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The 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe seven-seat family SUV range will soon have a strangely sporty new flagship model – the Hyundai Santa Fe SR.
The new Santa Fe SR model – designed to emphasise the ‘Sports’ element of the Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) acronym – features a raft of changes to the car’s running gear to make it more appealing to soccer mums and dads who like to leave the kids at home on occasion to indulge in some extracurricular activities. In Hyundai’s words, the SR has been added to offer a “more dynamic and more responsive driving experience”.
The Santa Fe SR joins the Accent SR, i30 SR and Veloster SR Turbo in the South Korean brand’s performance line-up, but unlike all three of those models, the SUV brings no changes to what’s found under the bonnet.
Instead, the popular 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine that is optional in the entry-level Active model and standard in the mid-spec Elite and top-end Highlander variants is the powertrain of choice, with no changes to its 145kW and 436Nm outputs.
The Santa Fe SR is available solely with a six-speed automatic transmission, but it misses out on the most naff of sporting elements, in that no paddleshifters are fitted.
While there are no improvements to the engine it remains a strong point, with a well of pulling power available underfoot. Peak torque hits between 1800-2500rpm, and unsurprisingly it is in that area that the diesel performs at its best. Below 1800rpm there’s some turbo lag, but it’s not hugely detrimental to the drive experience.
The six-speed automatic gearbox has traditionally been a strong suit for the Santa Fe (and its Kia Sorento cousin), and the same can be said of the ‘box used in the SR (because nothing has changed here, either). Gear shifts are smooth and reasonably intuitive, and only on steeper hills will it call upon a lower gear to haul its heft rather than draw upon the grunt of the engine.
Claimed fuel use goes unchanged at 7.3 litres per 100 kilometres, but during our time in the car we saw no lower than 9.0L/100km.
There are cosmetic changes, with a full lower body kit and it rides atop lowered H&R Performance springs (5mm lower than the standard car), and newly fitted 19-inch OZ Racing wheels and 235/55 19-inch Michelin tyres add to the pimped appearance, as well as serving a purpose in terms of performance. The grippier rubber, however, means the SR loses the standard automated park assist system fitted to the Highlander due to the different tyre friction characteristics.
Those new tyres give the Santa Fe notably better grip than in the Highlander model, which is fitted with Kumho tyres. Cornering turn-in response and high-speed cornering grip is notably better, and the H&R springs aid the SR in sitting flatter through the bends, with less body roll than the standard Santa Fe as a result.
The downside is the ride, which can be jiggly over rutted surfaces and never feels as settled as a family SUV probably should. There’s also increased road noise over coarse road surfaces.
Behind the black, chunky looking wheels is a set of bright red Brembo brakes with four-piston front calipers and twin-piston rears. They clamp down on cross-drilled rotors which, according to Hyundai, improve stopping distance by 8 per cent.
In isolation you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the new brakes and those fitted to the standard car, but during a quick back-to-back test we noted the brake pedal feel was slightly more bitey on initial application, with marginally better response under heavy braking.
While one of the test cars at the launch had dual exhaust tips on either side of the rear bumper, Hyundai has ruled out that system for production due to an issue with fitting the spare wheel under the floor of the boot.
Inside, there are no changes - which is a good thing, as having SR emblazoned on the leather seats or fake carbonfibre splayed across the dash and doors would probably be a step too far. That means the cabin remains one of the smarter examples in the class, with seating for five adults and two kids in the third row.
As with the Highlander, the SR keeps the same leather trim, panoramic glass roof, heated and ventilated front seats with electric adjustment, heated rear outboard seats, and air vents for all three rows (the rearmost with a separate fan control unit). It also gets a 7.0-inch touchscreen media system with satellite navigation, reverse-view camera and simple and quick Bluetooth phone and audio streaming.
Access to the third row is a bit of a clamber, but is aided by the sliding second-row that moves in a 60:40 fashion. The rearmost two seats are best left for smaller occupants, as this six-foot tester struggled for leg- and headroom.
Folding down the rear seats makes for 516 litres of load space, while folding the second and third row down liberates 1615L. Throughout the rest of the car there is ample stowage, including big door pockets front and rear and cupholders aplenty.
Access to the boot has been improved courtesy of an automated opening system, which can operate hands- (and kick-) free by approaching the rear door with the key in your hand, wallet or bag. A sensor detects the key and three seconds later the boot will open automatically. The system worked without fail on several occasions, but it won’t close automatically – you need to push a button on the tailgate, the key or inside the car.
The Santa Fe SR is due to arrive in showrooms in the first quarter of 2015. Pricing has not yet been released, but the brand has indicated that it will sit above the current range-topping Highlander model ($53,240), so we’d expect a tag of about $55,000.
There’s no impact on the ownership front, with the SR to carry over the same lifetime capped-price servicing program introduced by Hyundai earlier this year. Services are required every 12 months or 15,000km, with an average annual fee of $430 over the first five years ownership. It’s backed by a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty and up to 10 years roadside assistance (if you service your car at Hyundai workshops over its life).
On the whole, the Santa Fe SR takes the family SUV game to a new – but kind of weird – level.
Frankly, we’ll understand if you don’t like the styling changes to the car, but there’s no denying it is a decent thing to drive for the most part, and will no doubt appeal to buyers after a different take on the Santa Fe while still retaining the majority of the equipment seen in the range-topping Highlander.