The skinny: The updates to the 2016 Hyundai Santa Fe range are fairly mild, but it was already good buying to begin with.
The changes to safety and infotainment equipment just sweeten the deal, and the mild mechanical refinements are welcome (though hard to detect at the wheel during a brief preview drive).
And, with Hyundai's ultra-competitive warranty and servicing deals, the Santa Fe continues to be one of the better buys in the crowded large SUV segment.
Vehicle Style: Large SUV
Price: $38,490 (Active petrol manual) to $55,990 (Highlander diesel auto)
- 138kW/241Nm 2.4 litre petrol 4cyl | 6sp manual or 6sp auto
- 147kW/440Nm 2.2 litre turbo diesel 4cyl | 6sp manual or 6sp auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.3 l/100km (diesel MT), 7.7 l/100km (diesel AT), 9.4 l/100km (petrol MT/AT) | tested: 7.1 l/100km (diesel auto)
And while it's comprehensively outsold by the Ford Territory and bargain-priced Holden Captiva7 - not to mention the dominant (and petrol-only) Toyota Kluger, with just under 5700 sales year-to-date, the Santa Fe is far from unloved.
The updated model brings new styling, suspension upgrades and more equipment. Otherwise, it drives and feels much like the old model, and that's no bad thing.
- Standard equipment: Cruise control, rear parking sensors, daytime running lamps reversing camera, air conditioning with rear zone, foglamps, dusk-sensing headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, power tailgate (Elite, Highlander), heated and power adjustable front seats (Elite, Highlander)
- Infotainment: Active receives 7-inch colour display audio system with Bluetooth, USB plus Siri Eyes Free and Google Now voice recognition software. Elite and Highlander get 8-inch display incorporating 10-speaker premium audio, sat-nav, Bluetooth and USB input.
- Cargo volume: 516L with third row stowed, 1516L with second and third row stowed.
We unfortunately weren't able to sample the cloth-trimmed delights of the Santa Fe Active base model, but that model now gets a new 7-inch colour infotainment display, a solid step-up from the miserly 5-inch unit that came before it.
And, with Apple's Siri Eyes Free and Google also now standard on the base model, drivers now can control certain phone functions using voice commands alone.
It's not quite the level of sophistication offered by Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring software, but it's a step above basic Bluetooth connectivity.
The cabin of the Elite and Highlander is a little more impressive.
Leather upholstery becomes standard, the faux-woodgrain cabin trim gets swapped for a more appealing faux-carbon fibre finish and the front seats are both powered and heated.
Making life even easier is the Elite and Highlander's standard keyless ignition and powered tailgate, and now, for 2016, an 8-inch colour touchscreen display with sat nav and a 10-speaker Infinity premium audio system.
The rest of the cabin carries over. Front seat comfort is still great for the first row, more than ample for two adults in the second row and a bit squeezy in the third row, with B-pillar vents for middle-row occupants and side-mounted vents for those in the third row.
And speaking of the third row, it's not as claustrophobic as some in the segment. If you're a larger adult, it's not so great, but there's reasonable headroom for younger passengers and shorter adults.
Footroom is okay as-is, but improves markedly if you can convince the second row passengers to scooch their seat forward a few centimetres. The seat cushions are quite flat though, so avoid being relegated back there for long journeys.
Integral window shades in the rear doors are also standard on the Highlander, and something that the family buyer will no doubt appreciate. Second-row passengers will also appreciate the reclining backrest.
There's a thin sliver of luggage space with all seats in place, increasing to 516 litres of more useful cargo-carrying capacity when the third row is stowed. Drop both the second and third row, and you get a sizable 1516 litres of cargo volume.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 138kW/241Nm 2.4 litre petrol 4cyl or 147kW/440Nm 2.2 litre turbo diesel 4cyl (Elite, Highlander and SR are diesel-only)
- Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed auto (Elite, Highlander and SR are diesel-only)
- Suspension type MacPherson strut front, semi-trailing arm rear
- Brake type: Ventilated discs
- Steering: Electrically assisted
- Towing capacity: 2000kg braked
The Santa Fe line up begins with a naturally-aspirated 138kW/241Nm 2.4 litre petrol engine, and though its power curve has been tweaked for better low-end tractability (at the expense of 3kW and 1Nm in peak outputs), we weren't offered the opportunity to drive it.
Nor were we able to sample the six-speed manual transmissions that are standard for both the petrol and diesel Santa Fe Active variants. However, the uptake of both the petrol engine and manual transmission is low for the Santa Fe.
Instead we drove the top-spec Santa Fe Highlander and the Highlander-in-a-tracksuit Santa Fe SR variants, both of which are sold exclusively as diesel automatic AWDs.
On the road, whether it be suburban street or four-lane highway, it's a comfortable machine.
The 2.2 diesel is a torquey unit that loves to lug around at low RPM, and it's matched by a well-calibrated six-speed auto that keeps it “in the zone”.
It's tuned for efficiency and thus prefers higher gears most of the time, but doesn't take much of a prod to kick down into a lower ratio when needed. And, as we've discovered in the past, the diesel has ample power for swift overtaking or for handling a load.
Ride quality is good on the Highlander's suspension, which easily soaks up big hits and doesn't feel overly 'busy' despite the lower profile 19-inch alloys it's equipped with.
The stiffer H&R springs of the SR naturally transmit a bit more through the suspension and into the cabin, but the net effect is one of "tautness" rather than discomfort. That said, for everyday cruising we prefer the comfort-oriented Highlander.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.63 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Standard safety equipment includes ABS, EBD, brake assist, traction control, stability control and six airbags.
From 2016, the Highlander variant also brings autonomous emergency braking, forward collision alert, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and rear cross traffic alert.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
There is no shortage of rivals for the Santa Fe, some of which compete very closely on price, if not specification. Of the similarly-sized diesel-engined seven seat options available, here are the notable ones:
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Santa Fe deserves your consideration, and the top-grade Highlander's substantially fatter equipment list should provide everything the average Aussie family needs in a car.
And, though it's an expensive machine at $55,990, Hyundai expects the Highlander to take the lion's share of Santa Fe sales. Current sales trends back that up: right now, the Highlander accounts for nearly 45 percent of all Santa Fe sales.
And while it might not be as dynamic as the simlarly-priced Ford Territory, it feels a lot more modern inside. Compared to the much cheaper Captiva 7 LTZ, the Santa Fe Highlander feels positively luxurious.
Both of those cars are top sellers in the segment, so why shouldn't the Santa Fe enjoy the same fortunes? We can't think of a compelling reason why it shouldn't be on your shortlist, so check it out.