Yes we like: ergonomic design, well finished interior, feature packed, auto rear tailgate
Not so much: no CarPlay, no DAB, no auto-parking in SR (only in Highlander)
Facts, figures and the interior:
I had to search my soul to find something I didn’t like about Santa Fe. It looks the business, especially the SR with its bright red Brembos showing through big ,shiny, black 19” rims. We recently drove her little sister, the Tucson, and are left with one question: Why the American names? More importantly, why is no “CarPlay” in the top models? But, more about that in a minute.
Hyundai Santa Fe has 5 grades: Active, Active X, Elite, Highlander and SR. We drove the SR. Unusually, some of the features available in the Highlander have been left out of the higher grade SR. Even more bizarrely, only the 7” infotainment system of the lower spec models has Apple Carplay. What is this madness all about? None the less, the sound system is excellent. As always, we left the settings in the neutral position. There is nothing worse than DOOF DOOF bass at traffic lights. I’ve come to love DAB radio for its clarity, but it is currently unavailable. I’m reliably informed this will all change as the models are refreshed or replaced.
The handsome SR has a 2.2L 4-cylinder turbo diesel with 147kw/440Nm which gets a combined economy of 7.9L/100km in the auto and 6.1L/100km in manual. Both transmissions are 6 speed, and our SR had the automatic. The turbo is an E-VGT model (electronic control variable geometry).
The Active X 4WD system which has a lock-up mode up to 30kph for the rear wheels. Although Hyundai says this is a 4-wheel drive system, it is more accurately described as AWD (all-wheel-drive) as it lacks hi-lo gear ranges, and full lock-up diff mode. They specify a 50/50 power split between the front/rear wheels.
There are also 2.4L and 3.3L petrol engines available in other grades, but the pick is this sweet diesel paired to a real automatic, none of that double-clutch nonsense thanks very much. There is plenty of poke thanks to the mountain of torque. Much has been made of NOX emissions which has troubled other brands somewhat, but the Koreans seem to have avoided any scandal by not fudging their test figures naughty software.
The suspension has Macpherson struts in the front, with a multi-link rear end. The SR gets the addition of Tuix Performance Springs all-round.
There is a subtlety and sophistication in the ride and handling you once only dared expect from a posh European. A quick spin in an entry level model showed a slightly softer ride because of softer springs and higher profile tyres. I’m not sure which I prefer despite the lower tyres and red brake calipers looking fabulous.
The LED lighting and HID Xenon headlights look great with daytime running lights for added safety.
The top two models get a larger 8” LCD infotainment screen with 7” on other models. All models get a reversing camera with guidelines.
The SR has these active safety features: Autonomous emergency braking and forward collision warning, lane departure and blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert (handy when reversing out of parking spots at Bunnings)
The coupe-style profile is topped off with styling accents, and a convenient automated tailgate, and it actually works. How many times have you kicked your leg, or waved an arm to get a gesture-controlled system to activate? All you do is look silly because nothing happens. Not so with Hyundai (and Kia) vehicles fitted with this nifty system. As you approach the front or side of the car, the side mirrors unfold and the puddle lights come on. If you approach the rear of the car, a series of beeps are heard. The first beep activates lights etc. If you remain at the rear for a further 3 seconds, the beeps continue as the tailgate swings upwards. In go your boxes and bags, then the you press the button on the underside of the tailgate which closes and locks it. The other doors stay locked so no one can jump in the front seats while you’re busy around the back. It works each and every time. The lights make sure you can see clearly around the car so you don’t stand in any schmutz, and you would easily spot anyone meaning to do you harm.
Cabin entry via the smart system means the key stays in your pocket. The driver only has to press the button on the door handle to either lock or unlock the car. You can set the system to unlock all doors, or just the driver’s door if most of your driving is done solo. The doors lock as you drive off. All locking and unlocking is programmable by the user.
There are 7 leather “appointed “seats. “Appointed” means a mix of real and simulated material, but I defy you to pick the difference. The 3rd row folds into the back floor until needed. The 2nd row has a one touch fold down feature leaving a large flat cargo area. The power front seats have a heat/cool function. The seats feel comfortable, and along with the tilt/reach steering adjustment allow for a perfect driving position. You sit above normal traffic as you do in all SUVs, even on the lowest setting.
There are power outlets and cubby holes front and back, and a plethora of cup and bottle holders.
There are grab handles overhead, but the front of the console also has what look to be a kind of grab handle you might use to go up or down hills. Yeah nah! Nix on the off-roading in anything but a Range Rover thanks.
