2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander Review

by under Review on 04 May 2015 11:13:44 AM04 May 2015
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Good looks inside and out; nicely equipped; quiet and refined on road


A bit pricey

They’ve had to order extra polishing equipment at Hyundai Australia’s Sydney head office now the Santa Fe has been awarded its third consecutive ‘Australia’s Best Cars Award’ (SUV $45K to $65K category). Keeping the luster up on those trophies takes some work you know.


No doubt Hyundai’s chiefs smile every time they break out the Mr Sheen as they reflect on the caliber of opposition vehicles which failed the test – the Jeep Grand Cherokee for example. But the Santa Fe is a worthy winner – it’s a very nicely styled SUV loaded with kit and nice to drive.

And with the back-up of Lifetime Capped Price Servicing and 10 years of 24/7 roadside assistance, the Santa Fe – like all Hyundai vehicles – is a smart buy. It’s an SUV we’d gladly have in the www.carshowroom.com.au garage permanently.


Hyundai Santa Fe Overview

Santa Fe is Hyundai’s large seven-seat SUV. It has been a key player in Hyundai’s North American sales growth.

Nicely design and boasting impressive interior dimensions, the Santa Fe range kicks-off at $38,490 for the 2.4-litre petrol ‘Active’ model but www.carshowroom.com.au spent a week in the range-topping turbo-diesel powered ‘Highlander’ model which carries a $53,240 sticker.


There’s no doubt the Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander has the specifications to go with that price tag and amongst the additions for the 2015 model were Lane Departure Warning, Smart Parking Assist System and front parking sensors.

Hyundai Santa Fe Engine

The range-topping Hyundai Santa Fe is exclusively powered by Hyundai’s excellent R Series CRDi four-cylinder 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine. It’s the latest common rail direct injection for optimized fuel consumption and emissions.

Maximum power of 145kW is delivered at 3800rpm and the handy 436Nm of torque arrives between 1800-2500rpm.


Drive is via a six-speed automatic transmission with sequential manual mode and Hyundai’s active-on-demand all-wheel-drive system.

Combined-cycle fuel consumption scores 7.3l/100kms.

Towing capacity is 2000kgs (braked) or 750kgs (unbraked). 


Hyundai Santa Fe The Interior

Nice style and lots of technology are the interior highlight of the Hyundai Santa Fe. Overall it’s very modern and certainly looks great.

We liked the layout of the dashboard (carbon fibre effect on Highlander and Elite grades) and its conventional gauges with a central colour TFT LCD screen. To the left in the Highlander model we tested was a seven-inch touchscreen for the satellite navigation and six-speaker audio system with an external amplifier and the usual connectivity.

Highlander model also gains leather seats (front heated and, new for 2015, three-step air ventilation). There was eight-way power adjustment for the drivers’ seat but only height adjustment for the steering wheel unfortunately.


Also new for 2015 is a panoramic glass roof.

Second row passengers get a surprising amount of leg-room but, like similar rivals, the third-row is best reserved for the very young.

Likewise cargo capacity with seats folded is good at 1615-litres but with all seats in place it’s 516-litres – so we had to pack carefully for a family trip down the coast.


Hyundai Santa Fe Exterior & Styling

Hyundai’s ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ design language - which has now entered its second generation – has been on-show for some time with the good-looking Santa Fe. At 4690mm in length, 1880mm in width and standing 1690mm high, the Santa Fe is one of a new breed of SUVs which have downsized from the behemoths which first brought seven-seaters to the table.

And Hyundai has made the most of those dimensions by delivering a slick all-round look which is still contemporary. It’s SUV without being a brute.


We liked the clean front-end with Hyundai’s hallmark hexagonal grille, modern ‘wrap-over’ headlights and nicely integrated DRLs/fog-lights. Bonnet creases add some muscle and are very ‘on-trend’ with modern automotive styling.

In profile the Hyundai Santa Fe is distinguished by a three-window layout which rises sharply from the rear doors to the cargo area – again very modern. Rear three-quarters again feature the muscly look favoured by contemporary designers.

And the tailgate has the curved look also popular today. As part of the 2015 updates, the Highlander model (and Elite) gained hands-free tailgate functionality.

