Hyundai's updated Santa Fe brings the latest in diesel engine technology to the masses at an affordable price. Starting from $37,990 the face-lifted Santa Fe gets an updated interior and exterior plus a whole new engine and transmission system, meaning superior fuel efficiency and drivability.
There was a time when Korean cars were regarded as cheap, nasty and somewhat unreliable. There are still many out there who will refuse to buy a Korean car because of that apparent brand perception.
I was one of those people till a few years ago, "Hyundai? No, no, buy Japanese if you want it to last" - These days Japanese cars have become so well accepted that even the once hardcore European or Australian car lovers are switching over.
If you remember the old Hyundai Excels then you may still have that ill feeling towards the Hyundai brand, well let me tell you, times have certainly changed.
Firstly, the number of old Excels you still see around, some 10-20 year later, is a sign that the bad-reliability myth was just that, a myth. Secondly, if you still associate Hyundai with Excels of old, it's time you get yourself into a Hyundai dealership and check out the range.
From January to September of this year Hyundai Australia has improved sales by a massive 36 per cent over the same period last year and all the while its Japanese rivals are losing market share as a result of the economic downturn. Globally the company has increased sales by an unbelievable 61.3 per cent so far this year.
Back at home the Hyundai Getz is the best selling light car, the i30 is the third best seller in its class behind the Corolla and Mazdza2, Tucson is the best selling compact SUV and the iLoad remains the number two best selling van.
The Santa Fe may not have such credentials to boast about yet but as a showcase of the company's innovations and desire to succeed, it has been a big success for Hyundai.
The preceding model was selling around 250 units per month and to put that into perspective, Toyota Kluger and Prado and the Korean sourced Holden Captiva are selling on average over 1,000 units per month and the Ford Territory around the 900 mark.
As is common with car companies, when a model is about half way through its life cycle some will change a few bumpers and add some new alloys to keep buyers interested. The 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe is essentially the same deal, except that there is now a brand new turbo diesel engine and transmission system.
The new R-2.2 turbo diesel engine is the same unit found in the recently released all-new Kia Sorento, jointly developed by Hyundai/Kia at a cost of nearly $250 million it produces 145kW and 436Nm of torque (421Nm of manual mode).
If those numbers don't mean anything to you then let me give you a non-technical explanation. Ten years ago no one would've imagined a 2.2-litre engine can produce that much power and torque. In fact, the majority of current European diesel engines can't match those figures, it's fair to point out that this engine was infact designed in Germany. The R-spec diesel engine is the smallest, lightest most powerful engine in its class.
What the Koreans have essentially managed to do is build an engine that can compete with not only the Japanese but the Europeans as well. To top it off, they've also been busy building a whole new automatic transmission.
If you want any more reason to know Hyundai is serious you just have to admire the effort put into this gearbox. Until now only Toyota, General Motors and Ford built their own gearboxes internally and after four long years, the Hyundai/Kia group can now join that exclusive list.
The six-speed automatic transmission is somehow 12kg lighter than the five-speed it replaces. It measures 41mm shorter and uses 62 fewer parts. It's also a completely sealed unit, requiring no oil changes or any form of servicing. It's designed to last for the life period of the vehicle.
Mating the engine and gearbox together has resulted in some impressive fuel economy figures, in manual flavour the combined (city and country) usage is 6.7L/100km, meanwhile the auto comes in at 7.5L/100km.
During the recent Global Green Challenge, where the Santa Fe drove over 3,000km from the top to the bottom of Australia (co-piloted by no other than our own editor John Cadogan), the overall fuel rating was an average of 5.1L/100km, an improvement of 23.8 per cent on its ADR combined fuel figure. Interestingly it just beat its main rival the Kia Sorento which uses the same engine and gearbox, plus weighs about 80kg less.
