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This month our Hyundai Santa Fe long-termer covered one of Australia’s most popular commuting routes, travelling Sydney to Canberra, and back.
The 275km each-way trip down Remembrance Driveway, a combination of the Hume Highway from Sydney to Goulburn and Federal Highway into the capital, is driven by thousands each week.
Almost entirely a 110km/h zone, with Highway Patrol poised kerbside with (radar) guns pointed, it’s a drive best done using cruise control. It also happens to be a yawning example of why nearly 30 per cent of all fatalities are fatigue related. The ones that aren’t are probably because cars travel in dense flocks, pinned to each others tailgate while the lead car sits beside the rumblings of an 18-wheeler truck doing almost the same speed for kilometres on end. If ever a road needed a 130km/h speed limit (and smarter driving, policing…) it’s the Humourless.
But I digress. Our $45,990 Hyundai Santa Fe Elite CRDi comes with a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four cylinder producing 145kW of power at 3800rpm and 436Nm of torque at 1800-2500rpm.
In the tallest of the automatic’s six gears, the engine is spinning at just 2000rpm at 100km/h, rising to 2200rpm at 120km/h. So hills were flattened with ease, the auto never needing to get out of torque-converter lock up when cruising.
After that right-lane hogger finally shifts to the correct lane, however, a booted throttle shows that the six-speed auto can be slightly delayed when kicking down one or two gears. Otherwise, this drivetrain is a pearler, the highlight of the Santa Fe package.
The full-size Hyundai SUV also quickly demonstrated its all-round cruising abilities – the trip computer quickly settled at 7.2L/100km; the cruise control subtly brakes downhill to maintain the set speed; the leather-trimmed driver’s seat is supremely comfortable; and the eight-way power adjustment means the seat base can be tilted to create a perfect driving position.
Travelling one-up, and driving to the nation’s capital to see a band play, naturally the iPod was fully cranked, revealing the nine-speaker plus subwoofer audio system to be pretty damn good.
Accessed via a seven-inch touchscreen, the audio system offers CD, aux input, Bluetooth audio, and USB inputs. Impressively – and unlike in a BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Ford (to name three) where a manufacturer-specific iPod-input cable is required – the Hyundai allows the standard Apple USB cable to be used.
While the interface is intuitive, and screen high-resolution, switching between the audio and satellite navigation screens often results in a one- or two-second delay. Likewise, when in the nav screen, adjusting the volume results in a delay between showing the volume has actually been reduced – there’s no delay when on the audio screen.
Towards the end of our trip, the audio screen froze completely, although sound continued. The only fix was to unplug the iPod and re-plug it in.
The glitchy touchscreen of our 4500km-old test car is the only quality black mark, but it’s an annoying one on a $46,000 new car. Maybe it needs a software reflash – we’ll check with Hyundai.
A Saturday night watching Australian rockers Grinspoon, a big breakfast the following morning, a quick few snaps of the Santa Fe in front of Canberra’s big ticket items, and it was turn-around for Sydney.
Although the ride quality around town is far too knobbly and restless – probably this car’s biggest black mark – the suspension does settle at speed, although the chubby tyres should help deliver an even cushier ride. On the upside, freeway expansion joints and undulations show its control of body movement is quite good.
Being a passenger in a left-hand-drive Santa Fe in the US earlier this year also revealed how much softer its suspension was as it floated around on the freeway. But on patchy urban streets – right when our Oz-spec Santa Fe is at its worst – the Stateside Santa rode brilliantly. Which compromise is best? I tend to think the one that prioritises urban plushness at the expense of body control, if forced to choose.
That Santa Fe also scored the 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine not offered in Australia. It sounds sweet, something this 2.2-litre turbo diesel never does. The petrol wouldn’t be so economical, but I tend to think that a softer, sweeter-sounding Santa Fe has appeal; what about you?
Having not actually driven that Santa Fe in the US, a full verdict can’t be made. But whether in town or on the freeway, the three-mode electro-mechanical steering system is unconvincing. The weight-changing modes – Comfort, Normal and Sport – are consistent in what they offer, but the steering itself is vague and requires constant cornering line, or straight-freeway corrections.
Simply, I prefer Comfort mode, which is fingertip-light like Audi models of old; if a good steering system can’t be delivered, it might as well be effortless.
On the way home, I ditched cruise control, pressed ECO mode (which “modifies engine and transmission control to smooth out throttle response”) and went searching for a fuel economy number that began with a ‘six’.
Driving efficiently – allowing the car to gain some speed downhill, being soft with the throttle uphill – saw the trip computer drop to 6.8L/100km. The trip ended after five hours and 22 minutes, with 559km travelled at an average speed of exactly 100km/h.
Turns out actual consumption was 7L/100km. Still impressive for a 1831kg full-sized SUV, but while it undercut the 7.3L/100km combined ADR figure, it fell short of its 5.9L/100km highway claim.
Choosing diesel also means waiting for the single diesel pump at the service station. In this instance, I waited behind a young family in a Volkswagen Golf TDI wagon. Because it would be weird, I didn’t go up and shake the bloke’s hand for rejecting the herd of SUVs for a proper, smart small wagon, but I did consider it.
Then it got me wondering – does the Golf wagon have a bigger boot than the Santa Fe? Turns out it doesn’t – 500 litres plays 516L. But Hyundai’s own i30 Tourer does have a bigger boot, eclipsing the larger SUV by 12L in five-seater format. So think very carefully about whether you require the Santa Fe’s sixth and seven seat, and all-wheel-drive capability.
It is, however, difficult to argue with the Santa Fe’s torque, refinement, seat comfort, flexibility, standard equipment and – other than a glitchy central screen – high standard of build quality and reliability. In the coming months we’ll try to borrow a Ford Territory to see how our long-term Hyundai Santa Fe compares against its key full-sized diesel SUV rival.
Hyundai Santa Fe Elite CRDi
Date acquired: January 2013
Odometer reading: 4442km
Travel this month: 1295km
Consumption this month: 7L/100km
Hyundai Santa Fe Review: Long-term report two
Hyundai Santa Fe Review: Long-term report one