Here are a couple of facts: the massive North American automotive market is dominated by SUVs and one of the hottest-selling brands in the USA is Hyundai. Join those two dots and you arrive at the Hyundai Santa Fe.
We’ve just put the range-topping Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander through our test procedure and handed-back the seven-seat SUV with genuine surprise. A creation of Hyundai’s Southern California design studios, the Santa Fe is roomy, fuel-efficient (thanks to a new 2.2-litre turbo-diesel), versatile and a nice drive.
Good as the smaller, newer, Hyundai ix35 is, the Hyundai Santa Fe is a great all-rounder for families who need a bit more space. Priced from $37,990 (to $48,990 for the Highlander model tested), the Hyundai Santa Fe delivers a lot of car for your coin.
Hyundai Santa Fe Overview
Designed in California and earmarked for sales success in the SUV-crazy North American market, the Hyundai Santa Fe is a mid-sized ‘crossover’ or ‘soft-roader’. Like the Holden Captiva and Ford Territory, the Hyundai Santa Fe has good interior space/versatility and reasonable – but not extreme mud-slugging – off-road ability.
The current Hyundai Santa Fe lineup should not be confused with the original model – this Santa Fe is much bigger (one of the larger mid-size SUVs) and, particularly in the Highlander variant tested, luxuriously appointed inside and packed with features.
With seven seats, the versatile Hyundai Santa Fe is a worthwhile contender for anyone considering a mid-size SUV.
Hyundai Santa Fe Under Engine
Hyundai Santa Fe is powered by Hyundai’s ‘R’ Series 2.2-litre CRDi engine. As the name suggests, it’s the latest common rail direct injection design and - in our view - it’s one of the best non-European turbo-diesels.
Delivering handy performance with 145kW of power at 3,800rpm and peak torque of 436Nm from 1,800rpm, the 2.2-litre four-cylinder is admirably quiet and refined at all engine speeds.
Economy is very impressive too – officially rated at 7.5l/100kms for the six-speed automatic Highlander model we tested. C02 emissions are 197g/km.
Hyundai uses the German Bosch common rail direct injection system with piezo-electronic injectors delivering fuel at 1800 bar. The turbocharger is the current electronically-controlled variable geometry design and features to reduce weight/improve fuel consumption include ‘Power Regulation’ control for the alternator (to minimize drag on the engine), and the use of plastic for the head cover, intake manifold and oil filter housing.
Also noteworthy is Hyundai’s six-speed automatic transmission. Only Hyundai, Toyota, Ford and General Motors have their own in-house developed six-speed autos and Hyundai claims the unit fitted to the Santa Fe is the smallest and lightest of the lot.
Hyundai Santa Fe The Interior
Hyundai Santa Fe is available in three grades – SLX, Elite and, as tested by Car Showroom, the range-topping Highlander. All come generously equipped with features like reverse parking sensors, cruise control, stability and traction control, front foglights and iPod/USB connectivity.
The Highlander gains leather seats, rain-sensing automatic wipers, sunroof, a rearview camera, in-dash six stacker CD system and dual-zone climate control air with separate vents/adjustment for third row occupants amongst the extras.
Climb inside and the first surprising impression is the abundance of space – Hyundai’s designers have done a great job (remember North American sales were their objective). Electronic front seat adjustment delivers a good driving position and view of the conventional instruments (upgraded dashboard for Highlander).
Center dash is the audio (remote controls on the steering wheel) and climate control system – both were simple, straightforward and easy-to-operate.
We must mention the abundance of storage inside the Hyundai Sante Fe – lots of compartments in the center console and door trims for the odds-n-ends families cart with them. Some style-focused European designers are advised to check-out this aspect of the Hyundai Santa Fe as they craft their next-generation SUVs and people movers.
Space for the second and third row occupants is on par with rivals and, with the third row folded, luggage space is enormous at 969-litres.
Hyundai Santa Fe Exterior & Styling
Hyundai called on the groovers at its Southern California design studios to create the current Santa Fe (the same team responsible for the excellent Hyundai Tiburon coupe). The result is poles apart from the somewhat dowdy original Santa Fe.
Although it’s now not the newest design on the market, Hyundai Santa Fe presents as a contemporary, appealing SUV with clean lines, a large glasshouse and a practical tailgate design.
The latest upgrades incorporated a chrome front grille and the ‘flying chrome wing’ Hyundai badge as seen on the i30 hatchback. Hyundai Santa Fe also scored new bumpers and lights in the most recent facelift.
The Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander as tested runs handsome 18-inch alloy wheels.
Hyundai Santa Fe On The Road
After our week in the Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander, the overriding aspect of the driving dynamics was the refined, quiet operation of the handy 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine (a feature a few big-name Japanese brands can’t match).
Around town, responsiveness was good with the six-speed auto responding quickly to the throttle. Parking was a snack thanks to the Highlander model’s standard reversing camera and large glasshouse providing great all-round visibility.
Over our high-speed mountain roads loop, the Hyundai Santa Fe was on par with rival SUVs, although we reckon it displayed less body roll than some Japanese and Korean vehicles. Steering feedback was good and the MacPherson strut front/independent rear suspension was well calibrated – delivering a nice ride even over Melbourne’s tram and train track crossings.
Like many rivals, the Hyundai Santa Fe is ultimately limited in off-road going by its 235/60 R18 tyres, which have on-road tread (for quiet running). But just in case…its approach angle is 24.6 degrees, departure angle is 21.6 degrees, and breakover angle is 17.9 degrees.
Hyundai Santa Fe is rated at 2000kgs maximum towing capacity.
Hyundai Santa Fe Challenges
While there’s no doubting the comprehensive features of the Highlander model Hyundai Santa Fe, its $48,490 sticker has been undercut by some rivals.
Hyundai Santa Fe Verdict
We shouldn’t have been surprised by the all-round attributes of the Hyundai Santa Fe. Lead by great products, Hyundai is the brand being closely watched by all automotive companies.
All things considered, we reckon the Hyundai Santa Fe is a match for just about any other mid-size SUV.
Hyundai Santa Fe The Competition
Depends on how important seven seats are for you. Holden Captiva and Mitsubishi Outlander are sharply priced, but Toyota Kluger and Ford Territory get expensive if you want all of the luxury kit included in the Highlander version of the Hyundai Santa Fe.
Hyundai Santa Fe Likes:
Lots of kit; great interior; handy diesel
Hyundai Santa Fe Dislikes:
Needs to match Captiva and Outlander for price