We bought our Santa Fe Highlander back in January 2011 as an unused demonstrator, knowing an updated model would come out later in the year. As it was the Highlander spec, it came with everything except for Bluetooth and sat-nav, which would have made it a complete package. The three things that attracted me to it were the diesel engine (which was developed by Bosch and Hyundai), the five-year warranty and keeping the missus happy by getting a high riding SUV just like all the other mums at the school drop off.
After 175,000km of mostly highway driving and a fair bit of urban crawl its been nothing short of spectacularly reliable. The build quality has been fantastic. It has really amazed me how well they put it together. The interior has suffered abuse from three kids over the years and it still holds up well and the engine has not missed a beat. Here’s the run down:
Motoring journos like to bang on about the tactile feel of soft touch materials and colour palettes to deliver an airy ambiance to the cabin. When you have three kids, all you want is something that wears well and scrubs off dried up vomit and sticky drink spills without leaving scratches behind. The leather felt more like an elephant hide at first but has started to smooth and soften. The hard-wearing cabin has endured all kinds of abuse and still comes up looking good after a light rub of Armor All. Big ticks here for the Santa Fe.
The boot is large and carries a full week of shopping plus other stuff that has accumulated over time, like seven pairs of shoes, make up, toys, sporting equipment, school bags and various jackets. The missus thought we needed seven seats to carry loads of kids to soccer games. In real world experience we use the extra seats to carry drunk adults on occasional nights out. It’s a bit tight and uncomfortable but alcohol has a great way of improving the flexibility of middle-aged adults who are too tight to pay for an Uber. My advice is to think long and hard if you really need a seven-seater.
Ride and Handling
The steering is light, which makes it great for parking and the suspension soaks up bumps comfortably. These are the only two highlights in this department. As I am used to sedans, I can pick up the tendency for it to wallow into and out of corners, inducing occasional bouts of sea sickness. As the missus has no regard for the laws of physics, she throws it into corners at speed with alarming regularity and so far it has managed to stay upright. On a positive note, there is no need to take the kids to Disneyland when a trip around the corner has this many thrills and fortunately no spills…yet!
Its been an absolute revelation to see how well this thing is put together. The engine only started to feel run in at around 70,000km. Once this happened, the fuel consumption started to come down and we now regularly get around 8-9 litres per 100km. Even more pleasing has been the overall construction. Every single panel, except the roof, bears the battle scars of car park misadventures, but they are still holding up well. The last seven years have been quite hard on it being parked out in the blistering summer heat, but despite this the paint comes up nicely with a wash and wax. There are no rattles or squeaks in the cabin and all of the switch gear is still intact.
We have serviced the car regularly and have only had to replace the alternator when it gave out, as well as replacing the harmonic balancer as a precaution. Other than that there have been no issues besides regular wear and tear. No complaints here at all.
This is the real star of the show and the reason for writing this article. Its been a phenomenal performer that is showing no signs of slowing down. It is loud and coarse when starting up on cold days, but once it warms up it just gets on about its business. I have driven newer versions of the Santa Fe and they are much more refined. Do not be put off by reports of the engine being rough. It’s a small price to pay for a reliable and economical engine with loads of torque.
The missus drives 50km each way along the highway to get to work and back. This is what diesels are meant for and it shines accordingly. The engine does its best work on long runs at 110kms/h with the fuel gauge barely moving and the revs sitting just over 1000rpm. We can do long trips on one tank, as fuel consumption drops down further once we get out of the city.
It’s a real joy to load it up on a family trip along the highway getting hatchback economy, and ample torque on hand if you need it. Sometimes I throw extra stuff in the boot just to see how much it can handle. We have powered past quite a few other vehicles struggling up hills with a full load on board. The effortless performance is just fantastic.
At the time of purchase, we cross-shopped the Kluger, Sorrento and CX-9 against the Santa Fe and we have no regrets at all. Getting a Japanese-0built SUV would have had some brand cachet but we would have needed to settle for a petrol guzzling base model with limited features. When the time comes to update, I would happily buy another one. I’ve spent a bit of time in newer versions and the minor gripes that I have highlighted have all been addressed. Family and friends who also own Santa Fe’s are equally impressed with their vehicles as well.