The current-generation Hyundai Santa Fe is almost six-years old and the latest update represents about as much as the Korean manufacturer can fit into the model before its new look replacement arrives in 2018.
But just because it’s ageing doesn’t mean the seven-seat Santa Fe isn’t a good option for expanding families who are finding smaller medium SUVs such as the Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-5 and Volkswagen Tiguan lacking for room.
Vehicle Style: Large SUV
Price: $55,090 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 147kW/440Nm 2.2 litre 4cyl turbo-diesel | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.7 l/100km Tested: 8.8 l/100km
A light update across the range this year has added Hyundai's safety suite to lower models but the top-spec Santa Fe Highlander on test is already packed with everything but the kitchen sink. It receives an upgraded 8.0-inch infotainment system with DAB+, sat-nav and mobile phone connectivity options including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Its competitive price remains unaltered at $55,090 plus on-roads but it occupies a space filled with fresh rivals. The Mazda CX-9 Azami and the Santa Fe’s step-sibling, the Kia Sorrento GT-Line, are both newer and, priced from $60,790 and $58,490 respectively, offer competitive options for not much extra.
- Standard equipment: active cruise control, automatic park assistance, panoramic sunroof, power windows and mirrors, keyless auto-entry, multi-function trip computer, leather seat trim with front ventilation and front and middle row outboard heating, 12-way driver/4-way passenger electrically adjustable front seats, dual-zone climate control air conditioning with third-row fan control, electric tailgate, automatic dimming rear-view mirror, automatic on/off headlights and wipers
- Infotainment:8.0in colour touchscreen with AUX/USB input, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, 10-speaker Infinity audio system and satellite navigation
- Cargo volume:516 litres (5 seats), 1615 litres (second and third row folded)
The Santa Fe's cabin lacks some of the wow factor found in newer Hyundai interiors but the ageing SUV's conservative approach is well laid out with a spacious cabin for most occupants. The front seats are particularly roomy and offer good comfort on long trips and quality materials have been used for important surfaces such as the leather seats.
The driver’s seat is high, the norm for SUVs, but there’s enough adjustment available to suit both tall and short drivers. Between the front occupants is plenty of storage and charging ports for phones and 12volt accessories, however the dash looks cluttered and lacks the refinement found in rivals which the Santa Fe can’t keep up with. But the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto boosts the usefulness of the infotainment system and there’s some good kit such as heated and cooled seats, dual-zone climate control, cooled glovebox and the sound system packs plenty of punch.
The second-row seats offer ample legroom for kids and enough for adults, and good bolstering adds hugging comfort on thick padded seats. There’s also deep door storage compartments, seat-back pockets, charging socket and controllable air vents, though no USB ports. The outer pews get Isofix and all three seatbacks have anchor points for child seats while manual retractable blinds will be appreciated by little ones. On top of comfort, the 40/20/40 split-fold and sliding seats offer a good range of adjustment for extra room and access to the rear seats.
In the very back, the two folding pews get the job done but aren’t spacious enough for anyone larger than a child. Low seats and not much headspace are the main culprits but for ferrying kids on a school run they’re sufficient, plus a pair of switchable air vents improve amenity.
With the seats down, boot space is a reasonable but not generous 516 litres, however it shrinks quickly with both seats up and benefits from the third-row’s 50/50 split-fold design. With all rows flat capacity expands to a capacious 1615-litres.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine:147kW/440Nm 2.2-litre 4cyl turbo-diesel
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, all wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and independent rear
- Brakes: Ventilated front and solid rear discs
- Steering: Clectric assisted mechanical steering, 10.9m turning circle
- Towing capacity: 750kg (unbraked), 2000kg (braked)
Powered by a modest 147kW and 440Nm 2.2-litre turbo diesel and weighing close to two tonnes, the Highlander is not going to set any land speed records. But Hyundai’s localisation program ensures its cars work well on our roads and has does wonders to improve the SUV's handling.
Stiffer suspension tuning helps the Santa Fe keep composed through corners but the ride doesn’t feel brittle on rough roads where it remains compliant, if a touch firm. Despite riding on large 19-inch alloys shod in 55-series rubber only jarring hits are transferred abruptly and overall the ride is comfortable yet capable.
The steering feels equally resolved and is accurate, offering as much transparency as required for an everyday family bus, and the Highlander can be pushed with confidence if need be.
The diesel engine lacks some of the spontaneity and punch of the CX-9’s 2.5-litre turbo petrol though, but enough pep ensures it isn’t lazy on country roads or when accelerating to overtake. It’s also got a fair kick of torque and the Santa Fe is a decent large SUV for towing.
However, the engine sounds a little gruff with the stereo off and road noise is a little high over coarse chip surfaces thanks to a wide rubber footprint.
There's also a swathe of safety included as standard, and the adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist work well, with cruise control keeping close to the set speed without creeping too far over.
While not an overwhelming car to drive, it has better dynamics than most rivals and the Santa Fe steers, brakes and accelerates well. Our final 8.8L/100km fuel consumption after testing is reasonable for a family hauler, too.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.63 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Seven airbags including dual-front, front-side, rear-side and full-length curtain, ABS, ESC, reverse-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot alert, lane-departure warning with lane-change assistance, rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Mazda CX-9 Azami ($60,790 plus on-roads) adds more than $5,000 on top of the Santa Fe but it feels the more premium offering. Smart interior design and a surprisingly powerful engine highlight a more spacious feeling rival which is near the top of its game.
The step-sibling Kia Sorento GT-Line ($58,490 plus on-roads), which shares the same platform as the Hyundai, is a generation ahead and feels as much inside. It’s powered by the same engine with an almost identical power output but enjoys a quieter ride.
The Toyota Kluger Grande ($65,646 plus on-roads) offers a huge cabin for a large family that's powered by a strong 3.5-litre V6 engine, but it lacks a good infotainment system, is thirstier and asks a $15,000 premium for the four-wheel drive model.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Santa Fe isn’t far off being replaced but there’s plenty on offer in this older model. Most notable highlights are sharp handling, lots of kit and Hyundai’s competitive 5 year/unlimited warranty.
However, its old interior design feels cluttered and lacks the simplicity which rivals have like the Kia Sorento, which feels more premium, and the Mazda CX-9, which is larger and more refined. Even still, the Santa Fe remains a strong choice.
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