Welcome back, petrol V6. Large SUVs need large motivation, so it’s a joyful return of the V6 petrol to the 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe range. Out is the old 2.4-litre four-pot, and in its place is Hyundai’s Lambda-II 3.5-litre V6. It’s bigger, more powerful, and just more suited to Hyundai’s flagship SUV.
On test, we have the top dog of the three-SUV petrol range, the MY20 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander that asks for $57,500 plus on-road costs. You can get into a petrol-sipping Santa Fe for $43,000 (Active) or step into the mid-spec Elite ($51,000). It’s worth noting, early, that all petrol-powered Santa Fes are now exclusively front-wheel drive. Yep, whereas the consigned-to-Wikipedia-footnotes 2.4-litre petrol was available with AWD in the base Active, the new V6-powered range is only available in FWD.
You can, if your needs demand, still get into an AWD Santa Fe, but you’ll be pumping diesel into the tank at the bowser to fill your Active ($46,000), Elite ($54,000) or Highlander ($60,500) oil burners.
If, like many, the ability to go off-road isn’t a contributing factor in the decision-making process, then rest assured the petrol Santa Fe is not a lesser vehicle for it. Straight off the bat, this is an impressive large SUV.
From the moment you step inside, it’s apparent Hyundai has sweat the details, the Highlander presenting as a much more expensive SUV than its sub-$60K buy-in suggests. From the selection of materials and textures to the fit and finish (mostly, one largish misaligned piece of dash trim notwithstanding), the Santa Fe Highlander feels plush and premium.
An abundance of yielding surfaces, a leather-accented dash with contrast stitching, and even the lovely sculpted pattern on the speaker covers, speak to a design department that has put a great deal of thought into the interior. And then executed it with aplomb.
The front seats, finished in partial leather, are beautifully supportive and comfortable, electrically adjustable (including lumbar support), and heated and cooled.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel feels nice and solid in hand, and frames the digital driver display that carries an air of modernity. A central digital speedo changes colour according to drive modes (green for Eco, blue for Comfort and Smart, or racy red for Sport), and is flanked by a tacho, plus temp and fuel gauges. There’s also a crisp head-up display for those watching their km/h increments.
Storage options abound, including a personal favourite slim-line cubby integrated into the dash above the glovebox on the passenger side. It’s the perfect size for smartphones and wallets which, thanks to its rubber lining, don’t slide around.
There’s a deep storage bin in the centre console that also features a shallow sliding tray for odds and ends.
A pair of cupholders in the centre console are complemented by a wireless charging pad forward of the leather-wrapped gear lever. A 12V plug, a single USB point and an auxiliary plug complete the charging station, while door pockets are good for small bottles.
The only blot – and it’s purely subjective – is the infotainment touchscreen (8.0 inches), its hulking presence atop the dash an anomaly in this otherwise well-resolved cabin. Still, it's brimming with features including satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, DAB+ radio, a split-screen rear-view camera including overhead projection and smartphone integration (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto).
Everything works seamlessly, whether via the touchscreen or the array of buttons that flank either side of the screen. It’s intuitive and easy to use, with fast response times to inputs, while connecting your smartphone via Apple CarPlay, for example, is instant.
The second row offers a generous amount of room, as well as air vents and two USB points. The seats are as comfortable as those in the front, and the two outboard seats are heated (although not cooled), as well. There are a couple of USB charging points plus air vents, although no separate climate controls.
The seatbacks tilt, while the bases slide forward to free up some space for the poor souls consigned to the third row. Access to that third row is via a button on the second row seatback, which tilts and slides to create a nice aperture.
It’s not the last word in comfort back there, certainly not in terms of space. It’s rare the seven-seater that offers a genuine seven-seater experience, and this Santa Fe is no different. It’s a space best reserved for children or maybe someone you don’t like very much. That said, they do score climate controls and air vents, as well as cupholders, so it’s not all doom and gloom back there.
