.
Despite suspension updates for 2015 it’s no dynamic star, but in this segment comfort is critical and the Santa Fe delivers. Proof? Looking in the rear view mirror during a country drive and seeing three snoozing passengers.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.63 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD, brake assist, hill-start assist, hill descent control are all standard across the Santa Fe range.
Passengers are protected by three-point seatbelts on every seat, plus dual front, front side, driver’s knee and curtain airbags for the first and second row. Passengers in the third row have no airbag protection.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Competitors in the large SUV segment are many and varied, and include petrol-only contenders like the Toyota Kluger and Nissan Pathfinder, genuine 4x4s like the Jeep Grand Cherokee (the current segment leader) and similar-sized offerings like the Ford Territory, Holden Captiva7 and Kia Sorento.
Compared to direct rivals like the Captiva7, Territory and Sorento, the Santa Fe is relatively expensive. Then again, Hyundai’s warranty, servicing and after-sales care is strong, and definitely worth factoring in.
If shopping among these rivals in this segment, the very able Territory certainly warrants a very close look.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Hyundai’s Santa Fe is a well-rounded product, and one that deserves to sell in greater volume than underwhelming (yet more popular) rivals like the Captiva7 and the petrol-only Kluger.
There are some missteps though, like inadequate third-row access and the aftermarket appearance of the infotainment display. Plastic quality is definitely on the cheaper end of the scale, too.
But as a car to drive and ride in, it’s great. If anything, it’s only major downfall is its $48k pricetag.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- Active - 2.4 petrol AWD - 6spd manual - $38,490
- Active - 2.4 petrol AWD - 6spd auto - $40,990
- Active - 2.2 diesel AWD - 6spd manual - $41,490
- Active - 2.2 diesel AWD - 6spd auto - $43,990
- Elite - 2.2 diesel AWD - 6spd auto - $48,490
- Highlander - 2.2 diesel AWD - 6spd auto - $53,240