2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Automatic Reverse Parking System Review

The 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe is not the first - or only - vehicle to offer automatic reverse parking. Not by a long shot. But the 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander is the first Hyundai that can reverse park automatically: it measures the spot, handles the steering and guides you through the reverse parking process.

Basically the 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander's automatic reverse parking system can take the most spatially challenged reverse parker and turn them into a reverse parking champion. But I want to know if a handful of silicone chips and a few actuators can out-park a competent driver.


So: I prevailed on Hyundai Motor Company Australia for some controlled conditions to conduct an automatic reverse parking system test. I used Hyundai's headquarters in Sydney, and a couple of their new in-house Genesis saloons. (Or is that Genesii? From the Latin, meaning 'chapter one of the Bible, pluralised. I always get pluralisation ending in ‘S’ confused...) But, aside from the location and the vehicles, that’s it. Hyundai’s not paying for this automatic reverse parking system review, and they’re getting zero input on the comment.

One very tight reverse parking spot at Hyundai HQ - with $145,000 worth of Hyundai Genesii to absorb the consequences of anything that went awry... (Click to enlarge)


Automatic reverse parking is pretty much the 2015 Santa Fe Highlander’s party piece. The glace cherry on the icing on a very impressively equipped cake. Here’s how the Santa Fe's automatic reverse parking system works: You hit a button on the centre console to activate the reverse parking system. It then starts measuring the available parking spaces you drive past. Apparently the automatic reverse parking system is designed to park in spaces with as little as 50cm clearance front and rear – so: that’s one Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander plus one metre in total for parking space size. (Even though the minimum legal parking clearance in Australia is one metre front and rear.)

Hyundai Santa Fe shoe-horned itself into the sardine tin every time - making the automatic reversing system something of a one-hit wonder (click to enlarge)

Hyundai Santa Fe shoe-horned itself into the sardine tin every time - making the automatic reversing system something of a one-hit wonder (click to enlarge)

The Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander’s price went up from $49,990 to $53,240 for the 2015 model – and a big chunk of that price rise is no doubt attributable to the new automatic reverse parking tech. And my initial thought there was: Who needs it? I already know how to reverse park. I’ve spent 35 years getting good at reverse parking. These days, we’ve even got cameras and proximity sensors to make reverse parking much easier. Plus, I’m happy for as many people as possible to be absolutely hopeless reverse parkers. Because it means more spaces for those of us who can reverse park.


But technology marches on. Here’s how the automatic reverse parking system works: You hit a button; it starts looking for a spot. Once the reverse parking system detects a viable spot, it tells you with a message in the instrument cluster, and from then on it’ll automate the steering. You still need to operate the accelerator, the brake and the transmission. It’s a leap of faith, but ultimately pretty simple. The automatic reverse parking system steers and tells you what to do. ‘Select reverse’, ‘go back’, ‘stop’ – things like that.

If you can follow the prompts, you too can be a reverse parking champion (click to enlarge)

The point is: a spot with 50cm clearance front and rear looks like you’re just not going to fit. The Hyundai Santa Fe seems like one too many sardines for the tin in this context. Nine drivers out of 10 wouldn’t even bother trying. So the first big tick for the automatic reverse parking system is it makes spots available that you wouldn’t previously have considered parking in.

And the second thing is: The automatic reverse parking system's functionality is brilliant. I set up the two sacrificial Genesii with 80cm of clearance front and rear: slightly illegal from a clearance point of view, but comfortably within the automatic reverse parking system’s stated capabilities. And if you’ve ever filmed anything you’d know that you end up doing it over and over. Seemingly ad infinitum... Pleasingly, every one of those many times, the automatic reverse parking system managed to pull off what appeared to me to be the world’s tightest reverse park - in one hit. And that means the options are: you can have a human driver backing and filling a dozen times, and most probably ultimately giving up, or the automatic reverse parking system in the Santa Fe can do it in one shot, every time. It’s incredibly repeatable – the automatic reverse parking system pulled of the same reverse-park every time with very little variation. And that variation probably stemmed from differences in the start point with each attempt - mainly the lateral separation from the parked cars when the manoeuvre commenced.

Hands-off reverse parking is a leap of faith, at least the first few times. Repeatable, one-hit reversing into the tightest spots is the payoff (click to enlarge)

Whether these automatic systems transform the driver from organ grinder to monkey is moot - objectively they do a better job (click to enlarge)

Once you’ve played with the automatic reverse parking system on the Santa Fe feature and become familiar with it you’ll spend less time holding up the world, too. And it is frustrating to be held up behind an incompetent who needs to have 20 goes at backing and filling into the parking spot. You certainly can’t beat this automatic reverse parking system’s time efficiency.


Actually I was going to run a stopwatch for this test, but I didn’t want anyone to go out and try to beat the time – because parking is dangerous, potentially, and I didn’t want to see any kids getting mown down by anyone doing it competitively in public. Even with automatic reverse parking on your side, it pays to acknowledge that the responsibility for vigilance still rests entirely with you. Always pay attention when you’re reversing, so you don’t kill a kid (or anyone else) who steps behind you without warning.

However capable automatic reverse parking systems are, the responsibility for safety is entirely down to you (click to enlarge)

So, the 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe’s automatic reverse parking system is both fast and effective. The only real problem is philosophical. No matter how many times you do it, you can’t shake feeling like the Santa Fe is the organ grinder and, suddenly, you’re the monkey. I guess that’s the price you pay for the speed and the efficiency. Advances in technology invariably mean humans surrender skills that previously couldn't be abrogated. If there’s ever a Hyundai Santa Fe man versus machine reverse parking challenge, it’s going to be automatic reverse parking system: 1, man: nil - every time. No matter how good you are.


You might not like this, but get used to it. Bosch - the company behind a great many of these advanced automotive systems, says there will be fully automated parking technology by 2018. We’re talking: you get out of the car and hit a button on the Bosch smartphone app, and the car will do it all. Which will be great for parking in spaces with insufficient clearance to open the doors. Automated parking systems of every kind are going to proliferate through ordinary cars over the next few years. It’s basically a done deal. Cars will become more and more autonomous, and one day they will probably become self-aware. Just like in the movies. What could possibly go wrong?

One example of the kind of thing that could go wrong...

One example of the kind of thing that could go wrong...

What Bosch says about the future of parking - it will be fully automated very soon (click to enlarge)

Fully automated parking is coming soon to a smartphone near you (click to enlarge)

So, it’s either embrace the new automatic parking tech, or pack your baseball cap with an additional few layers of aluminium foil – keep those machine world mind control signals out, at least until those pesky machines become self-aware and Skynet takes over. I can't see the aluminium foil cutting it after that happens.


Until then, just embrace it - or at least, surrender. No matter how you feel about this, against objective criteria including functionality, simplicity and time efficiency, the 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander's automatic reverse parking system is a real winner.