The current iteration of the Hyundai Santa Fe seven-seat SUV has been around for about five years – an average life-cycle is about seven – but continues to sell in strong numbers ahead of the arrival of a new model next year.
It’s obvious that durability, very good value and an easy ownership experience are more important to most buyers than being the newest or shiniest offering on the block.
We’ve written a lot of Santa Fe reviews over the journey, but haven’t focused on the base Active version, instead focusing on the more glamorous Elite, Highlander and SR variants.
But here we address that, by detailing the Series II Active with the superior 2.2-litre CRDi turbo-diesel engine. For someone after a powerful, efficient and well-priced family hauler, it shapes up as all the SUV you might need.
For one, the list price is $44,850 plus on-road costs. However, we priced one up on the Hyundai Australia public website for $40,990 drive-away with five years of free servicing. Clearly this is why the Hyundai’s sales are up 31 per cent this year. Bargain.
Indeed, the Active might be the pick of the range, because as we have discussed elsewhere, if you have the money to spend on luxury, you’re better off looking at the more spacious and modern Kia Sorento or Mazda CX-9.
Powering the Santa Fe Active diesel is a 2.2-litre turbo making 147kW at 3800rpm and 440Nm from 1750rpm. This unit has been around for some time now, and there are many examples with beyond 200,000km kicking on in the classifieds.
It’s a strong unit with ample low-end punch, and even though our test car had just 400km on the odometer, felt as strong as ever through the mid-range, while drinking a reasonable 8.6L/100km over 600km of mixed driving – against a claim of 7.8L/100km.
Erring on the side of conservatism, Hyundai has limited the braked-trailer towing maximum to 2000kg, with a maximum download weight of 150kg if you fit a genuine Hyundai tow kit.
Matched to the engine is a well-sorted six-speed automatic gearbox (a six-speed manual can be had for $2500 less) that didn’t put a foot wrong, and an active on-demand 4WD system with a locking mode up to 30 km/h.
This means the reactive system can send torque to whichever wheels have access to the surest ground, and away from those that are spinning. Bog standard. There’s also a hill-descent control system and a moderate 185mm ground clearance.
Incidentally, you can buy the Sante Fe Active with a 138kW/241Nm 2.4-litre petrol engine for $3000 less, with AWD. But we wouldn’t. The better-equipped Santa Fe Active X has a 199kW petrol and costs only $40,990 plus on-roads, though it’s 2WD and thirsty.
The monocoque Santa Fe’s suspension comprises MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link independent setup at the rear, plus springs/dampers/bushes tuned in Australia.
The Santa Fe’s older tune is less cosseting than the Tucson’s, but the positive trade-off is excellent mid-corner body control. We’d still like a little more forgiveness on compression, because sharp hits such as speed bumps are really felt through the cabin.
The electric steering system is light around town, and gives the 4700mm long Santa Fe a respectable turning circle of 10.9m. Meanwhile noise suppression is generally good, even over coarse chip roads, partly because of the high 235/65 R17 Hankook rubber.
I did a few long country drives through regional Victoria, and found the Hyundai extremely easy to live with. Firmer than some, but with good handling, decent NVH suppression, a commanding road view, and effortless engine performance. Just no frills.
Inside, the Santa Fe is no doubt showing its age, with a plethora of dreary and slabby plastic adorning the cabin, yet the textures are actually quite tactile, and the quality is rock solid. Ditto the ergonomics. That woodgrain plastic is horrible, though.
Standard features include a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (comprising map integration in lieu of conventional sat nav), six speakers, Bluetooth, USB and steering-wheel controls.
There are also hard-wearing cloth seats, cruise control, a rear-view camera with sensors, a digital speedo, four 12V outlets, manual air conditioning with vents in all rows, dusk-sensing headlights, seven airbags and ISOFIX. All the basics are covered then.
Yet in some ways it feels like a base car: you need to put a key in an ignition barrel to start the car, there’s a foot-operated park brake, and modern safety tech such as AEB, adaptive cruise and blind-spot monitoring is the province of higher-grade Santa Fe variants only.
Second-row passenger room is good, with seats that slide on rails, and ample headroom and legroom. The third row is tight though, in terms of space and outward visibility through those tiny windows. Best for irregular use – unsurprising considering the small 2700mm wheelbase.
But these third-row seats fold flush into the floor to liberate a decent 516L or storage, expanding to 1615L with the second-row seats also folded. There’s also under-floor storage and a retractable cargo cover and commendably, a full-size matching spare wheel.
It also pays to remember that Hyundai’s aggressive real-world pricing of the Santa Fe errs close to something like a Tucson, Mazda CX-5 or Nissan X-Trail diesel, meaning its sheer space and size start to look enticing.
In terms of ownership, Hyundai offers a good five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with roadside assist, and lifetime advertised servicing prices. Resale value also holds up, as a quick look through the classifieds shows you.
The Hyundai Santa Fe Active diesel clearly offers a compelling case for ownership as it ages. It’s standing the test of time, and for a basic diesel 4WD, the Active offers a huge amount of metal for the money if you can wrangle a good deal. Which isn’t hard to do.
There’s much less polish than you’ll find in a Sorento, CX-9 or even a Subaru Outback, but if solid, honest family driving is your priority, and you don’t want a ute-based 4x4 like the Pajero Sport, the Santa Fe Active is waiting and still worth a look.