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The recently updated 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe is now slightly dearer in top-spec Highlander guise, but it now gets even more equipment than the already generously specified model it replaces.
The $53,240 Highlander is $1250 more than the 2014 version, and adds new items such as an automated reverse parallel parking system and front parking sensors, along with a lane departure warning system.
This new gear supplements the Santa Fe’s extensive equipment list, which includes 19-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, rear window blinds, three-row ventilation, leather trim, heated and ventilated front seats, heated outboard second-row seats, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen media system with satellite navigation, reverse-view camera and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming. Read full pricing and specifications for the 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe.
In short, it’s packed with gear – and the value equation is improved a little further when its ownership credentials are considered.
The Santa Fe comes with a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, and is covered by up to 10 years of roadside assistance (provided the car is serviced at Hyundai dealerships over its life). It’s covered by Hyundai’s lifetime capped-price service campaign, which is competitively priced – maintenance is due every 12 months or 15,000km, with pricing averaging out at $403 per year for the first five years of ownership.
Santa Fe is only available with a 2.2-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder engine in high-spec variants, and the engine is teamed exclusively to a six-speed automatic transmission in Elite, Highlander and the soon-to-be-released SR models.
Being diesel only in upper-spec models, the Santa Fe competes against the likes of the Kia Sorento (which will be replaced in the first few months of 2015), Ford Territory and Holden Captiva 7. Slightly larger seven-seaters such as the Toyota Kluger and Nissan Pathfinder can only be had with petrol-power, the latter with a slightly more frugal hybrid system.
The engine produces 145kW of power and 436Nm of torque, with consumption claimed at 7.3 litres per 100 kilometres. The Santa Fe diesel automatic’s towing capacity is on the low side, at 2000kg.
As we found when we tested the Santa Fe SR, the engine is a highlight of the Santa Fe, offering strong pulling power in most situations.
Peak torque is found between 1800 and 2500rpm, and it is in that rev range that the diesel performs its best. Below 1800rpm there’s some turbo lag, but it’s not hugely detrimental to the drive experience – you just need to learn to modulate the throttle rather than stamp on it and expect instant response.
The six-speed automatic gearbox remains a strong unit, with generally smooth and intuitive shifts, though on steeper ascents the ‘box will drop a cog to help it climb rather than rely on the torque of the engine.
During our time with the car, we covered more than 1000km of mainly highway and country driving, including a stint on a loose gravel road and more than 250km of inter-city and urban motoring, and the Santa Fe returned an impressive fuel use average of 7.1L/100km.
While the consumption impressed on the open road (where we were averaging closer to 6.0L/100km), the ride of the Santa Fe was not as enjoyable.
Hyundai has retuned the suspension of the 2015 model, testing 85 different damper combinations (26 front and 59 rear), changing front wheel bearings, redesigning the front knuckles and altering the suspension bushes throughout.
The company’s local arm says the new setup better suits Australian driving conditions than the previous model, while cornering turn-in is also claimed to be improved as a result of the changes.
It is more involving to drive – undoubtedly, the Santa Fe now dips in to sharp bends with better response and a level of involvement never before seen in this brand’s largest SUV – but the improved handling comes at the cost of comfort, which would likely be significantly more important to buyers of seven-seat SUVs.
The ride can be jiggly and unsettled, particularly at the rear end – in contrast to the pre-update model, which was on the squishy side. The front end feels more settled and composed over bumps than before, but the back can fumble over potholes and the rebound is not as smooth and well damped as it should be. The Ford Territory remains the class-leader in terms of a balance between dynamism and ride comfort.
Hyundai’s flex-steer electronic steering system has three modes – sport, comfort and normal – and we found ourselves leaving the system in comfort mode for the majority of our time in the car. Its light action and on-centre feel felt more in character with the car than, say, the heftier sport mode which adds resistance but does little for the actual adjustability of the steering in corners.
The interior of the Santa Fe remains a very comfortable place, with enough space for five adults and two smaller specimens in the rear row – though its window line means littlies prone to car sickness will be better served sitting in the middle pew.
That third-row gets its own fan control and twin vents, and the back two seats can be folded down simply for extra luggage space. Hyundai claims 516 litres of capacity – easily enough for several suitcases – with five seats up, or 1615L with second and third rows dropped.
The boot can be accessed via a new 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.
Storage is good for first, second and third rows, with cup/bottle caddies in the door pockets and rear wheel arches. Those door pockets are larger than many rivals, and up front there are extra cupholders, a small storage tray in front of the gear shifter and a covered centre console, which, unlike some rivals, misses out on a cooling function (though the glovebox is ventilated by the air conditioning).
The Santa Fe’s controls are all simple and well-placed, and the media system is among the best available in terms of screen clarity, menu simplicity and Bluetooth connectivity.
On the whole, the Santa Fe Highlander is a generously equipped, frugal and generally well-packaged diesel seven-seater. It’s still near the top of the pack in this class, but if you value ride comfort over cornering prowess, perhaps the 2014-spec model would be a better choice.