The old adage of ‘the simple things in life are often the best’ doesn’t always stack up.
In the automotive world, there are many paths that lead to the best, but in the case of the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe range, is the simplest version really any worse?
In the new Santa Fe range, the entry model loses its base-model identifier to simply be the Santa Fe, with Active, Elite and Highlander trims above it. But does that make the Santa Fe the Santa Fe?
There’s a choice of two powertrain layouts, either a petrol V6 with front-wheel drive or a turbo diesel four-cylinder with standard all-wheel drive. Pricing starts from $44,700 plus on-road costs for the V6, whereas the base diesel steps up by $3500 to $48,200 plus on-roads.
By that stage you could instead opt for the one-level-higher Active V6 at a comparable $48,300. At the time of publishing, Hyundai Australia also has a $49,990 drive-away offer on the base diesel.
For many buyers, though, that’s simply not the answer. Be it long-distance freeway trips, a rural buyer preference, the need for low-down torque to tow, or less than ideal weather and road conditions, the all-wheel-drive diesel has its place.
|2021 Hyundai Santa Fe (base)|
|Engine||2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel|
|Power and torque||148kW at 3800rpm, 440Nm at 1750–2750rpm|
|Transmission||Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim, combined||6.1L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||6.8L/100km|
|Boot volume (7-seat / 5-seat)||130L / 571–782L|
|ANCAP safety rating||Five-star (tested 2018)|
|Warranty||Five years, unlimited kilometres|
|Main competitors||Mazda CX-8, Kia Sorento, Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace|
|Price (MSRP)||$48,200 plus on-road costs ($49,990 drive-away on offer).|
The entry-spec Santa Fe also offers a set of specifications that are a little unique within the range. Things like cloth trim, a traditional gear selector, key-start ignition, and 17-inch wheels on taller sidewalls.
Perhaps not the ultimate spec for every shopper, but still plenty to like for those that like to keep things simple.
The standard equipment list also covers things like wireless phone charging, leather wrap for the steering wheel and gear selector, auto up and down power windows on all doors, heated door mirrors, manual air-con with vents to all three rows, and LED headlights.
Yes, you can tell you’re not behind the wheel of the most opulent Santa Fe, but at the same time it hardly feels bare or underequipped inside.
The interior itself is nice and roomy. The base Santa Fe’s ‘traditional’ centre console doesn’t free up as much space as the floating console of high-grade models. There’s still plenty of stash space in the console, trays for keys and wallets fore and aft of the gear selector, and a little oddments shelf ahead of the front passenger. Handy!
Neither the first or second row is short on head and leg room. With a flat floor, sliding across the middle row becomes that much easier, and getting stuck in the middle doesn’t feel like a penalty position.
For a little added long-trip comfort, the second row can slide fore and aft, or be reclined slightly. A little fettling inside has freed up a touch more second-row knee space too – that’s handy.
Hyundai deserves a mention for its choice of seat fabric too. It looks like a fluffy, felty, tweedy fabric – but it isn’t quite. While it’s certainly soft, it’s clearly designed with a degree of water and stain resistance in mind for family use.
The third row is ideally proportioned for kids rather than lanky teens or adults, as is so often the case in seven-seaters of this size. Getting in and out is easy enough, as is folding them flat into the floor.
Naturally, boot space at its smallest won’t carry seven people and their luggage, but there’s enough room behind the third row for a complement of school bags. Drop the third row (or even just half) and prams, portacots or a hefty fortnight’s worth of family groceries will slot in with room to spare.
By official figures, the Santa Fe lays claim to between 571L and 782L with the third row folded (depending on second-row position), but Hyundai doesn’t officially list a figure for the space behind the third row, though suggests 130L is what you can expect to find back there.
Helpfully, there’s also a cargo blind included, with a two-position mount to keep the boot covered regardless of seat position. It can also be stored in a dedicated space under the floor, where there’s a bit of extra small-item storage.
Although the Santa Fe’s diesel engine looks, near enough, like a match to earlier versions, the 148kW/440Nm 2.2-litre turbo diesel is up by one kilowatt compared to last year’s model. Dig a little deeper and the engine has been more thoroughly revised with a new alloy block, a quieter timing belt (instead of a chain), and a range of changes to optimise efficiency.
Hyundai claims a thrifty 6.1 litres per 100km consumption, down from 7.5L/100km in earlier versions, and as unlikely as it might seem for a big seven-seater in largely urban conditions with a few longer highway stints, we recorded 6.8L/100km in this test.
There’s plenty of torque available from low engine speeds, so getting the Santa Fe up to speed is never too coarse or rattly. The revised diesel remains calm and mostly quiet, and just gets on with the job at hand.
The new eight-speed dual-clutch auto works well with the transmission. It’s smooth between gears, and has no trouble picking the right gear for conditions.
For low-speed shuffling, it manages to avoid some of the surging and stumbling of some dual-clutch autos, which makes for a much nicer time in crawling traffic or for lining up a tight car park. There’s a bit of hesitation trying to launch from a standstill on a steep incline, but it’s not any kind of deal-breaker.
Otherwise, the steering is nimble enough for use around town, but planted enough to feel right at home on the open road.
There are no qualms with the latest Santa Fe as an urban runabout either, but get it out on the freeway, with its relaxed ride and comfortable cruising ability, and the entry-level Santa Fe works as a brilliant road trip companion.
Those smaller wheels and taller sidewalls provide good impact protection from rough roads, and work with a suspension tune that's geared for comfort. Hyundai has also managed to avoid making the Santa Fe soft and wallowy – a tricky but worthwhile balancing act.
If you’re looking for a weekend tow rig, the Santa Fe range is rated to 2500kg (but with a 200kg towball load), which makes it versatile enough for most light- to mid-duty applications.
On the safety and driver assist fronts, Hyundai has ticked most boxes with autonomous emergency braking and intersection assist, lane-keeping and lane-following assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rear occupant alert, high-beam assist, speed limiter with adaptive cruise control, and tyre pressure monitoring fitted standard.
There are still some features left for higher grades, like safe exit alert (to prevent opening a door into the path of cyclists), 360-degree camera, and reverse AEB, but the basic Santa Fe isn't missing anything vital.
As before there are six airbags, but curtain airbags are for the first and second rows only, which represents a gap in protection for a car designed to seat seven.
Other inclusions cover things like an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth, AM/FM radio and smartphone mirroring for Apple and Android. There’s no digital radio or inbuilt navigation on the base model, though.
There are no auto wipers and no climate control – which are available higher in the range. For all of that, the Santa Fe doesn’t really look or feel basic, but still leaves room for more expensive variants to sit comfortably above it.
Hyundai also offers a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and capped-price servicing. Service intervals are 12 months or 15,000km, and each of the first five visits is priced at $459 each, or $2295 over five years.
At its core, the more recent update to the Santa Fe hasn’t done anything to erode the model’s all-round family flexibility. There's a sharper look up front and some detail changes under the skin, but for most buyers the bits that matter stay as they were.
In its most basic specification, the Santa Fe isn’t all that glamorous, but the package doesn’t feel needlessly low-grade either. It’s a nice balance of need versus want in terms of features.
As good as the diesel engine, all-wheel-drive powertrain and dual-clutch eight-speed auto are, at almost $50K right now, more cost-conscious shoppers are likely to take a longer look at the petrol V6.
But for those who tow or head to the snow, or rural buyers with long runs between destinations, nothing can fill in for the diesel Santa Fe.