This ‘SUV Categorization’ thing is getting a bit testy. Take the Hyundai Santa Fe (classed as a ‘SUV Large’) – yes it’s got seven seats and a 2,000kgs-2,500kgs towing capacity…but it’s hardly a giant.
In fact we reckon ‘package size’ is one of many things about Hyundai’s all-new Santa Fe – launched just before Christmas last year – which are spot on. Spacious no doubt, but even first-time SUV buyers and mums on the school run wouldn’t be intimidated when parking or manoeuvring a Santa Fe.
So don’t rush to judge the Hyundai Santa Fe because someone filed it amongst the ‘SUV Large’ brigade. This thing is slick…wherever you file it.
Hyundai Santa Fe Elite Overview
Hyundai Santa Fe kicks-off at $36,990 for the ‘Active’ model with the 2.4-litre four-cylinder naturally-aspirated petrol engine driving through a six-speed manual transmission and runs to $49,990 for the ‘Highlander’ grade 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel-six-speed automatic. Car Showroom tested the mid-spec ‘Elite’ model (like the Highlander exclusively turbo-diesel/six-speed auto) stickered at $45,990.
Like all Hyundai vehicles, the Santa Fe’s generous equipment levels underscore its tremendous value-for-money proposition. Over the ‘Active’ grade versions our ‘Elite’ gained extras including leather seats (eight-way electric adjustment for the driver), 18-inch alloy wheels, satellite navigation (seven-inch touch-screen), six-speaker/two tweeters premium audio system, ‘Supervision’ centre cluster instruments with a colour TFT-LCD display, solar control rear privacy glass, cargo blind, side mirror puddle lamps and stainless steel door scuff plates.
Toss-in the good looks inside and out of the latest Santa Fe and it all adds up to a very desirable seven-seat SUV which family buyers are well-advised to consider.
Hyundai Santa Fe Elite Engine
Only the entry-grade Hyundai Santa Fe ‘Active’ can be had with both the 2.4-litre direct-injection petrol engine or the diesel. Optional on the ‘Active’, exclusive on the ‘Elite’ model (as tested) and range-topping ‘Highlander’ is Hyundai’s R-Series 2.2-litre CRDi turbo-diesel.
Now we reckon the ‘R-Series is some of Hyundai’s best engineering – and this from a company which has very impressive engineering across the board – handy performance and European-like refinement (no surprise there given the Korean giant’s focus on increased business in Europe).
With the now ubiquitous Common Rail direct injection, and electronically-controlled variable geometry intercooled turbocharger, our Hyundai Santa Fe delivered maximum power of 145kW at 3800rpm and peak torque of 436Nm between 1800-2500rpm.
Drive to all four wheels is via Hyundai’s in-house six-speed automatic transmission with sequential manual mode. We say ‘in-house’ because Hyundai is one of only a small number of automakers doing transmissions – many source from gearbox specialists like ZF.
Hyundai Santa Fe Elite The Interior
Inside is certainly one area where the latest all-new Santa Fe provides marked contrast to the very first models – a bit like comparing a ‘Hyatt Regency’ to an inner-city ‘bedsit’. This ramped-up ‘luxu’ and technology of course reflects changing customer demands in the large SUV segment, but also Hyundai’s relentless march into major European and North American markets.
So sitting behind the wheel in Elite grade test vehicle - with its leather seats (height-adjustment and lumbar support standard) and standard rake/reach adjustment for the nicely-styled steering wheel – was a very pleasant place to be.
We liked the slick dashboard design – a major advance for the latest Santa Fe in fact – highlighted in the Elite model as tested by the seven-inch satellite navigation screen (with Suna live traffic updates) and the contemporary colour TFT LCD ‘Supervision Cluster’ centre display for secondary information. Elite and range-topping ‘Highlander’ also score a cooled glovebox.
Spaciousness is a major plus for the all-new Hyundai Santa Fe – the 40/20/40 split-fold second row seat provides 1000mm of leg-room while the 50/50 split-fold third row (access is reasonable) provides 765mm.
And while some in this league see fairly miniscule cargo space when seven people are on-board, the Hyundai Santa Fe does provide a reasonable compromise. Luggage space is 516-litres (all seats used) or 1,615-litres (seats folded).