Over its stablemates, the Highlander model as tested goes further in the looks department with handsome 19-inch alloy wheels, HID headlights, LED rear lights and shares some extra chrome with the Elite model.

Also new for the 2015 model year are a darker chrome grille and new-look DRLs and cornering lights.


Hyundai Santa Fe On The Road

Any test of the Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander must start with the engine – also available in the Elite specification, Hyundai’s 2.2-litre turbo-diesel is a pearler. Matched to the excellent six-speed automatic transmission, the handy 436Nm of torque was delivered smoothly at all engine speeds and refinement levels were impressive.

Like most modern SUVs of this type, the Hyundai Santa Fe rides on a MacPherson strut front/multi-link rear suspension. In the case of Hyundai this has been extensively tested and refined by Australian engineers in Australian conditions.


And for the 2015 model, local testing saw a further round of updates – new front wheel bearings, redesigned front knuckles, stiffer rear springs and revised damper characteristics. Hyundai says the changes focused on improved lateral stiffness, steering response and resistance to understeer.

Of course you must add to the mix the Highlander’s 19-inch alloy wheels and sensible 235/55 R19 tyres. The result was a very impressive showing in mixed conditions during the week we put the Santa Fe though its paces.

We expected the Hyundai Santa Fe to be a polished performer on-road, but equally impressive was the way it soaked up the worst of the rough stuff when we ventured onto less than perfect roads and tracks. To be so good in varied conditions takes smart design and suspension calibration.


By the same token, over our high-speed mountain roads test loop in wet conditions, the Hyundai Santa Fe delivered a performance which ranked alongside the Ford Territory. That means not too much body roll, precise turn-in, good grip and balance and clever calibration of the Vehicle Stability Management system (stability and traction control).

We also must commend Hyundai for the Santa Fe’s overall refinement. Our Santa Fe test car was noticeably free of squeeks and rattles and even when surrounded by hard-working trucks in Melbourne’s Citylink tunnels, those inside were pleasantly isolated from all the noise and fuss…in fact a very upmarket feel .

In the city we weren’t intimidated by the Hyundai Santa Fe’s dimensions and the 10.9-metre turning circle reduced the anxiety of parking in our CBD car park.


Hyundai Santa Fe Issues

Smart work by Hyundai’s product planners and engineers mean it’s hard to fault the Hyundai Santa Fe as an all-round package. We just think in calculating Highlander’s stickerprice, the pricing department could have sharpened their pencils a little bit.


Hyundai Santa Fe Verdict

If you’re shopping in this segment, the Hyundai Santa Fe absolutely, positively must be on your list. Its all-round excellence is a testament to Hyundai’s globalization and diversity – a car designed with the American market in mind and which proves Hyundai can make SUVs just as well as it makes passenger cars.


Sure the Highlander might not match some rivals for towing capacity, but if that’s not your thing, the Santa Fe is probably a better vehicle for everyday use. And that’s not to rule-out the Santa Fe for towing by the way.

We like the looks and in this segment there’s none better for interior style.

And we like the driving dynamics. This is a subject Hyundai Australia takes very seriously and the pay-back for SUV buyers is a competent display when the road gets twisty and nice compliance over bumps – in a nutshell the Hyundai Santa Fe is just so ‘live-able’ as a daily driver and school hauler.  


Hyundai Santa Fe The Competition

Direct rivals Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Kluger aren’t offered in diesel so they’re excluded from this comparison.

That leaves the Ford Territory – in fact the range-topping Titanium AWD TDCi. While it’s not the newest turbo-diesel on the market, Ford’s 140kW/440Nm V6 is match for Hyundai’s 2.2-litre and hauls the Territory with ease – great for towing. Inside the latest and last Territory isn’t lacking for kit – lots of leather and of course it’s large and comfy. Driving dynamics are a Territory strong point but at $56,740 it isn’t a bargain.

Isuzu MU-X is a favourite of www.carshowroom.com.au and the range-topping LS-T 4WD ($53,500) is nicely-equipped. Isuzu is a diesel expert so the 130kW/380Nm 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel is quiet, will last forever and makes the MU-X a favourite with those who tow.

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