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Family friendly; seven seats and five-star safety.
- Hyundai Santa Fe R Highlander; 2.2-litre, four-cylinder, turbo-diesel; six-speed automatic; SUV - $48,490*
If your idea of value for money is a long list of modern specs and space for seven, the Hyundai Santa Fe R Highlander is sure to tickle your fancy.
If you’re in the market for a seven-seater vehicle, chances are you have a larger than average family and lug around more gear on a daily basis than most people take on holiday; children, bags, bikes, prams, shopping bags, sports equipment… and the list goes on. You want the whole package; space, versatility, fuel economy, comfort and safety. The Santa Fe R Highlander has got you covered.
Originally available with a choice of engines, including a V6, the third generation Hyundai Santa Fe now comes with 2.2-litre turbo diesel only, across three model specifications – the entry level SLX, the mid-spec Elite and range-topping Highlander.
As the Santa Fe has grown in its appeal, its looks seem to have matured, too. While nothing drastic has changed, subtle styling changes keep the Santa Fe's look current.
It’s hard to argue that the Santa Fe Highlander isn’t a good looking car. Its large body is well proportioned and incorporates soft curves all round. The good looks extend across the entire range, with a chrome grille, fog lights, twin chrome exhaust pipes and roof racks standard across all three models. The Highlander gains a couple of additional exterior features such as 18-inch alloys and a sunroof.
With 145kW and 436Nm (421Nm in the manual) at hand the Santa Fe is no slouch. The six-speed automatic transmission in our Highlander test vehicle performed very nicely. Gears are well spaced and delivery of power is smooth. Despite a kerb weight of 1988kg, the Santa Fe springs to action from standstill; it’s no challenge for the 2.2-litre turbo diesel engine which produces quick and smooth acceleration with minimal lag.
The Santa Fe SLX is available in a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, while the Elite and Highlander are offered as an automatic only.
The suspension in the Santa Fe is quite firm and it struggles to disguise the humps and bumps that your average suburban road serves up. The result is a less than smooth experience which detracts from the ride and is at odds with the level of comfort this vehicle otherwise offers.
Steering the Santa Fe is easy. With a turning circle of 10.8m, maneuvering this vehicle is light work and makes for a surprisingly nimble mover. There is however noticeable body roll – even at low speeds - and the front suspension loads up upon cornering – it’s a little disconcerting for such a large vehicle.
The Santa Fe is a big car, but it comes without the heavy attitude of many large SUVs. The doors are of a manageable size and they don’t swing open uncontrollably. The tailgate and bonnet are both easy to open and close; the bonnet has assisted opening.
The Highlander’s interior is slick – and noticeably superior to the SLX. The interior finish is a mix of plastic, faux carbon fibre and leather. It looks good, for a fake. A mix of colours, chrome highlights and blue illumination brightens the cabin; it’s particularly good looking at night. And I’m a sucker for an engine stop start/button – it adds a fun and up-market feel to the cabin.
The Highlander scores leather seats which are very comfortable and offer good electric adjustment for both driver and front passenger. They are however fairly narrow in the base.
The dash houses two digital displays, one for audio interface and another for climate control. They’re nicely placed and simple to use. This double display creates quite a busy array of buttons and dials, but it remains simple to use.
The Highlander’s audio interface has a six-stack CD player, USB, iPod and Aux connectivity at the ready. This can be found in the centre console, where it’s easy to see and easy access, with plenty of space for your iPhone/iPod to rest. Six speakers and a sub-woofer do your music justice.
A foot activated Park brake is located in the driver’s foot well, which frees up crucial space in the centre console for storage holes and drink holders – or handbags!
In-cabin storage is also very good; robust cup holders, storage holes to the front and left of the gear shift, good in door pockets, decent sized glove box and a great air-conditioned cool box.
While the Santa Fe’s cabin ergonomics are great, the ride height was a slight problem for me. I’m about 162cm tall and I struggled to get in and out of the Santa Fe with any degree of poise. I also found it an effort to load and unload the baby seat as a result of the seat height.
Despite its size, it’s easy to judge the boundaries of the Santa Fe. Huge wing mirrors (which retract with the touch of a button) and big side windows allow good visibility all around. The audible parking sensor warnings are helpful in this regard. Standard on the Highlander is a reversing camera, with the image displayed in the rear-view mirror. While this is a clever feature and good positioning, I think the visual is not as clear as what you get in most in-dash screens.
I like the auto door lock upon take off, but I’m not a fan of the auto-unlock when the engine is in Park mode. I like my doors locked until I choose to unlock them.
The Santa Fe’s space and seven-seat versatility is a big draw card. Yes, the Hyundai Santa Fe can comfortably seat seven passengers. The second row seats offer ample space for three and the third row will seat two people – with varying levels of comfort depending on their size. The second row also provides three child seat anchor points.
If those passengers happen to be toddlers or unruly kids, the drop down mirror in the roof – a ‘conversation mirror’ - is very handy.
Activating the Hyundai Santa Fe’s third row is easy. The kerbside second row passenger seat tumbles forward to allow access to the third row. This can easily be engaged from street or from the third row itself.
With the seat flipped forward, a large access path opens up to the third row. It’s relatively easy to get in and out. Kids will have no problem. Adults will need to be a little more flexible.
In the third row, space is quite good - perfect for kids. The floor is quite high so your knees are a little bunched up, but doable – again, it’s perfect for kids. Headroom was more of a concern. My head was very close to the roof. When you pull down the tail gate with the third row engaged, it’s very tight. I thought the seat backs were going to smash the window.
Third row passengers have their own directional air vents on both sides – including fan speed control - a cup holder and a storage box, adjustable head rests and lap sash belts. Visibility from the third row is good, thanks to the third row side windows and stadium style seating. There is a bit of room for feet to slide under the second row and decent knee room for someone of my size.
It’s easy to engage the seat tumble to make an exit from the third row. It’s a two part action - press the button on top of the seat to flip and the lever at the base to roll forward. Young kids would be able to manage this on their own once shown the process.
The Hyundai Santa Fe’s luggage space falls seriously short when the third row is engaged. If you’re packing for a holiday with seven people on board, you’re going to need the roof storage. I’d also option the roof-mounted DVD entertainment system which is not only CD, MP3 compatible, but Sony PlayStation® and Nintendo console-compatible.
The diesel engine of the Santa Fe is quite frugal. Official fuel consumption is quoted at 6.7L/100km for the manual transmission and 7.4L/100km for the automatic on a combined cycle.
The Hyundai Santa Fe gains a five-star rating from ANCAP. Stability control with traction control is standard across the range, as are driver and front passenger airbags, dual side front airbags and front and rear passenger curtain airbags which extend to the third row.
The growing collection of seven-seaters on the market offer a diverse line-up – Mitsubishi Outlander, Honda Odyssey, Toyota Kluger and Holden Captiva, for example - and both on paper and in the flesh, the Highlander puts forward a very tidy package with good safety credentials.
The SLX is priced from $37,990*, the Elite from $43,990* and the range topping Highlander from $48,490*.
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