A picture tells a thousand words. In the case of the new 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe, the first pictures I saw told me just one thing, 'awkward'. The whole split headlight design and huge break from the current Santa Fe didn't really gel with me.
So, you could imagine my surprise when I had the chance to drive the new Santa Fe and see it up close in person. I had to eat my word(s), because it actually looks pretty damn good. It's also not skin-deep, with a stack of new and good-looking interior options for customers to choose from.
The all-new Santa Fe range kicks off from $43,000 (plus on-road costs) and comes with the choice of four variants, one driveline and two engines at launch, with pricing running all the way through to $60,500 (plus on-road costs).
At the entry level, the Santa Fe Elite Active starts from $43,000 (plus on-road costs) in four-wheel-drive petrol trim, with a four-wheel-drive diesel available for an additional $3000.
The next step up is the Elite four-wheel-drive diesel for $54,000 (plus on-road costs), and finally the Highlander rounds off the offering with a four-wheel-drive diesel package for $60,500 (plus on-road costs).
All three trim levels are loaded with gear. You can see a full breakdown of equipment in our 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe pricing and specifications article.
Hyundai hosted us in Coffs Harbour for the launch program, which included a mix of highway, country and gravel roads to get a good feel for the Santa Fe and what the Australian engineering team has done to fine-tune the ride and handling.
Before we hit the road, we had the chance to get a good look at the interior and exterior to see how functional all the styling changes are. That split headlight design works with the daytime LED running lights occupying the top portion of the cluster, while the bottom cluster is reserved for the LED headlights (adaptive in Highlander trim) and a high-beam light, with the lower section housing a fog light.
A giant grille offers a cooling entry point, while the lower portion houses the radar cruise-control housing. The side profile is well defined and features chrome highlights around the window frames, which give the car a premium feel on the road.
Around the rear it's an all-LED affair, well, that is until you see the indicator, which still uses an incandescent lamp – a strange omission. Either way, the rear also features chrome highlights and a brushed-aluminium look around the lower diffuser.
The new Santa Fe really strikes an elegant pose and makes cars like the new Mazda CX-8 look rather pedestrian in comparison. There are nine colours available, with premium paints attracting a $695 premium.
Inside the cabin is where I was left most surprised. Our drive kicked off in an entry-level Active diesel specification, and I really liked the look of the grey cloth seats featured. They give the car a very modern appearance, and make it look and feel far more premium than its entry-level point would suggest.
It's the same story around the rest of the cabin. Hyundai has engineered a very premium feel to the interior with soft-touch material on the dashboard and centre console surrounds. There are some harder plastics around the door, but they don't mark easily and appear to be built for durability given their location around hand entry/exit points.
Atop the dashboard is Hyundai's new (to the Santa Fe) infotainment system that measures 7.0 inches on entry-level and 8.0 inches on high-specification models. The entire range includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, while 8.0-inch infotainment systems get inbuilt satellite navigation.
Connectivity comes in the form of two USB charging socks up front, in addition to a 3.5mm auxiliary input. There's also a Qi wireless phone charger for added convenience.
Stump up for the Highlander and you also get a 7.0-inch TFT screen ahead of the driver, in addition to a pretty impressive head-up display that shows you navigation and speed information.
Safety is a big priority for Hyundai with a reverse-view camera and rear parking sensors standard across the range, while the Elite picks up front parking sensors and the Highlander gets a 360-degree-view camera and front parking sensors. The 360-degree camera works well, but the quality isn't amazing, which means some details are hard to decipher.
It continues with a host of intelligent features that take SUV safety in this segment to the next level. The entire range comes with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) that works up to 90km/h for pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles, and up to 160km/h for just vehicles. The system also includes radar cruise control (with stop and go functionality), blind-spot collision avoidance, rear cross-traffic alert, driver-attention warning, lane-keep assist and a tyre pressure monitor.
Elite and Highlander models get a segment-first technology called Rear Occupant Alert (ROA). It works by issuing a reminder to the driver to check the back seat if it detects pressure on the seat or movement. If the driver still gets out of the car and locks it, the vehicle will then alarm after a set period to alert others to an occupant remaining in the rear seat.
The blind-spot collision avoidance also works to prevent the driver from moving into another lane if there is a vehicle present. It will even lock the rear doors if a passenger tries to exit the vehicle when another vehicle is approaching, it's excellent technology that could prevent tragic accidents from taking place.
Leg and head room in the first row are good with a number of seat adjustments available. The Highlander actually offers 14-way adjustment, which is arguably more than anybody will ever need.
