Hyundai Santa Fe First Drive
Looking more mature and premium, the Hyundai Santa Fe completes Hyundai’s line-up refresh. It’s also a big step ahead of its predecessor, says Isaac Bober.
If there was any doubt Hyundai has forever consigned its cut-price carmaker image to the dustbin of history this Hyundai Santa Fe is the final confirmation. It caps off a total refresh of Hyundai’s local line-up which began with the release of the previous-generation Santa Fe, way back in 2007.
Hyundai’s new Santa Fe is a stunner from just about every angle and represents a total rethink of the brand’s position in the SUV segment. Think sumptuous materials, generous equipment levels, improved ride and handling – it’s been designed and built to give the likes of Mazda’s CX-9 a hard time.
Obviously models like the Hyundai Veloster have given the designers at Hyundai a taste for bold designs and this Santa Fe is certainly striking. It’s been designed, says Hyundai, to move the vehicle away from being a soft-roader to being a cross-over and I’d have to agree the new look has done that.
But, if the designers have worked hard on the outside, they’ve perhaps worked even harder on the interior. In some of its vehicles you could accuse Hyundai of trying a little too hard with its interiors. That’s not the case with the Santa Fe, which features a handsome, recognisably Hyundai but more accessibly-designed, dashboard that’s swathed in contrasting, soft-touch plastics.
Thanks to reach and rake on the steering, and plenty of adjustment on the driver’s seat, it’s a cinch to get comfortable behind the wheel. And because of the large wing mirrors and decent glass house, vision right around the car is good. There’s plenty of room in the back seat, and minimal intrusion from the transmission tunnel means the middle seat is more than just a pew. This new Santa Fe features a flexible back seat, which can be reclined or even slid forwards and backwards. And the rear seat can be folded either by a handle on the seat, or via a lever in the boot.
There are an extra two seats in the boot that fold flat into the floor, and while the seats themselves are nice and comfortable, headroom for taller passengers is limited thanks to the rake of the roofline.
Prices start from $36,990 (+ORC) for the petrol-engined, manual transmission-toting Active, and top out at $49,990 (+ORC) for the diesel-powered, auto-equipped Highlander, with a long list of standard features, including seven seats, seven airbags, rear-view camera, auto dusk-sensing headlights, front and rear and third-row air-conditioning, plus iPod and Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming.
There are two engines, a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol unit which produces 141kW at 6300rpm and 242Nm of torque at 4250rpm. The R-Series 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel makes 145kW at 3800rpm and 421Nm (manual) or 436Nm (auto) from 1800-2500rpm. Both engine variants can be had with a standard-fit six-speed manual, or a cost-optional six-speed automatic (although the auto is standard in the Elite and Highlander variants, which are diesel only). Fuel consumption stretches from an impressive combined 6.6L/100km for the diesel manual to a combined 9.0L/100km for the petrol manual.
Both engines are strong, but our pick is the diesel, and neither would be anything without the in-house produced six-speed automatic which offers well-spaced ratios and quick but measured reactions to even the most subtle throttle modulation. No matter the corner, or the hill, the transmission always seemed to be in the right gear at the right time, and I worked hard to catch it out too.
The ride, thanks to local tuning of the suspension, makes this vehicle as comfortable on dirt as it is on bitumen. There’s impressive front-to-back and side-to-side body control, and while Hyundai’s electric power assist steering is getting better, it still feels a little too slack around the straight ahead and lacks consistent weight.
PRACTICAL MOTORING SAYS
In the end, the new Santa Fe is infinitely better than the vehicle it replaces, and is easily one of the best in the category, looking and feeling a lot flashier than its twin-under-the-skin, the Kia Sorento. That it’s got seven seats and an impressive equipment list from the entry model on up puts the Hyundai Santa Fe right at the pointy end in the SUV segment.