2008 Hyundai Santa Fe SLX review
Priced from: $33,990 - $48,990 ($40,990 as tested)
Options available: Metallic Paint $350
By: Matt Brogan
Hyundai's previous Santa Fe was an ungainly, underpowered and dated affair lacking any credible driving finesse - things have changed. The new Santa Fe demonstrates just where the big H’s capabilities lie and indeed where their future is headed.
Taking on the likes of Kluger, Captiva, Outlander, Pathfinder, Sorento and Territory, Santa Fe faces some pretty stiff competition. All are similarly powered, specified, priced and have broadly similar capabilities - but when you're up against such fierce competition, the devil is in the detail.
Santa Fe's exterior styling is youthful, modern and fresh with smooth flowing lines, tough proportions and a quality finish that's becoming pleasingly consistent across Hyundai's entire range, but open the door and things become just a little peculiar.
Notice I didn't say bad, far from it. Perhaps questionable, dated or intriguing would be more apt. For example the dashboard sports a giant faux wood grain fascia, the audio system has a cassette player (which led to a frivolous search for the gramophone) and the steering wheel controls don't allow you to flick between station presets, instead offering seek only functionality.
At night the funky blue back lighting, whilst undoubtedly trendy, is a tad overwhelming even when fully dimmed, and the instrumentation though adequate, isn't exactly cutting edge. But there’s a neat flip down convex mirror for keeping an eye of the little ones, numerous nifty storage compartments, and a chilled centre compartment big enough to hold a two litre tub of ice cream.
Interior proportions are surprisingly generous with the front and middle rows offering spacious, supportive and comfortable seating. There are ventilation outlets for all three rows, with the rear having its own fan controls and separate air conditioning switch (AC switch controlled from front, fan from rear).
The third row seats, whilst undoubtedly handy are not entirely practical. Once deployed there is effectively no remaining luggage space and you really do have to wonder who over the age of eight would comfortably fit back there. But in two- or five-seat mode the luggage space is tremendous. Fortunately, the seating combinations are flexible enough to work around most situations.
The leather steering wheel is very comfortable and lends a touch of class to an already excellent driving position. Road noise is minimal and visibility is clear and unhindered all round. I would however recommend fitting reverse park sensors or a camera to assist with the large unseen area below the high rear window.
Upfront, the brilliant 3.3-litre quad cam V6 has to be this car’s strongest selling point. Producing a healthy 180kW & 309Nm, it is smooth, quiet, flexible and copes exceptionally well in all situations. Accelerating from 0-100km/h in 8.7 seconds Santa Fe is equally capable chugging around suburbia as it is in full flight on the open highway.
The five-speed auto does a slick job of shuffling smoothly through the cogs and can be assisted by the use of manual mode should the need arise. Claimed fuel economy is10.7 litres per 100km (combined) which I found a little conservative. My week's driving instead returning a 12.5 l/100km combined average.
As SUVs go, the Santa Fe drives incredibly well, I’d even go so far as to say it’s second only to Kluger for the FWD lot. Handling is well above what you’d expect from a high riding family car and the steering is well weighted and superbly balanced. It’s even easy to manoeuvre through the narrowest of car parks.
There's a very slight tendency to understeer when pushed, which is exaggerated in the wet, but thankfully the standard ESP works very well at keeping you in line. Body roll is virtually non-existent and lateral weight transfer, while noticeable, did not upset the car’s balance, even on unsealed roads.
Torque steer and traction loss is noticeable under heavy initial acceleration, but is easily managed ensuring brilliant acceleration times are not lost. Capable of towing up to 1800kg (braked) Santa Fe is placed roughly on par for pulling power with most of its rivals.
Available in three guises (SX, SLX and Elite) and offering a choice of engines (2.7-litre petrol, 2.2-litre CRDi common rail diesel or 3.3-litre petrol), Santa Fe readily caters to the versatility demanded of a modern SUV. My only disappointment being the 3.3-litre is not available with AWD, though I'd dare say most buyers would prefer the CRDi /AWD combination anyway.
So if you're considering an SUV, and expect a family car to be both manageable and capable then take the 3.3-litre Santa Fe for a spin. It's a great package for the money, an excellent driver's car by class standards and boasts a warranty few competitors can match.