The overall quality is excellent. All of the switches have a sturdy feel with a well designed layout. Even the hard plastics have a sense of longevity and quality about them. I particularly like different materials and surfaces meeting so the lines match up. Nothing looks worse than suspect quality control.
The air vents can be directed so the air either blasts the occupants, or avoids direct flow. I mention this because there is nothing worse than a cold draft you can’t avoid. I’ve been known to shut vents off because the airflow can’t be directed away.
The setout is logical and easy to use without having to consult the user guide. It encourages you to make changes or explore the system without feeling like you’ll break something.
The quality is every bit as good as the neighbouring Japanese car makers. However, the overall look is closer to Europe than anywhere else in Aisa thanks to erstwhile Audi designer, Peter Schreyer.
OK, set aside everything you thought you knew about Korean cars. The “cheap-and-cheerful” make-do moniker has given way to a proper and real alternative to anything else in-class. In fact, you might wonder why you’d pay more to get less from other brands.
The electric steering is fairly light more akin to American tastes. Once you get used to it, it feels more of an asset.
Engaging “Drive” will disable the electric parking brake once you move off, so there is no need touch the Parking Brake button. We’ve all left the parking brake on as we drive off, haven’t we? So, never again will that happen.
You quickly discover there is little point in shifting the gears manually because the automatic does a great job left to its own devices. Economy is the aim of the game so the system tries to stay in as high a gear as possible. It quickly kicks down if needed, and when it does, the 2.2L diesel grows wings.
Much of the week was spent shopping. Doing the city crawl is much easier with smart cruise control. When activated, the system starts, stops, and keeps distance from the car in front. You learn quickly that it saves fancy footwork. Occasionally, you need to press the accelerator for extra go, and as always, the brake should be at the ready. It removes much of the drag and allows the driver time to enjoy journey. It’s hard to believe it works well.
The SR doesn’t have the semi-automated parking system from the highlander. Why?
There is quite a lot of countryside outside city limits, and an owner might want a Sunday drive. For me, that is one of the most important aspects of car ownership. To that end, we headed up the M1 out of Sydney, crossed the Hawkesbury and hung a left at the Wiseman’s Ferry road. This is a real test of any car with “lifestyle” aspirations. The road has a mix of hills and tight bends punctuated by straight sections with, or without, potholes. One section along the riverside has a low culvert, on a bend, with the road rising up to it on either side. It has the effect of acting like a ski jump. On a straight, you might even get air, but on a bend, that maneuver could be deadly causing a vehicle sideways mid-corner. Santa Fe handled it with grace and aplomb.
Several sections of tarmac have been ruined by bulk haulage double trailer trucks. Sydney-siders have seen the rise of these being driven like race cars by drivers with somewhere to be in a hurry. This presents a challenge that Santa Fe met with ease. Even when pushed, Santa Fe stayed glued to the road. Our ski-jump culvert certainly raised a heartbeat but presented absolutely zero problem. If I’m honest, I didn’t expect quite such an undramatic result.
As we sat at our usual lunch spot in the sleepy waterside village of Spencer, we compared notes. Overlooking the water, we decided a few things had to be mentioned. First, the full-length glass roof was buffet-free when open, even at 110kph. Second, the quiet cabin made conversation at highway speeds easy.
We finished our fish lunch and headed back to the sydney road via the ferry. There are many tight switch-backs and a succession of country lanes, and all were thoroughly enjoyable. A big, fairly heavy, SUV is meant to be used to carry loads of people and their sundry flotsam. Santa Fe does that, but has all catch-word must-haves especially on the top models. The top models are where car makers make most of their profit so it is no surprise that they temp buyers with added value.
The ride and handling are excellent. It scoots along sipping as little as 5.4L/100km of fuel out of the 65 litre tank. You could expect 1,200km out of a tank on a long trip if you have only a light load.
You get a 5-year warranty and a lifetime service plan, as well as roadside assist and a SatNav upgrade plan.
Santa Fe is roughly half way through its lifecycle but we can still expect updates as technology becomes available.
Would I buy one? Yes. Santa Fe SR is a pleasure to drive, excellent value, is spacious and roomy with more seating than a couple like us would ever need.
Price: $70,464.32 (driveaway NSW)
Dimensions: L 4700mm, W 1880mm, H 1690mm, wheelbase 2700 mm
Approach/departure/brakeover: 16.9⁰ / 21.5⁰ / 17.1⁰
Engine: 2.2L turbo diesel,
Transmission: 6speed auto, or 6 speed manual
Fuel econ L/100k: comb 7.8, hwy 10.1, city 6.4
Kerb weight: up to 1980kg
*these figures are for the 6 speed automatic.