Hyundai Santa Fe Elite Exterior & Styling
Measuring 4690mm in length and standing 1680mm high (with roof rails) and 1880mm in width (wheelbase 2700mm), the Hyundai Santa Fe isn’t the ‘Full Forward’ of the ‘SUV Large’ segment. In fact we reckon the combination of its exterior dimensions and inter space makes for a very clever packing job by Hyundai’s stylists.
Another chapter in the company’s ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ design language, the Santa Fe represents a new interpretation called ‘Storm Edge’. That’s ‘design-speak’ for the Santa Fe being a bit more athletic in its looks than say the ix35.
You see that for example in the Santa Fe’s eagle-eye projector headlights and sweeping bonnet line. From the side, the muscle continues with a rising beltline and obvious character lines.
Santa Fe also debuts new-design alloy wheels – in the case of the Elite model (as tested), good-looking 18-inchers.
Hyundai Santa Fe Elite On The Road
Along with sister company Kia, Hyundai makes a big play on its local suspension testing which provides unique calibration which is actually built into Australian vehicles right on the assembly line. Very impressive concession for the local market.
Santa Fe runs a MacPherson strut front-end (with an H-shaped sub-frame) and multi-link rear-end and dual-flow dampers throughout.
Same for the Motor Driven Power Steering (MDPS) with three-setting ‘Flex Steer’ (normal, comfort and sport) – again tuned for local conditions and driver tastes.
We liked the Hyundai Santa Fe when we drove it at the national media launch north of Sydney and those impressions were reinforced after our week-long standard evaluation in Melbourne.
Over our high-speed mountain roads test route, the strong torque of the 2.2-litre turbo diesel delivered plenty of pace and we thought the suspension/steering calibration was spot-on. The AWD Santa Fe defaults to understeer at the very limit of course but it’s very slickly balanced both for body roll and feedback-v-‘plushness’ (i.e. ride is subtle but doesn’t isolate the driver too much).
Around town we appreciated the Santa Fe’s reasonable package size, good all-round visibility, very handy 10.9-metre turning circle and standard reversing camera. And strong through-the-gears response from the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel caused no ‘aggro’ in the peak-hour freeway merge.
For those who desire to venture into the slippery stuff (or who drag a boat up/down a slimy ramp), the Santa Fe comes with a push-button ‘Lock Mode’ for the 4WD system which provides a 50/50 front-rear power split (up to 40km/h when it defaults to ‘auto 4WD’).
A quick word about towing capacities. Automatic model Hyundai Santa Fe (as tested) scores a 2,000kgs capacity while six-speed manual ‘Elite’ grade is rated at 2,500kgs.
However since the Santa Fe was launched, Hyundai has introduced a ‘load assist kit’ which includes heavy duty rear springs and which increases the maximum down ball rate from 120kgs to 150kgs.
Hyundai Santa Fe Elite Challenges
Possibly responding to positive reviews accorded the Santa Fe at launch, some rivals have been revising prices and specifications to shore-up value comparisons with Hyundai’s newcomer. As always our best advice is to shop around.
Hyundai Santa Fe Elite Verdict
All things considered, we remain huge fans of Hyundai’s all-new Santa Fe. While scoring well in all areas, we must say for looks (inside and out), spaciousness and value, the Santa Fe really throws down the gauntlet to many in this league.
A ‘definite’ on your shopping list, if you haven’t driven a Santa Fe for a few years you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the all-new model’s sophistication and refinement.
Hyundai Santa Fe The Competition
It’s getting crowded at the top of the ‘Totem Pole’ in the ‘Large SUV’ segment and there’s little to separate the major players taking on the Hyundai Santa Fe.
The local Ford Territory is a cracker – by any measure it’s exceptional to drive. However a starting price for all-wheel-drive turbo-diesel models of $48,240 means the local Ford isn’t the value leader.
Same for Nissan Pathfinder (from $48,890).
Probably giving the Santa Fe its closest challenge on the value front is the Holden Colorado 7 (starting price $35,490 for the 2.2 CX). However the Colorado doesn’t match the Santa Fe for refinement.
If you can stretch the dollars, the turbo-diesel Jeep Grand Cherokee (starting price $50,000) ramps-up the luxo and provides American styling. The all-new Grand Cherokee isn’t far away and, given the company’s recent aggressive record, we wouldn’t be surprised if Fiat-Chrysler Australia took the axe to the pricing structure (assuming the $Oz V $US equation isn’t de-stabilized by the Federal Election).