The skinny: Hyundai’s launch of its ‘N’ sub-brand (as seen on its World Rally Championship i20s) heralds the big, capable Korean’s rising interest in the sports-performance end of the market.
It’s a logical next step, and, alongside the Genesis luxury nameplate, puts another piece in place for the world’s fourth-biggest car company.
Hyundai Australia has a new Santa Fe coming, but it’s keeping the interest alive with the smarter, sharper, sportier-looking Santa Fe SR.
A full-size SUV with some good looking and nicely engineered enhancements is a smart move by Hyundai’s ‘downunder’ team – it doesn’t go any faster, but it handles quite a bit better.
Vehicle Style: Large SUV
Price: $59,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 145kW/436Nm 2.2 litre 4cyl turbo-diesel | 6sp auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.2 l/100km | tested: 8.3 l/100km
There’s a lot to like about the current Hyundai Santa Fe. The range kicks-off at $38,490 for the ‘Active’ model 2.4-litre petrol and the diesel line-up stretches from $41,490 to $59,990 for the SR tested here.
The SR, for all that extra dosh, comes with a bunch of wheel, tyre, brake and suspension changes courtesy of Hyundai’s Australian engineering team.
Starting point was the Santa Fe Sport model (sold in Korea) but fitted locally are springs from H&R Performance - six percent stiffer up front, 11.0 percent stiffer at the rear. (They’re painted red should you want to lob your bonce down below for a look.)
Clearly visible are the tell-tale red Brembo brake calipers which bite into new discs (340mmx28mm at the front and 302mmx22mm at the rear).
Hyundai reckons those Brembo brakes (which wouldn’t be cheap by the way) improve the SR’s stopping performance by eight percent compared to a regular Santa Fe.
We’ll take their word on the stat and just add that not even repeated floggings on some switchback roads saw any sign of a ‘long’ pedal (impressive for a full-size 2.0-tonne SUV).
Wheels are 19x8 OZ Racing alloys in black running 235/55 R19 Michelin Latitude Tour tyres.
While dimensionally the OZs are the same size as the alloys fitted to the Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander, the offset is different to cater for the Brembo brakes.
Styling changes are very well done – a front spoiler, side skirts and rear diffuser.
- Leather upholstery (seven seats)
- Cruise control
- Dual-zone climate control (individual controls for second and third rows)
- Heated/ventilated front seats and heated second row seats
- Bluetooth, satellite navigation, 10-speaker audio
- Twin-panel panoramic glass roof
Using the top-of-the-range Highlander model as its ‘donor’ car, the seven-seat Hyundai Santa Fe SR comes with plenty of specification inside.
It starts with nice leather seats (that are comfortable but a little lacking in sculpturing/support) that also feature heating and ventilation for front seat passengers, and – here’s a standout at this price – heating for second row occupants.
For the driver, tilt/telescopic adjustment for the leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel and 12-way electronic adjustment for the drivers’ seat combine to get the job done.
There are two large instrument clusters arranged in an acute V-shape under a curved binnacle separated by a colour multi-function screen. In the centre stack is a 7.0-inch touchscreen for the satellite navigation and the 10-speaker audio system.
A carbon-fibre look trim-panel above the glovebox adds a sporty touch while above, adding to the premium feel, is a twin-panel panoramic glass roof.
Both second and third seating rows have their own climate-control vents, and, while legroom for the two third row seats is a bit tight, there’s plenty of room for three in the second.
(The third row is fine for smaller passengers, but will test the friendship with adults and long-shanked teens.)
Hyundai Santa Fe SR delivers a handy 1615 litres of cargo space with the seats folded or 516 litres when in-place.
ON THE ROAD
- 145kW/436Nm 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
- Six-speed torque converter automatic transmission with sequential manual mode
- MacPherson strut front/independent rear suspension
- Brembo disc brakes
- Electric power steering
The SR edition is only available with the R2.2 CRDi four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine. But it is no slouch; by delivering its peak torque of 436Nm from as low as 1800rpm it provides great response in city driving.
And while it can be a bit grumbly at low speeds and on cold start-up, a pleasing quietness descends when cruising on the freeway.
The 2.2-litre turbo-diesel partners well with Hyundai’s own six-speed automatic transmission (no Aisin or Getrag here) but with no paddle shifters, manual changes require a hand to the gear-lever.
Unless you’re spending really big bucks, most of these larger family-style SUVs drive like ‘family cars’, that is, fast enough - few are sports machines.
That said, when a burst of speed is called for, you’ll be satisfied with the way the Santa Fe SR musters its resources.
There is ample there for overtaking, even with a bit of a load up.
Naturally, our focus during our week with the Hyundai Santa Fe SR was the undercarriage. And, not surprisingly, the report card is all good (Hyundai and sister company Kia have for some time implemented unique local suspension calibrations for Australian conditions).
Those firmer springs have noticeably reduced bodyroll, and, in concert with the excellent Michelin rubber, the SR has a crispness on turn-in and sporty mid-turn balance which surprised us for its feel and alertness.
What we particularly like – given the Santa Fe SR’s family target market – is that Hyundai has found this on-road agility without untoward harshness in either rebound or compression.
Certainly nothing wrong with the way the Santa Fe SR drives.
ANCAP rating: 5-stars - this model scored 35.63 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: As you would expect from that 5-Star ANCAP score, the Hyundai Santa Fe SR hasn’t been left behind in the safety equipment stakes: ESC, TCS, ABS, EBD, hill start assist and hill descent control are standard.
And there are seven airbags including curtain airbags for the first and second seating rows.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
In this price-range, there are quite a few top-end SUVs to choose from, but larger ‘sports’ models are thinner on the ground.
Mazda CX-9 GT - $61,680: Not so much a sporty version as a mild upgrade, the CX-9 features a somewhat thirsty V6 petrol engine under the bonnet against the Santa Fe’s stout, abstemious diesel. But very well-finished and a comfortable, smart SUV.
Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 – $82,000: A lot more money and a lot more performance. One of the best V8 ‘sounds’ out there, and a brooding, brute of a car with the thirst to match.
Toyota Kluger Grande - $67,990: Like all in this group, a lighter-duty SUV. The Kluger is good buying and is comfortable, solid family transport, but the Santa Fe’s diesel has the Kluger’s V6 petrol well-beaten for economy.
Prices shown are Manufacturer’s List Price; not including on road costs and charges.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
This is Hyundai Australia’s first shot at this sort of post-factory product enhancement and, by most measures, the enhanced SR version is an improved Santa Fe.
But, while it carries a lot of expensive gear (Brembo brakes and those smart black alloys don’t come cheap), it is “getting up there” at $60k plus.
While the appreciable improvements in driving dynamics add to the appeal, it would have been terrific if Hyundai had also given the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel a corresponding pep-up. It’s not quite the ‘SR’ that the badge might suggest.
Hyundai builds its cars well, and there is no shortage of luxury features packed into this smart, stylish SUV, nor is the SR lacking in premium feel.
It is also a big, practical, spacious car with ample room for the brood (and for some of the neighbour’s as well).
Perhaps, with a new model imminent, you may be able to get your local dealer talking turkey on the list price. If you can pull it off, there is a lot of car here in Hyundai’s Santa Fe SR.
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