It may not have adopted an all-new badge such as ‘ix45”, but otherwise it’s all change for the third-generation Hyundai Santa Fe.
The new Santa Fe completes Hyundai’s design rejuvenation across its model range in its ‘fluidic sculpture’ philosophy, though the Korean company is calling this look ‘storm edge’.
Designed in Hyundai's North American design centre in Irvine, California, the Hyundai Santa Fe presents a bold American look upfront with plenty of chrome to go around. Viewed side-on or from the rear, the Santa Fe can be mistaken for one of Audi’s Qs. It’s sharp but aggressive and without too many hard lines. Like the recently launched i30, it misses out on LED daytime running lights, which have become a popular sight on cars such as the Veloster and i40.
As for the drivetrain, Hyundai has dropped the previous generation’s 3.5-litre V6 petrol front-wheel drive model and replaced it with a four-cylinder 2.4-litre petrol powering all four wheels. The popular 2.2-litre diesel has been carried over with minor improvements. Santa Fe is available in three specification grades with the base model available with a six-speed manual while the mid and high spec variants are only available with a six-speed automatic transmission.
The Korean company, which makes its own steel (mainly from iron ore exported from Australia), has changed its build process for the new Santa Fe to make use of higher tensile steel. This has increased torsional rigidity by around 16 percent while reducing overall body weight by 70kg.
Given the downsizing of the petrol engine, we were expecting a lackluster performance and there’s no doubt that it’s incomparable to the previous generation’s rather thirsty V6, but it’s by no means a disappointment.
The 2.4-litre petrol starts the range at $36,990 and pumps out a healthy 141kW of power and 242Nm of torque. Tasked with moving around 1697-1864kg (depending on variant and gearbox) of weight, the petrol Santa Fe gets from 0-100km/h in a not-so-quick 10.4 seconds. Nonetheless, it’s practical as a day-to-day SUV. Around the hilly and mountainous terrain of outer Sydney, we found the petrol more than adequate for the daily grind and even capable of quick overtakes on the highway. The six-speed automatic certainly does a good job of extracting maximum performance while offering smooth and unnoticeable shifts in the process.
Officially, both manual and automatic versions of the petrol Santa Fe use around 9-litres of fuel per 100km, but that’s likely to be around the high 10s in the real world. Despite the petrol’s roughly 100kg weight advantage over the diesel variant, the 2.2-litre turbodiesel manages to bring that fuel figure down to a very low 6.6L/100km for the manual variants (7.3L/100km for the automatic).
The R-Diesel, which is a $3,000 extra on the petrol, remains one of the better turbodeisel engines for the money. Equipped with 145kW of power and 421-436Nm of torque (manual-auto), the diesel Hyundai Santa Fe is livelier, more agile and far more pleasing to drive than the petrol variants. The extra weight does mean a slight compromise on handling when pushed hard into corners but it’s hardly noticeable in normal use.
Hyundai Australia has carried out extensive suspension tuning for our market, which has ensured a pleasant ride even over rough terrain. We found the ride very reasonable and Ford Territory-like but the steering was, once again, a point of concern. Of course, for the average buyer steering feel is almost irrelevant, but for those that make their purchasing decision with their heads and heart, the vagueness and lack of feedback is disappointing.
Hyundai has empowered the Santa Fe with flex-steer, a system which increases the steering weight by up to 20 percent depending on which one of the three modes are selected (comfort, normal and sport). Although it’s better than nothing, all the system seems to do is artificially make the steering heavier without actually changing the feedback or feel of the system.
The Koreans also carried out extensive work on reducing cabin noise, which means a quieter and more pleasant cabin ambience. Even over the dirt roads Hyundai had us testing the Santa Fe over, we were pleasantly surprised by just how little road noise was passed into the cabin.
All the technical detail aside, from a more practical point of view the Hyundai Santa Fe delivers all the goods. It comes with seven airbags and all the nanny controls you can think of, although yet untested, it’s expected to receive the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating.
The interior is a redesigned wrap-around look with easy to use controls and plenty of storage space. Given its seven-seat, three-row setup, Hyundai has placed air-conditioning vents for each row (there’s even one in the glove box to keep your drinks cool). Although the third row is only really suitable for young children, it does add the option of carrying more passengers if the need arises. The second row’s seats can be split 40:20:40, which allows for multiple configuration options to carry rear passengers and lengthy goods.
We found the shape of the rear window limiting for third-row passengers but the railing system employed to house the second row seats will be exceptionally helpful for mother’s looking to gain easier access to kids in the back seat.
With a large open cabin and stylish interior, standard reversing camera across the range, high resolution 7-inch sat-nav screen on the mid and high spec models and generally class-leading levels of standard equipment, it’s hard to argue against the Santa Fe’s merits.
The large SUV also happens to come with Hyundai’s new capped-price servicing guarantee, which means you’ll pay a maximum of $299 ($379 for diesel) a year in servicing charges for the first three years. Add the five-year unlimited kilometer warranty, seven years of free roadside assistance (so long as you continue to service the vehicle at an authorized Hyundai centre), three years of free map upgrades for your sat-nav and it all starts to add up.
Hyundai expects to sell around 550 Santa Fes a month, which is still far below that of the top three best sellers: Ford Territory, Toyota Kluger and Holden Captiva.
If you happen to be stuck choosing between petrol and diesel, remember the decision is far more complicated than just fuel economy. From a purely numbers point of view, the additional initial outlay for the diesel engine and the higher yearly servicing costs tend to offset the fuel savings for the short to medium term. However, the driving experience is noticeably better and you’re likely to have better resale value down the line. Additionally, the mid and high spec grades are only available with a diesel powerplant.
Hyundai Santa Fe Pricing:
- Active - 2.4-litre petrol manual - $36,990
- Active - 2.4-litre petrol automatic - $38,990
- Active - 2.2-litre diesel manual - $39,990
- Active - 2.2-litre diesel automatic - $41,990
- Elite - 2.2-litre diesel automatic - $45,990
- Highlander 2.2-litre diesel automatic - $49,990