The all-new Hyundai Santa Fe is set to go on sale in Australia towards the end of 2012 amid huge demand from the North American and Korean markets.
The third-generation Santa Fe continues Hyundai's presence in the mid-sized SUV segment with an entirely new look that brings the model in line with the company's current fluidic sculpture design philosophy.
From the outside the new Hyundai Santa Fe shares little in its looks with the outgoing model. In fact, if it wasn't for the badge you'd find it hard to pick it as a new SUV.
The bold front grille, sharp lines and overall edgy design portray a very contemporary look - something we've come to expect from the Koreans.
Given North America is the Santa Fe's main market, the design work was carried out by the company's US design centre in collaboration with head office in Seoul. The interior has also seen vast improvements with soft-touch plastics around the dashboard and doors as well as coherent multi-tone textures that uplift the overall cabin ambience. Attention to detail is evident throughout the cabin with simple things such as hexagonal air-conditioning vents and power-window switches that emphasise the overall design theme.
Korean-built Santa Fe models destined for the Australian market will be available with seven seats on the standard wheelbase. The North American market gets a long-wheelbase seven-seat variant built in the company's Alabama plant, although this model will not come to Australia as it is available in left-hand-drive only.
CarAdvice attended an early drive program of a pre-production Santa Fe at Hyundai's research and development centre in Namyang, South Korea. The single pre-production vehicle made use of a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission.
Built on an entirely new platform, the new Hyundai Santa Fe is produced globally with a range of one diesel and three petrol engines. It’s still unclear whether Australia will get access to all powertrains but it seems likely that the 2.4-litre naturally aspirated petrol and 2.2-litre turbodiesel will be available at launch. The 2.0-litre turbo may also be available for our market (particularly since we were given a chance to drive it), although it is likely to face similar engineering challenges as those that have kept the i45 turbo (which uses the same engine) out of Australia and in left-hand-drive markets only. Hyundai Australia declined to shed any light on the 2.0-litre turbo’s prospects for the Australian market.
Our turbo test car produced 197kW of power and 365Nm of torque, which resulted in a respectable 0-100km/h time of 8.2 seconds. Floor the accelerator pedal and the Santa Fe moves with ease. There's no noticeable turbo lag as you go through the rev range but we did feel the gearbox hesitating at times and also noticed that it would override the gear selector if left in manual mode. These may be quirks of the pre-production mode, but either way it's refined, quite inside and smooth in its acceleration.
Although the pre-production model had none of the local tuning we expect for the SUV when it hits Australia dealerships, it's fair to say the steering feel is more dynamic than the model it replaces. There's a feeling of over assistance and lightness, but that seems to be a desired feature for vehicles in this segment, as it makes parking and maneuvering an easier task. In some markets the Santa Fe will be available with a flex-steer system that allows the driver to change between three different driving modes which also alter steering feel. It’s currently unclear if Australia will get this feature, but we suspect that it will.
Our test car was equipped with satellite navigation, digital radio and a panoramic glass sunroof. Australian models are more than likely to gain standard satellite navigation on the mid- and high-spec variants and we suspect Hyundai will add a reversing camera as standard equipment across the range (given it's available in the significantly cheaper Veloster).
On the interior side of things, the new Santa Fe can handle five adults without too much hassle. There's plenty of leg room and headroom in the first two rows while the third row will be best suited to children or infants.
As for safety, the new Santa Fe is equipped with seven airbags and all the usual active safety features such as electric stability control (ESC). No official safety ratings have been released yet but given the company's safety track record, we suspect it is very likely to achieve a five-star rating.
Official timing, pricing and specifications for the new Hyundai Santa Fe are still unconfirmed but Hyundai Australia is committed to bringing the vehicle to market before the year's end.