Hyundai’s assault on established players in the market looks set to continue with the introduction of the new Santa Fe. The largest SUV in the South Korean brand’s stable, the Santa Fe hasn’t been as consistent a seller in its line-up as smaller vehicles, but that looks set to change with the more stylish and safer fourth-generation seven-seat SUV.
After a brief first drive of the new model in South Korea last week, early signs look positive that Hyundai has another strong offering to bring to Australia.
Vehicle Style: Large SUV
On Sale: June/July
Engine/trans: 144kW/436Nm 2.2-litre 4cyl turbo diesel | 8spd automatic
Hyundai has ditched its two-model strategy for the fourth-generation Santa Fe which saw a larger SUV for the US market and slightly smaller version sold in Australia. Now there’s only one bigger-sized model and it’s built on the same underpinnings as the latest generation Kia Sorento and Carnival.
Consistent with Hyundai’s latest model range the Santa Fe features a major departure from the outgoing model’s styling, ditching the conservative ‘family face’ Hyundai has used up until now to help build its brand image. With sales on the rise around the world the company has taken the design to give individual models more personality.
The new Santa Fe features the same ‘cascading grille’ as other new Hyundai models (i30, Elantra and Kona) but uses the same split lights theme (thin daytime running lights at the top of the front fascia with the headlights mounted separately lower in the bumper) as the Kona and Nexo SUVs.
But while there’s a common theme amongst the brand’s new SUVs, there are also some unique Santa Fe elements such as the chrome-effect styling line that connects the grille to thye lights. It helps give the Santa Fe a cleaner, more grown up look compared to the Kona.
Inside the changes are just as drastic as outside, and a complete makeover brings a more premium look with the same floating tablet-style infotainment screen as the i30/Kona and (depending on the model) a large digital screen for the dashboard. There’s also a combination of premium materials, including a textured, waveform trim element on the doors and the small shelf in front of the passenger. However, the lower part of the dash is made from harder, cheaper black plastic that does detract slightly from the otherwise more premium cabin.
But looks aren’t the only thing which has changed and the new model gets more space for second and third-row passengers. The 2018 model is 70mm longer and 10mm wider than the model it replaces, taking it to 4770mm in length and 1890mm width, along with a 65mm longer wheelbase.
The changes in dimensions brings a more spacious cabin and Hyundai claims there is an extra 38mm of legroom for second row seats and an extra 22mm of headroom in the very back.
Certainly the second row is generous in terms of space, as we had no trouble fitting three adults across the middle seats during our test drive in Korea. There’s plenty of headroom and kneeroom for adults to be comfortable too. The second row also slides to trade-off space with the third row.
The extra two seats in the back may have more headroom but kneeroom is still tight, even with the second row moved forward. It’s large enough for kids to fit in, especially on shorter trips, such as taking friends home from school; the type of role SUVs like the Santa Fe play.
The boot has also expanded slightly and offers an extra 40 litres of space, bringing total room in the boot to 625L with the third-row stowed in the floor.
ON THE ROAD
The same 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine carries over from the previous model but it has been updated to meet the latest Euro6 emission standards that brings a minor drop in performance.
The new motor now produces 144kW and 436Nm, which is down by 3kW and 4Nm respectively, however, Hyundai has offset that slight drop with a new eight-speed automatic transmission and revised all-wheel drive system which is more efficient.
Hyundai Australia is yet to confirm local specifications but it’s likely the 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine will continue to be offered, while the new 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine hasn’t been engineered for right-hand drive models.
Unfortunately our test vehicles in Seoul last week were powered by the new 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine that we won’t get in Australia. But it offers up 134kW and 397Nm so it’s not too far off what we’ll get down under.
Despite its small size it had little trouble pulling the big new model along. The eight-speed auto helped to get the best from the engine, with the spread of ratios keeping it in its sweet spot.
Hyundai’s local arm will perform tuning and testing on Australian roads to ensure the cars are suited to local conditions, improving ride and handling as well as tweaks to things like steering. But while the Korean-specification models we drove aren’t ultimately representative of what will sell in Australia, it does showcase the fundamentals of the new Santa Fe underpinnings.
And the good news is they are solid. Korean-spec Hyundais tend to have softer suspension settings than what Hyundai Australia opts for, but even with the soft and compliant ride offered by the model we tested there was still good body control and steering response. That bodes well for the locally tuned version being one of the best-in-class when it arrives.
In another bid to make it more appealing to families, Hyundai has added more safety features to the Santa Fe’s arsenal. While it’s unclear at this stage what each model grade will get in Australian specification, Hyundai is offering a full suite of its ‘Smart Sense’ active safety features.
The increasingly common autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane keeping assist, lane departure warning and driver’s attention warning are all available. Hyundai has also added some extras, including blind spot collision avoidance assist and rear-cross traffic collision avoidance assist, systems that can detect a potential accident when changing lanes or reversing and apply the brakes.
Another new safety feature is Safe Exit Assist that can lock the doors if it senses it is unsafe to open them; for example, if a car is approaching.
There’s also a system Hyundai calls Rear Occupant Alert that can detect if you have forgotten a child in the third row and sounds the alarm.
Third row occupants are now better protected than before with extended curtain airbags. There are six airbags in total, and while there aren’t separate curtain ‘bags for the third row the company says they now stretch further into the back for better protection in the event of an accident.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Santa Fe won’t land here until mid-2018 with final pricing and specifications to be confirmed closer to then. But Hyundai Australia has indicated that the current model structure - Active, Elite and Highlander - will remain. And what is confirmed is all Australian Santa Fe will be seven-seaters, with no five-seat option on the agenda.
Meeting the updated spec and extra metal will likely be a small increase in price, but if it’s priced right and the local suspension tune is spot on then the signs are good for Hyundai. Based on our initial taste, the new Santa Fe has the potential to be one of the standout performers in the seven-seat SUV market.