Second-row leg and toe room are good, but head room is a little limited with the panoramic sunroof fitted to the Highlander. ISOFIX points are located on the two outboard seats, while the second row slides and reclines to offer extra accommodation to third-row occupants.
While you can fit adults into the third row, it's a space designed mainly for kids. With the second row moved forward slightly, there's enough room to fit an adult for short drives. Hyundai has added an extra 36mm to the entry space for the third row, an additional 42mm of head room, and increased the window frame by 41 per cent to create an open feeling in the space.
You'll find air vents and fan speed controls in the third row, in addition to cupholders, while the boot features a 12V outlet and a single push button that slides and folds the second row for access to the third row. An additional switch is located on the kerbside that offers the same functionality, which makes getting in and out of the third row easy.
Cargo capacity comes in at 130L behind the third row (this is around 70L down on the CX-8) and 547L with the third row stowed. It then expands to 1625L when the second row is moved out of the way. Beneath the floor is a full-sized spare tyre.
Towing capacity is 2000kg with a braked trailer, with a maximum down ball weight of 100kg. That can be increased to 150kg with the additional heavy-duty suspension kit sold by Hyundai.
We hit the road for an extensive test drive of the latest Santa Fe model across a variety of surfaces. Low-speed driving is carefree with light steering and a soft ride that happily soaks up bumps with little fuss.
Hyundai has employed a new steering system that uses a rack-mounted electric power-assistance system for the steering (as opposed to the column-mounted system found in the previous-generation Santa Fe). Hyundai says this provides better steering feel. While Hyundai may be right when driven back-to-back, it's hard to tell the difference. We also noticed some rack rattle from the steering column over corrugated sections of road while turning.
We only noticed this in one vehicle, and Hyundai is currently investigating whether it's a common issue or isolated to the one car.
As you hit the highway, you will immediately notice the responsiveness of the diesel engine. The 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged-diesel engine produces 147kW of power and 440Nm of torque, while consuming 7.5 litres of fuel per 100km.
Peak torque is available from 1750rpm and provides a healthy kick in the back when the throttle is mashed. The new eight-speed is a great thing, providing ample response in any gear. It also doesn't have the fussy feel of some gearboxes with a higher number of gears.
Overtaking was fairly effortless, as was low-speed sudden acceleration. There weren't any points at which it felt underdone or laggy.
The ride is excellent, even on very poor country and gravel roads. Hyundai's local team worked with ZF Sachs to test 27 front and 22 rear suspension damper builds, settling on a tune that was soft but offered enough compliance for sportiness.
That's also partly thanks to the new body the Santa Fe sits on. Body tensile strength has increased by 14.3 per cent, while torsional stiffness has increased by 15.4 percent. Beneath the Santa Fe's skin is a MacPherson strut suspension type at the front and a multi-link rear suspension.
In terms of road noise, the Santa Fe is good. The diesel engine is quiet from inside the cabin, but it can be noisy and clattery from the outside, which is unfortunately inherent to these low-capacity diesel engines.
We only had a brief chance to drive the petrol Santa Fe. It uses a 2.4-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine that produces 138kW of power and 241Nm of torque mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
It's much thirstier at 9.3L/100km and is only available with all-wheel drive. While it's a little more linear in its power delivery, it feels more stressed than the diesel. You need more revs to get it moving, and it's not as happy to use its available torque to trundle along.
It's certainly not a doozie, but it won't set the world on fire. Perhaps a better option here would have been a low-capacity turbocharged petrol engine, or the naturally aspirated V6 from the previous-generation Santa Fe.
Hyundai has also stepped up the game on the connected vehicle front with the introduction of Hyundai Auto Link and Auto Link Premium. It's a connected vehicle system that allows the owner to connect to the vehicle remotely using their smartphone.
That connection then allows the owner to check the status of the vehicle, remotely lock and unlock, and even remotely start the car to maintain climate control. The great news is that connectivity to the system is free if the vehicle is serviced with Hyundai.
Hyundai offers the Santa Fe with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and capped-price servicing, which occurs every 12 months. Over a five-year period, the petrol Santa Fe costs $1680 to service, while the diesel comes in at $2095 over five years.
We've been seriously impressed by the new Hyundai Santa Fe. It delivers on style, interior packaging, the latest safety technology and competitive pricing. It's a shame there isn't an entry-level front-wheel-drive model or the retention of a petrol V6, but it paves the way to a healthy line-up down the track.
We are also looking forward to seeing how the Santa Fe compares against its main competitors in the segment.