Thanks to the panoramic roof, the ambience inside the cabin is light and airy. The oyster-coloured (light grey) headlining only enhances that feeling. Visibility from the second row is excellent and remains passable in the back row. Claustrophobes rejoice.
A powered tailgate opens to the cargo area, a generous 547L with the third row of seating stowed away, or an ever more accommodating 1625L if the second row is folded down.
If all three rows are being used by humans, though, there’s a scant 130L of storage. And in something of a rarity these days, there’s a full-size spare mounted underneath the Santa Fe.
There’s no question that the interior is a well resolved, quiet and comfortable place to be. But, perhaps the biggest improvement lies under the bonnet, the V6 a willing and eager power plant.
Unsurprisingly, the new V6’s outputs of 206kW and 336Nm are up (by 68kW and 95Nm) on the old 2.4-litre four it replaces. It’s also more powerful (by 59kW) than the 2.2-litre diesel in the range, although diesel variants still trump the petrol on torque with 440Nm to play with.
It matters little on the road, though, the V6 petrol an effortless and quiet engine providing plenty of motivation. Matched to Hyundai’s eight-speed auto (up two ratios on the outgoing four-pot), the Santa Fe’s powertrain offers an easy driving experience. Whereas the old 2.4-litre four always felt a little underdone in this circa-1800kg large SUV, the addition of two cylinders and two cogs has lifted the Santa Fe to another level.
Its momentum is effortless, and quiet, the eight-speed auto unobtrusive with barely perceptible shifts. Torque steer? Not on our watch.
Out on the highway, the V6 hums along quietly, barely breaking into a sweat, sitting at 1500rpm at 100km/h. Need a surge of speed for an overtake, and the V6 responds quickly and gently. It really is a lovely combination.
Toggling through drive modes alters the engine and transmission characteristics, although the change between Eco and Comfort is not noticeable. Dial up Sport, however, and the transmission holds onto revs a little longer while the steering gains some meatiness. The thought of having a dig, though, in this comfortable family hauler seems a bit incongruous. Leave it in Comfort is our tip.
Hyundai claims the new 3.5-litre V6 can get by on 10.6L/100km of regular unleaded on the combined cycle.
The long-term readout on our test car was showing 12.0L/100km, but pleasingly we saw as low as 8.9L/100km on a 200km drive combining city traffic with highway runs, before settling at 9.8L/100km at the end of several days of urban running. That’s a decent return.
Perhaps the Santa Fe’s best attribute is its superb ride on the locally tuned suspension. It is, in a word, sublime. Comfortable, cossetting, isolating, the Santa Fe glides over even the worst Sydney’s roads can throw at it, all while remaining whisper quiet inside the cabin. And this despite sitting on 19-inch alloys with low-profile Conti’ rubber.
Large hits do little to upset the Santa Fe, either, the seven-seater quick to settle after negotiating speed humps and the like. It’s a composure of damping that screams of quality and thoughtfulness to the end user.
Hyundai hasn’t scrimped on safety tech either, with even the base Active model scoring the brand’s SmartSense suite, which includes autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control.
The lane-keep assist (which can be switched off via a button on the dash) is pretty gentle in its execution, with smooth nudges keeping the Santa Fe on track.
Not every system out there can make the same claim, some with jerky inputs that can be quite alarming. ANCAP awarded the Santa Fe a five-star safety rating in 2018.
Servicing comes in at 12 months or 15,000km, and will set you back $330 per visit to the dealership for the first five visits, bar the 48-month visit that is slightly higher at $390. That’s a total of $1710 for the first five years of ownership. The Santa Fe comes with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty.
With its new V6 petrol engine, the range-topping Santa Fe Highlander is an impressive seven-seat SUV. From the high levels of interior refinement, its long list of standard inclusions, to its willing performance and outstanding road manners, this newly invigorated Highlander has stepped up another level.