Family car or a quintessential everyday drive? Why not both?
The car on test was the range-topping 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlanderpacking a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine. An eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission sends drive to all wheels. This Santa Fe model carries a price tag of $65,200 plus on-road costs.
If you are shopping in this aisle, you’re also most likely exploring the Kia Sorento. Its top GT-Line grade fetches a starting price of $63,070 plus on-road costs, while the other main rival in this class is the Skoda Kodiaq TD1 RS that comes in higher starting at $68,890 excluding on-roads.
As a flexible seven-seater offering that sits right in the middle of Hyundai's SUV range in terms of sizing and pricing, it's easy to see why the Santa Fe has been positioned as an ideal family car for city dwellers.
What we want to know, though, is this more than just an SUV that caters for families? Is it also a comfortable, conventional and convenient daily driver – even when you're not accommodating kids and strollers?
On first glance, it may not seem obvious that this car sits in the large-SUV class.While it measures in greater than its predecessor, it doesn’t look or feel bulky in any way.
The Santa Fe is 4785mm long, 1900mm wide, 1710mm high, has a wheelbase of 2765mm, while ground clearance comes in at 176mm – 15mm longer, 10mm wider and 5mm taller than its previous model. What’s more, Hyundai claims that it added 39mm more leg room to the second row of seats when this car received a welcomed facelift at the end of 2020.
Behind the wheel, the ride height is just right.You get the feeling you're up high, but without the sense you're driving a truck or hauling around a large car.If anything, it’s an SUV that gives a great feeling of confidence, even while manoeuvring through narrow streets or tight carparks.
In fact, visibility all round is expansive. The overall driving experience is made easy just by the pure ergonomics of this car.
Take the positioning of the automatic transmission, for example, which can be accessed conveniently with your fingertips and without taking your eyes off the road.Also known as Hyundai’s shift-by-wire transmission, it sits within the centre console and is an easy, clever addition in comparison to many others in the market.
The drive itself is just as you’d expect. It’s not mind-blowing by any means, but performs exactly the way it needs to – getting the job done for an everyday drive.
The ride doesn't present a whole bunch of excitement in the diesel variant – dispensing a little noise as expected from a turbo diesel engine, but not to be mistaken with cabin noise that is actually pleasantly subdued.
Once you get past the engine noise mixed with a small dose of lag off the line, there are plenty of pluses.
The car is punchy and has a decent amount of power up its sleeve – delivering 148kW of power and 440Nm of torque. The ride is smooth, so much so that bumps are absorbed effortlessly.
Driving was conducted on an array of roads, from inner-city urban streets to freeways and country roads, and the Santa Fe took well to all conditions. We returned a reading of 8.0 litres per 100km, which is adequate given the size of this car and the range of driving undertaken.
The car is comfortable and glides well into corners thanks to its effortless steering, and gets an extra tick for its precise braking system.
The Santa Fe’s safety features do a great job at assisting with its overall drivability – with the blind-spot view monitor a stand-out. This is basically a live-view camera that pops up in the right driver display once the indicators are activated. Genius.
What’s more, the Highlander scores driver-attention warning, a surround-view monitor, parking distance warning for both the front and rear, and an advanced smart parking-assist system, just to name a few.
|Price||$65,200 plus on-road costs|
|Engine||2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel|
|Power/torque||148kW @ 3800rpm, 440Nm @ 1750–2750rpm|
|Transmission||8-speed twin-clutch automatic|
|Fuel-rating label, claimed||6.1L/100km|
|Fuel type||Diesel (67L tank)|
|Spare tyre||Full-size spare, matching alloy|
|ANCAP safety rating||5 stars (2018 rating year)|
|Warranty||5 years/unlimited km|
Other bonuses in this range-topper include 20-inch wheels, nappa leather, power adjustment, heating and ventilation on both front seats, heated outboard second-row seats, ambient interior lighting, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, a head-up display, a panoramic sunroof and a 360-degree camera.
Our model was fitted with a camel beige leather interior that adds $295 to the price tag. The overall cabin is clean and comfortable without being too overdone. The design is clever, down to the swoopy dash and uncomplicated controls and toggle switches.
Hyundai can be applauded for employing more plush organic materials, which has enhanced the overall character of its cabin.
But – none of this matters if it lacks space.
Thankfully, this SUV has plenty. The storage up front is plentiful with a decent centre console, additional storage space underneath, two cupholders in the front row, roomy door bins with generous additional cupholders, and a spot for holding your phone vertically in a wireless charging port up front.
In the second row, passengers score seat-back map pockets, ample head and leg room, door bins with cupholders, and essentially an extra two-and-a-half cupholders in the centre. The seats have a generous recline, and to add to passenger comfort, blinds are also fitted to this row.
Jump into the third row and you’re greeted with, you guessed it, more storage – plus, you'll even receive your own cupholders. The seats are accessible via electric release at the top and on the side. This gives other passengers the ability to assist from outside the car, or occupants in the third row can manage it themselves. The leg room is sufficient for an adult, and head room, while not significant, still gets the job done.
It doesn’t stop there, as the Santa Fe boasts mega boot space. Hyundai claims a minimum of 271L and maximum of 782L. The Santa Fe comes complete with a power tailgate and a full-size spare is slung under the rear.
Bonus points should be awarded for key everyday necessities, such as the amount of USB ports throughout – each row receives two. A worthy mention also for the inclusion of exceptional air-conditioning in the third row.
Points deducted, however, for the infotainment system, which still isn't up to scratch. It's not the most user-friendly in the market and a real shortfall.
The higher-spec 10.0-inch screen, like the one in our test car,gets wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while the lower grades receive wireless.
The Santa Fe has a five-star ANCAP safety rating, and is backed by a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. Service intervals are 12 months/15,000km, whichever comes first. Each capped-price service for routine maintenance costs $459 per visit.
The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander is an ideal family option. It packs an impressive boot and encompasses plenty of useable interior space. It's a comfortable offering for an everyday driver, whether that be for inner-city urban use or longer road trips.
Seven seats or not, we see this as a perfect, practical option for those shopping in this segment, even if a family isn't being taken into consideration. That can be the new job for the Palisade. Meanwhile, this Hyundai right here can be whatever you need it to be.