2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Cabriolet: World-exclusive first drive

Hyundai has surprised the world with an all-new seven-seat convertible SUV. Could this be the start of a new thing? Paul Maric finds out.

Just when you thought manufacturers couldn't carve out any more niches, Hyundai has come along and blindsided the competition with what can only be described as a work of art – the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Cabriolet – and we've had a world-exclusive first drive.

Designed by the brand's European design studio, the all-new Santa Fe Cabriolet bridges the gap between weekend fun and daily practicality in the form of a seven-seat, non-retractable convertible SUV.

Based on the TM Santa Fe platform, the Santa Fe Highlander Cabriolet builds on its already impressive design and body structure by offering a four-door convertible with the same running gear as the top-specification Santa Fe Highlander.

While the roof can't be retracted – making it difficult to drive in the rain, at the snow, near lightning, at night, on cold days, on hot days or near the sea – the extra space afforded by ditching a heavy folding roof mechanism meant that Hyundai could retain a true seven-seat layout.

Beneath the bonnet is Hyundai's frugal yet punchy 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that produces 147kW of power and a hearty 440Nm of torque, sipping just 15.8 litres of fuel per 100km (in comparison to 7.5L/100km for the hardtop version). It sends torque to all four wheels thanks to its clever H-Trac all-wheel-drive system.

Hyundai remains tight-lipped on pricing, but the Santa Fe Cabriolet, which will launch in 2019 with just one grade, the top-specification Highlander, is likely to be priced north of $130,000 (plus on-road costs), making it the most expensive Hyundai passenger vehicle to be sold in Australia.

A world-first patented windscreen technology eliminates buffeting in all three rows courtesy of a raked windscreen with magnetic electrodes, which are driven by a boot-mounted flux capacitation unit. This unit pushed Hyundai to develop a 48V electrical system to cater for the electrical load it requires beyond the 88km/h marker.

Inside the cabin it's all class, with the Highlander's standard leather seats traded for Italian-sourced cowhide finished in a new colour called Kimchi. Each row comes with seat heating, while the front row features ventilation and a heated steering wheel.

Infotainment comes in the form of an 8.0-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while wireless phone charging is joined by Hyundai's new Auto Link Plus application that allows remote connection for unlocking, locking and remote start.

Out on the open road, the Santa Fe Cabriolet really comes to life. Body rigidity through corners isn't great, but you wouldn't expect miracles from the brand's first attempt at a seven-seat convertible SUV. What helped was covert testing at the Nürburgring during night sessions by the company's chief engineer, Albert Biermann.

While body rigidity isn't quite at Jaguar F-Type levels, the new eight-speed automatic gearbox certainly makes up for it with quick shifts and throaty in-gear acceleration that's matched by a peaceful diesel thrum.

With six of your mates on board, it's not hard to see the appeal of the Santa Fe Cabriolet. There's plenty of room inside, and even on the coldest of days, the patented windscreen prevents wind from ruining the hair of even third-row passengers.

Clever integration of the shark fin aerial on the rear tailgate tray ensures full operation of satellite navigation and DAB+ digital radio. The new Infinity sound system effectively makes the Santa Fe Cabriolet a rolling sound stage, with a subwoofer taking up most of the spare wheel storage area and around a third of the fuel tank.

A Sport mode allows the car to transform into a bit of a corner eater, thanks to dynamic torque distribution and surplus flux capacity from the windscreen sent to all four wheels for mid-corner punch.

If you can't be bothered looking over your shoulder, parking is taken care of with the Santa Fe's self-parking feature that facilitates hands-free parking at the push of a button. It means that a rockstar park is easily followed by just jumping over the doors to hop out of the car.

Hyundai has really nailed the seven-seat convertible SUV niche with this impressive package. It delivers style, substance, and will appeal to an all-new demographic for the brand. And it's backed by an excellent five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. What more could you want?

If you hadn't noticed already, we're kind of taking the piss. Well, we're fully taking the piss. This is an absolutely legitimate car, but it won't be making it into production. Well, not that we're aware of. Manufacturers will often take a pre-production car that's going to be crushed anyway and use it for a number of things.

In this instance, Hyundai needed a roofless version of the Santa Fe to use in a television commercial. By removing the roof, a camera can slide on a slider down the length of the car overhead to capture photos and video of passengers in all three rows.

Once the shoot was complete, the car sat dormant in the basement of Hyundai's Australian headquarters until we thought we'd ask if we could take it for a drive. That idea evolved into shooting an actual review at a top-secret location (it can't be driven on public roads).

And, for a bit of fun, the Hyundai guys transported it on the back of another Hyundai Santa Fe uncovered through peak-hour Sydney traffic. Much to our surprise, no photos of it ever made it online.

All jokes aside, it's actually a pretty cool concept that one day may become a reality. If you could get the structure and wind buffeting right, a seven-seat convertible SUV could be a pretty cool thing!

Sorry if we wasted your day, but we thought this would be a bit of fun. If it were to be a reality, which SUV would you turn into a convertible and which engine would you have under the bonnet?

MORE: Santa Fe news, reviews, comparisons and videos
MORE: Everything Hyundai