The Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0-litre petrol turbo is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It has all the performance credentials to be regarded as a genuinely fast SUV without the high price tag.
Powered by a four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, it delivers an impressive 196kW of power and 365Nm of torque. This puts it ahead of its petrol and diesel siblings for outright acceleration, but does it make sense for a family friendly seven-seater SUV?
In Australia more than 40 per cent of Santa Fe buyers choose the top-of-the-range Highlander model, which means there is demand for upper-end SUVs. Though we currently don't get the 2.0-litre turbo, Hyundai Australia is certainly interested in the force-fed engine to fill the Santa Fe range, which is limited by a 2.4-litre non-turbo petrol and 2.2-litre turbo-diesel only, having dropped the V6 option available in the previous generation.
We drove the 'sporty' Santa Fe in California, USA, where the turbocharged SUV is readily available and rather popular.
From the outside the only noticeable difference from our cars is the Sport 2.0T AWD badge on the boot and sporty-looking alloys; other than that it’s pretty much your regular Santa Fe with no hint of what lies inside the engine bay.
As with all Santa Fe grades the interior is modern, stylish and practical. The seven-seat option is useful for short stints but you wouldn’t subject loved-ones, at least ones larger than XS, to the third row for extended periods of time.
The steering wheel is unusually thick around the grip points and the integrated buttons sit a little too close to your hand, making the grip somewhat uncomfortable.
On the plus side the touchscreen satellite navigation system rivals the best in the business, with an ultra high-resolution display and quick navigation that is clear, precise and easy to understand.
In North America, Sirius satellite digital radio is also readily available in Hyundai vehicles, which allows access to an almost infinite number of radio stations that play any genre of music. It is a feature we would dearly love to see in Australia.
Given we spent the majority of our time in Los Angeles, we can safely say the Santa Fe’s ride comfort is superb, given it has to handle some of the worst roads in the modernised world. It is far superior to the lumpy, locally-tuned suspension fitted to our Santa Fe models in Australia.
That said, although the Santa Fe feels just as brisk as other sporty SUV models such as the slightly smaller Subaru Forester, it is not as sure-footed around bends. Through the hilly outskirts, en route to a pub Steve McQueen use to frequent, the US-bound Santa Fe clearly demonstrated it had been tuned for America’s desire to go in straight lines, not around corners.
The handling suffers as a consequence, and it feels as though body control would too, at least on a bumpy country road back home.
Pushed hard the 2.0-litre turbo is well matched to the six-speed automatic gearbox, remaining in the right gear the majority of the time and allowing the turbo to spool appropriately before a gearshift took place.
Weighing 1681kg, it takes a tad over seven seconds to hit 100km/h from a standstill but the important figure is the in-gear acceleration, which allows the Hyundai to go from 80km/h to 120km/h in a smidgen over five seconds. This is ideal overtaking power and instills a sense of confidence behind the wheel.
Our average fuel economy for the few days we drove it around L.A. was 20.1 US miles per gallon, which roughly translates to 11.8L/100km. Not bad considering it dealt with both hard driving and California’s insane traffic.
Hyundai Australia says while there are no plans to bring the 2.0-litre turbo Down Under, it’s certainly interested in the vehicle and concedes that its customers do like choice. The issue facing the large SUV is not a lack of sales, but a lack of supply, with the Korean company selling all the Santa Fe stock it can bring to Australia.