Hyundai might only just be starting to shake its cheap-and-cheerful reputation that it’s had for a long time, but its latest, fourth-generation Santa Fe showcases just how far the Korean car maker has come.
Once a solid choice for an affordable seven-seat family SUV that didn’t quite have all of the trimmings, the new model is a car that could easily wear a European badge on its nose and introduces a raft of thoughtful safety innovations for families.
Available in four models over three levels of specifications, the all-new Santa Fe is priced from $43,000 (plus on-road costs) for the base-level Active model powered by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with a six-speed automatic – a slight hike of $1200 compared the model it replaces.
Standard specification is fairly generous, even at the entry point, with all models coming with an all-wheel drive transmission, six airbags that cover all three rows of seating and a comprehensive suite of active driver aids such as adaptive cruise control with automated emergency braking, lane keeping assistance, blind spot and rear cross-traffic alerts, a reverse camera and a feature Hyundai calls Safety Exit Assist that prevents the rear doors from being opened and children exiting if the vehicle detects another car – or cyclist – approaching in the blind spot.
The Active model grade has cloth interior trim, rides on 17-inch alloy wheels and has a 7.0-inch colour infotainment screen with digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity and smartphone mirroring for Apple and Android devices.
It can also be had with a 2.2-litre turbo diesel engine that is hooked-up to a new-generation eight-speed automatic gearbox for $3000 extra.
The mid-spec Elite and flagship Highlander variants are exclusively available with the turbo diesel/eight-speed configuration, and cost $54,000 and $60,500 respectively.
The extra spend for the Elite gets you larger 18-inch alloy wheels, leather trim, power adjustment for the front seats, keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone climate control with a cooled glovebox, and a bigger 8.0-inch display with higher-grade 10-speaker audio and sat nav as well as a powered tailgate and chrome exterior highlights.
It also adds a few more safety trinkets, such as front parking sensors and an ingenious rear occupant alert that uses an ultrasonic sensor in the roof to detect whether you've left children in the car and will sound an alarm if it senses any movement.
The Highlander builds on the Elite with even more convenience, including heated and ventilated front and heated second row seats, a panoramic sunroof, LED interior lighting, a 360-degree camera, wireless phone charging pad, head-up display and LED headlights.
All models also come with Hyundai's new Auto Link smartphone app that keeps the owner connected to the vehicle with remote information such as tyre pressure monitoring, driving statistics, maintenance checks and direct links to Hyundai's roadside assistance, dealerships and servicing. The Highlander has even more features with Auto Link Premium that adds remote access to lock and unlock the car, start or stop the engine, sound the horn and turn on the air conditioner or windscreen defroster.
Based on all-new underpinnings, the fourth-generation Santa Fe is slightly larger than the car it replaces, measuring 70mm longer in overall length and riding on a wheelbase that has an extra 65mm between the axles, the net result of which is more room inside the cabin and additional luggage space, particularly when being used in seven-seat configuration.
The bigger back-end has resulted in 42mm more headroom for third-row occupants while the aperture to access the furthest seats has been expanded too, and all models have a handy 'Walk In' switch on the kerb side seat that allows kids to easily flip-and-fold the middle-row seat at the touch of a button.
The boot capacity now measures 130L as a seven-seater, 547L as a five-seater and a capacious 1625L when all rear seats are folded.
Not only is the cabin bigger than the before, it is much more stylish too and presents nicely with good quality materials, lending it an ambience that genuinely feels somewhere between Hyundai's most recent past and legitimate premium offerings.
The base-level Active looks and feels a bit plain with its monochromatic colour palette, but it's broken-up nicely by the wool-look fabric on the seats that feels both durable and classier than simple cloth trim.
The overall dash design, however, is both stylish and practical, firstly with its separate wrap-around cowls for the driver and passenger and, secondly, with plenty of handy storage spaces.
It looks even better in the Elite and Highlander variants with dual colour schemes that mix the optional biege, burgundy or black leather trim with intricate patterns in the door cards and parcel shelf on the passenger side of the dash, plus it gets a larger screen that fills out more space in the tablet-style pod on top.
In any case, it's a comfortable place to sit behind the wheel with a good driving position that offers plenty of adjustment, a commanding view of the road and decent vision through the expansive glasshouse.
Those in the middle row are treated to generous space too, with heaps of legroom that can be adjusted by moving the split-fold bench backwards by 300mm. The third row is big enough for a couple of adults when that middle row is in its most forward position – at least for short journeys - but more suited to kids in everyday situations.
ON THE ROAD
As for how it drives, we had the chance to sample all three model grades – and both engine options in the base-level Active – on a challenging set of roads in the hinterland behind Coffs Harbour during its local launch program, and came away largely impressed.
Firstly, the 2.2-litre turbo diesel is the better of the two engine choices. With 147kW and 440Nm, it has higher outputs than the larger-capacity petrol alternative and yet is more efficient, with a claimed average consumption of 7.5L/100km.
Beyond the numbers, it is a smooth and willing engine with decent mid-range punch that makes it both an effortless open-road cruiser and spritely suburban runabout, partly thanks to the broad spread of ratios in the smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic.
However, it's not the quietest motor around and makes a bit of a racket under acceleration – something that detracts slightly from the Santa Fe's well-polished on-road character.
The naturally-aspirated 2.4-litre petrol engine, with 138kW and 241Nm, feels far less energetic and needs to be worked harder to move the car's considerable mass, which is not helped by the less sophisticated six-speed automatic and results in increased fuel use of 9.3L/100km.
As is the case with all Hyundai models sold in Australia, the Santa Fe's suspension and steering have been tuned to suit local conditions and tastes. The former is well composed over patchy surfaces, reasonably compliant over bumps and, with added traction from the more advanced all-wheel drive transmission and well-calibrated electronic driver aids, it gives the car a sure-footed stance when cornering while the latter is light and easy to twirl in tight spaces and yet offers decent feel at higher speeds.
One gripe we do have is the lane keeping assistance function is quite binary in trying to keep the car within the lane markings, meaning it constantly tugs at the wheel as it pinballs between the lines which can be quite annoying after a while. There are certainly smoother systems out there, and something Hyundai needs to refine.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The fourth-generation Santa Fe is a classy, convenient and comfortable family car that now offers a sense of style to match the substance of its predecessor.
It's a car that continues to forge a new perception for the brand and banish its old reputation.
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