Hyundai Santa Fe road test and review
THE Santa Fe, Hyundai's seven-seater family SUV, has been instrumental in the Korean's brand's initiative to break free of its cheap and cheerful stereotype.
Only one-in-five Santa Fe's sold here are of the basic variety with most buyers happy to hand over close to $60,000 for the privilege of the higher-end options.
This mid-life upgrade is important then - both for Hyundai to keep pace in the segment and for conquest sales - and even though the changes themselves are minimal, the effect could be far reaching.
The Santa Fe is offered in a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel which does duty across the range and a 2.4-litre petrol available in the entry-level Active variant only. Both engines are paired to either a six-speed auto or manual transmission, the latter on sale here only in the Active.
Upgrades centre largely on equipment levels which includes a nicer 7.0-inch colour touchscreen and voice control on the Active, a bigger 8.0-inch screen with sat-nav and front parking sensors for the mid-range Elite and a superior, safety package for the Highlander.
The new inclusions and equipment levels in this Series II do come at a price with the Elite now $1500 and the Highlander $2750 more than their predecessors.
A new-look instrument cluster and a revised touchscreen multimedia system highlight the interior changes to the Santa Fe with updated trim options and premium audio options thrown in for good measure.
All quite subtle evolutions, I know, but when grouped with those things the Santa Fe already does well - space, storage and comfort - it makes for a nicely enhanced package.
The front seats are well moulded and supportive with the tilting and moveable middle row proving rather accommodating to passengers.
The third pew - with access to fan-controlled air vents, is tight and tricky to climb into so remains the occasional preserve of children or smallish adults.
There are some good family storage options including large door bins and the boot - 516-litres with the third row folded - grows to a sizeable 1615-litres if you flip-fold the middle row too.
On the road
Re-tuning is the buzzword here with the inner workings of the Santa Fe tweaked to allow a more comfortable but interesting drive.
True, the Santa Fe already had much going for it in this department with good ride and handling and a decent performance on varied surfaces.
For this Series II offering Hyundai's Australian engineers had a go at the rear suspension finding a bit more balance and allowing it to be a touch more sporty in the turn-in.
This car feels decidedly more planted, there is no wallowing around corners and the availability of peak torque so low down the band emphasises real-world drivability.
The steering could offer more feedback but is accurate enough and braking is excellent especially in the wet.
A handful of dirt roads was the measure of our off-the-bitumen foray during launch but to be honest, it is unlikely buyers will be taking this SUV on roads less travelled.
What do you get?
A top-notch safety package is the major addition to this Series II Santa Fe with the Highlander - which accounts for more than 45% of sales - getting the fit-out as standard.
In addition to Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Detection and Lane Change Assist, there is now also Autonomous Emergency Braking, Forward Collision Warning and Smart Cruise Control, which worked seamlessly during our drive, even bringing the huge hulk of an SUV to a casual stop with traffic ahead of us at a traffic light. Rear Cross Traffic Alert is particularly useful in shopping centre car parks where, incidentally, the Santa Fe can actually park itself if you wish.
The multimedia system boasts larger screens (7.0-inch in the Active, 8.0-inch in the Elite and Highlander) with a wide range of connectivity options, including USB, AUX, digital iPod, and Bluetooth. There is also voice-command integration with Siri and Google Now but unlike in the Tucson no CarPlay or Android Auto on offer just yet.
We didn't get a chance to drive the Active petrol variant for which official figures have increased to 9.4l/100km, but the auto diesel - despite the wet country roads - was pretty close to Hyundai's 7.7l/100km which we reckon is really good for a vehicle of this size.
Of course Hyundai's after-sales service is second only to Kia's with a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, fixed-price servicing and road-side assist for 10 years.
Aside from the excellent Sorento there has not been much movement in the large SUV segment this year. Resistance for the Highlander in the more luxury end of the scale will come from the Ford Territory Titanium (from $56,740), Toyota Kluger Grande (from $67,130) and Kia Sorento Platinum (from $55,990)
The Santa Fe has obviously hit the mark with more families, its range of features, comfortable drive and versatility proving a great lure.
We like things like the tilting seats which make it more comfortable for kiddies in car seats, the retractable window blinds, auto tailgate and easy flip-drop second and third row.
Exterior changes have been minimal too, confined really to a new Tucson-inspired nose, new-design bumpers and LED daytime running lights. Santa Fe Series II Active variants ride on new-design 17-inch alloy wheels, while Elite and Highlander variants get new design 18-inch and 19-inch alloy wheels.
Of course the Santa Fe is an incredibly important part of the Hyundai stable and there is little wonder, three years into its cycle, an effort has been made to keep it as contemporary as possible.
Certainly, there was already a very creditable base on which to build and these tweaks, subtle they may be, will likely keep the Santa Fe among the favourites in this segment.
What matters most
What we liked: High equipment levels, solid drive, safety features.
What we'd like to see: Safety package across range, jazzy interior.
Warranty and servicing: 5 year unlimited kilometre warranty with capped-price servicing.
Model: Hyundai Santa Fe.
Details: Five-door 4x4 large SUV.
Engines: 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel generating maximum power of 147kW @ 3800rpm and peak torque of 440Nm @ 1750-2750rpm. 2.4-litre GDi petrol generating maximum power of 138kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 241Nm @ 4000rpm.
Transmissions: Six-speed auto and six-speed manual (in Active only).
Consumption: 7.7 litres/100km (combined average) for diesel and 9.4l/100km for petrol.
Bottom line: 2.4 GDi manual Active from $38,490, auto from $40,990. 2.2 CRDi manual Active from $41,490, auto from $43,990. Elite auto from $49,990. Highlander auto from $55,990.