Hyundai took the motoring press to Adelaide to test drive the 2010 Santa Fe through twisty mountain and dirt roads. The most noticeable feature of the new Santa Fe is the updated rear light cluster which gives the car a far more modern presence. At the front the new grille is doing its bit but to the untrained eye the facelift can be a little too subtle.
Move inside and you'll notice some more subtle changes, such as the carbon graphite style accents and aluminium effect finishes throughout the cabin. A reverse camera is also embedded into the driver's rear-view mirror on the high-spec variants.
Features carried over include USB audio input with iPod® compatibility, cruise control and steering wheel mounted controls and heated outside mirrors. Move up in the range and you won't even need a traditional key with a push button start and proximity key included.
Two new interesting features found in the Santa Fe are the emergency brake system and rollover sensors. Hyundai says the Santa Fe’s computers will detect when the driver has suddenly applied lots of pressure to the brake pedals in an emergency situation and automatically apply maximum brake pressure. Not an all-new revolutionary idea but a great feature nonetheless.
Roll-over sensors on the other hand are usually found in convertibles only, so it's interesting that we find them in the Santa Fe. If the sensors detect an imminent roll-over, seat belt pretensioners will pull the passengers back into their seat and deploy side airbags.
With the capacity to carry seven passengers, the Santa Fe is an extremely practical car, however after a short two minute stint in the third row, it's fair to say it's best used for children or very short distance drives if adults are involved.
As my co-driver and I left the Intercontinental hotel in the heart of Adelaide CBD, we soon realised the Santa Fe's 2.2-litre engine really is something to admire. Having driven the Sorento with the same engine only a week ago, it was interesting to note that the Kia's power delivery was slightly smoother, specially when it comes to minimising torque steer.
All around handling and ride comfort is exactly what was expected, predictable and enjoyable. Despite some deep potholes and over 30km in dirt roads, there was never any sudden shock through the cabin or any 'ouch' moments. Turning circle is also noticeably improved.
Drive through twisty tight mountain roads and the Santa Fe behaves well, corner to corner it will grip and accelerate hard when asked. There is minor torque steer coming through the front-wheels at times but that is quickly self-corrected as power diverts to the rear.
The hardest question that I have to answer now is "should I buy the Kia or the Hyundai?". Frankly it's a hard question to answer. Hyundai has a far better established brand reputation and there is no doubt its hard earned efforts will mean more sales to its side of the Korean camp. It comes down to personal choice, I can only suggest you test drive both. As for the other direct competitor, the Holden Captiva, although cheaper it's no longer able to keep with its fellow Korean cars.
180km of driving later and our average fuel economy was 10.4L/100km, not exactly the 7.5L/100km we were hoping for and no where near the 5.1L/100km achieved in the Global Green Challenge. In fairness fuel economy was not high on the agenda as we flew through hilly dirt roads.
Overall, the updated Santa Fe is a very tough competitor in it's class and a must in the consideration list. Stay tuned as CarAdvice will soon spend a week with the car and bring you a comprehensive road test.
New Santa Fe trim level comparison:
|has the following features over and above the SLX trim||has the following features over and above the SLX trim|
|R-series engine||Coolbox||Rear parking camera|
|ESP Stability Control + TCS||Conversation mirror||Leather seats|
|Front, side and curtain airbags||Autolight control||Front passenger power seat|
|Active front headrests||Driver's power seat||In-dash 6 stacker CD / MP3|
|Back warning sensors||Roof rails||18" alloy wheels|
|6 spd transmissions||3rd row air con & heating||Rain sensing wipers|
|Cruise control||Supervision cluster||Sunroof|
|Electric heated outside mirrors||Push button smart key||Electro-chromatic mirror|
|iPod® and USB connectivity||Leather steering wheel & TGS||Electric folding mirrors|
|Steering wheel audio controls||Full auto climate control||Deluxe door scuffs|
|Rear map lamps||Chrome door handles|
|17" alloy wheels|
New Santa Fe range – manufacturer’s list prices: