2014 Hyundai Santa Fe Review

The Hyundai Santa Fe is as big as a Volkswagen Touareg. It makes more torque from its 2.2 litres than the basic Touareg manages from 3.0. But does the Hyundai Santa Fe really measure up?

Let's find out.
 

FEATURES & SPECIFICATIONS

The price is certainly right. The real value proposition in the Santa Fe range is the mid-spec Elite – it goes ‘Active’, ‘Elite’, Highlander’ – and Elite is packed with standard gear: Hyundai says you’ll pay about $53,000 drive away – with the gutsy diesel engine and six-speed auto, big touchscreen, GPS, leather, reversing camera, 18-inch alloys, the multi-function steering wheel straight from Star Wars, and a heap more standard equipment.

Santa Fe Elite - click to enlarge

Santa Fe Elite - click to enlarge

 

Scroll down for FULL IMAGE GALLERY

SANTA FE 'ACTIVE' STANDARD FEATURES

(Click to enlarge)

NOTE: Prices increased slightly for 2015. Active is the only model version with petrol or manual availability - scratch both. The diesel auto is the go-to drivetrain in Santa Fe; it's superb (note prices are Hyundai's recommended retail price and don't include on-road costs)

 

SANTA FE 'ELITE' STANDARD FEATURES

(Click to enlarge) These are additional to those above for Active

Note: Prices increased slightly for 2015. Santa Fe Elite hits the specification sweet spot - adds plenty of great features, loses the petrol and manual trans, and represents great value (note prices are Hyundai's recommended retail price and don't include on-road costs)

Note: Prices increased slightly for 2015. Santa Fe Elite hits the specification sweet spot - adds plenty of great features, loses the petrol and manual trans, and represents great value (note prices are Hyundai's recommended retail price and don't include on-road costs)

 

SANTA FE 'HIGHLANDER' STANDARD FEATURES

(Click to enlarge) These are additional to those above for Elite

Note: Prices increased slightly for 2015. Santa Fe Highlander offers plenty of premium features, but do you really need them? Especially considering the fun you can have elsewhere for the $4k you save... (note prices are Hyundai's recommended retail price and don't include on-road costs)

 

The Elite is $4000 cheaper than the range-topping Highlander, which is a lot to pay for the bum-roasting electrically heated seats, the somewhat questionable glass roof, xenon lights at the pointy end and LEDs down the back. You also get one-inch wheel upgrade and sundry automotive garnish on Highlander. It’s all nice to have – but do you really need it? It’s an eight per cent price hike.


FULL SPECIFICATIONS

Click the image below to download full Santa Fe specs in PDF format

Click the image above to download full specs as a PDF

Click the image above to download full specs as a PDF

 

DRIVING

Santa Fe has great on-road manners

Despite large size, still manages to feel nimble in bends

 

I’ve driven various Santa Fes for a total of two weeks now. It’s the best vehicle Hyundai has ever sold in Australia. It’s quiet, refined, composed and feature-rich. It’s a very impressive SUV.

This is a civilized vehicle to drive. The 2.2 engine performs stronger than the 3.0-litre in the Volkswagen Touareg, and the level of sophistication is outstanding.

The diesel auto is a great drivetrain, and the rest of the driving experience is just right for a medium-to-large SUV. It doesn't really do anything badly in terms of road performance or control feedback.


DESIGN & ERGONOMICS

The diesel is the only engine to get. You should scratch the base model and the anorexic 2.4-litre petrol engine. The petrol is only available in the base model – and that’s for a reason. The diesel is so much better to drive. They’re chalk and cheese. But, let’s be frank, there’s a lot of cheese in Santa Fe, and not too much chalk.

Actually, in a vehicle like this it would be easy to fill an entire review with gushing, glowing, positive comments. Santa Fe is capable, comfortable, refined and composed. There’s a lot to like – but it’ not quite perfect.

I really don’t like the driver’s left footrest. It’s too flat – a concession to the base model, which has an awful foot-operated parking brake. Another reason to buy the Elite.

Soft off-roading is easy in Santa Fe

AWD Lock button boosts low-traction grip

 

The Santa Fe even has real off-road ability, thanks to constant all-wheel drive across the range and an AWD lock button that splits the torque 50:50 front and rear – just right for soft sand and mud. Not that too many people dump $50k on a new SUV and treat it like that. But it’ll take the kids camping to all kinds of places a standard car won’t.

The Santa Fe has the best interior and exterior styling of any new Hyundai. Unlike the rest of the Hyundai range, Santa Fe’s design team seems to have figured out that less can be more, and by not trying too hard – inside or out – the perception of sophistication goes through the roof. It’s nearly all plain sailing inside. Certainly all the controls are in the right place, and they all feel great. However:

Neat instrument cluster

Best interior of any Hyundai currently on sale

 

CRITICISMS

The centre touch screen is w-a-y too bright for night driving – especially in the country. You can dive into the menu and throttle back the brightness, but not nearly enough. And, sure, you can turn the screen right off, any time. But that’s hardly the point. I mean, it might be nice to look at the map in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere. And not have it eclipse the road ahead.

Centre screen still too bright at night

Overall interior comfort levels very good

 

The seat base is too long. If you’re five foot six in the old money – or shorter – that’s going to get uncomfortable on long trips. And the driver's left footrest is awful.


VERSATILITY

And up the other end, it’s the same old seven-seat SUV problem: seats six and seven are a kind of guaranteed long-term torture trip for adults, but OK for kids and even medium-to-well-done teenagers over short trips. Adults right up the back? You wouldn’t even do that to your mother in law. Really.

Like most SUVs, seven seats aren't long-distance propositions

Second row seating and legroom is excellent

 

Of course, this is a typically seven-seat SUV problem, not uniquely a Santa Fe issue. People movers are still way better at moving people. Also typical is the luggage space issue. With seven bums on seven seats, there’s almost enough cargo volume for seven cut lunches in the luggage compartment. As long as the passengers all nurse their own drinks – and there are more than enough cup holders for that. But you wouldn’t even get seven dwarves in the back – and if you tried, they’d all be Grumpy.

Brilliant flat-folding 3rd row seats

Evidence of the real versatility of vehicles like this

Large cargo capacity with all seats flat

 

At least one area where the Santa Fe excels is the terrific disappearing act the third seating row bungs on when you don’t need it. It’s brilliant – the seats just go away when you need the cargo space, yielding a perfectly flat floor that’s exactly right for loading and unloading.


CONCLUSION

So basically your soccer mom can chuck six kids inside, for weekend sport, and later that day dad can duck down to Bunnings, fold all the seats flat and load up more than enough gear for a whole weekend’s worth of Symphony in Power Tool Flat. When you throw in the ability to commute on a daily basis, that’s pretty versatile. 

Of course, like most seven-seat SUVs, the Santa Fe doesn’t excel as a people mover, and it’s certainly not a van when you fold the seats flat. But the versatility envelope is right up there. And it’s sophisticated – much more so than many people would presume a Hyundai could ever be.

In fact, you could pull the badges off, and take people for rides. I reckon more than half would guess it’s European.

You could even put Volkswagen badges on the new Santa Fe and tell people it’s the next Touareg – it’s exactly the right size. And it feels ‘premium’ through and through.

Impossible to justify the Volkswagen Touareg (above) - especially in light of VW's entrenched quality issues

Impossible to justify the Volkswagen Touareg (above) - especially in light of VW's entrenched quality issues

Change the badges over - could you mount a case the Santa Fe isn't a Euro SUV?

Change the badges over - could you mount a case the Santa Fe isn't a Euro SUV?

 

However, that claim – here’s your next Volkswagen – would not stack up to scrutiny. The new Santa Fe could never be a Volkswagen – it’s at least $20 grand too affordable. And guaranteed: the Santa Fe is already better built and more reliable. And it’s got two more seats, plus five per cent more torque and two more years’ warranty. And capped-price servicing with annual service intervals. And it’s not built in Bratislava. So, no: scratch that. The Hyundai Santa Fe could never authentically be a Volkswagen SUV. It’s already far too good for that, on objective criteria.

Take it for a test drive – it’s not perfect, but you won’t believe how impressive the new Santa Fe is until you drive it. Don’t get ripped off by a dealer: If you want a really sharp price without the stress I’ll put you in touch with Australia’s best independent car broker, and they can negotiate a great deal for you on basically any new car without you ever talking turkey with a dealer. Just fill in the contact form on the right if you'd like to see how much you can save, stress free.

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MORE SANTA FE-RELATED STORIES

IMAGE GALLERIES

2014 HYUNDAI SANTA FE ACTIVE


2014 HYUNDAI SANTA FE ELITE


2104 HYUNDAI SANTA FE HIGHLANDER