2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Review - Part 3

All SUVs are not created equal on the crashworthiness front. So how does the 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe hope to compete with premium brands like Jeep, Audi and Land Rover? The answer might shock you.


The 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe has been independently assessed at five stars on safety - the highest possible score. The basic prerequisite is to pass a highly controlled offset-frontal crash test. 'Pass' in this case means scoring at least 12.5 points out of a possible 16 in that test. Below 12.5 and there's no possibility of entering the five-star crashworthiness club. If the vehicle passes, there are other tests and assessments that must also be passed to earn the five-star rating - including a severe side-on crash test into a rigid steel pole.

The Hyundai Santa Fe scored 15.63 out of 16 in that test - an excellent performance. The test is conducted at 64km/h - the vehicle is fired at a highly controlled speed into a massive concrete block fitted with a controlled, crushable aluminium face (to simulate the deformable aspects of a hypothetical oncoming vehicle in a controlled way). 

In this test 'offset' means 40 per cent of the front of the vehicle (on the driver's side) hits the barrier. The other 60 per cent does not. The test is meant to simulate a head-on crash where one vehicle strays partly into the oncoming traffic and is struck. It's a very severe impact.

More detail on the official crash testing process at ANCAP's website >>

It has to be, because safety has become economically significant. Road trauma costs Australians $30 billion a year. There are only 23 million people living in Australia. The road trauma cost per capita is staggering - we're each paying $1300 annually to stem this bloody tide. Not to mention the profound personal cost.

Safer vehicles are definitely part of the solution, and the Santa Fe really does deliver on safety. It gets five stars - independently determined by ANCAP. The books, thankfully, can not be cooked on five-star crashworthiness - as some other SUV manufacturers have discovered. You won’t believe which vehicles fail to measure up.

This is the third instalment of my long-term Santa Fe evaluation. Hyundai has supplied the vehicle, but they are not paying for this review, and and I’m receiving no compensation whatsoever from Hyundai for producing it. The views expressed here are entirely mine, and completely independent. If Hyundai, or anyone else, doesn’t like anything I say, I’m okay with that. So, let’s go crash, and see how a few different SUVs stack up.


Don’t hold back. Such an excellent marketing slogan. But what a pity the structural designers at Jeep weren’t copied in on this brave new philosophy. The Jeep Grand Cherokee is an awesome tow platform, it’s got real hardcore off-road capability, and heaps of luggage space. Great performance. And it’s got the look. Just don’t crash in one - because the Grand Cherokee failed the basic offset frontal crash test and is thus ineligible for five stars. Crashworthiness experts rate its potential to protect you, the driver, from serious chest and leg injuries as ‘marginal’. And that is very limp indeed. Truly pathetic.


Range Rover Evoque - yup, another abomination of appalling crashworthiness - despite design input direct from Victoria Beckhams arse, the Range Rover ‘lite’ failed exactly the same crash test as the Grand Cherokee. Marginal protection from serious chest injury for the driver. Go figure. And I had previously presumed there was nothing Victoria Beckham’s arse could not accomplish, if she set its mind to it. It really is outstanding, though. Beautifully proportioned, just the right viscoelasticity and surface tension … but not so good at finite element analysis, as it turns out. And who could have predicted that? Certainly not Land Rover’s engineers. It seems to me like a case of the tail wagging the dog. Or turning the other cheek.


And finally: The four rings. Ninety-nine per cent volkswagen, but twice the price … it could only be Audi. And what a monumental SUV snafu. Vorsprung durch technik must’ve gotten somehow lost in translation, at least at the Audi factory in Bratislava. Because the floor-pan in the Slovak Republic-built Audi Q7 ripped itself wide open in exactly the same basic offset frontal crash test, failed by the other two.

This failure made that vehicle, in my view, undoubtedly the flagship among SUV safety s#$%boxes, a beacon of botched crashworthiness from the Bratislavan bad boy costing twice as much as a Santa Fe. Protection for the driver from serious leg injury: officially rated at 'marginal'.

The footwells in $20,000 Hyundais don't rip themselves apart in crash tests... I guess if you want that, it costs extra. A lot extra. This serious structural defect is why the Audi Q7 can not join the five-star crashworthiness club. They say they’ve fixed it. How would you know for sure?


‘Marginal’ in all three cases - the Jeep, the Audi and the Land Rover - is a kind of biomedical engineering euphemism. It means: go right ahead, buy the Grand Cherokee, the Range Rover Evoque or the Audi Q7 - but only if you don’t mind the thought of dying in screaming, brutal agony, from hypovolemic shock, after having the bones in your chest and/or legs shattered into 50 pieces, in some kinds of crashes where you would actually walk away, unscathed, in a Hyundai Santa Fe.

Of the eight critical injury areas measured during that standardised offset frontal crash test: lower legs, upper legs, head and chest for both driver and front seat passenger, six areas scored ‘good’ in the Santa Fe: the highest possible rating. Two scored ‘acceptable’ - the driver’s chest and the passenger’s lower left leg. No regions in the Santa Fe crash test scored ‘marginal’. So take that, premium-brand safety s#@%boxes.


The numbers and the official crashworthiness reports don't lie: You'd rather be in a crash in the Hyundai Santa Fe, compared with the Range Rover Evoque, Audi Q7 or Jeep Grand Cherokee. So, what'll it be: Is your life worth more than a status symbol that doesn't measure up in this vitally important domain?


Obviously not. To me, this puts the perception of ‘premium’ in perspective. Common Japanese and South Korean cars routinely deliver five stars - so you’d think five stars on these premium vehicles was a given, a done deal. It’s not like the vehicles intrinsically presented insufficient structure for the engineers to work with.

Land Rover, Jeep and Audi get away with this abject failure to protect their buyers without so much a peep from the media - but imagine if the boot were on the other foot. Imagine if Hyundai were on four stars; with the others on five. The motoring press would have a feeding frenzy - just one more example of inbuilt systematic bias in the motoring media.

Those three allegedly premium brands should hang their heads in shame. And you should put put perception to one side: They are a safety design disgrace. Corner-cutting writ large, up the big end of town. In every crash, there’s a window of about 80 milliseconds. A wafer-thin slice of mayhem in the time domain during which the grim reaper can reach in and snatch you, or someone you love. The Santa Fe is far more protective when that window opens.


But while we’re on the subject of that second-rate Slovakian SUV from Audi: The base-model diesel Q7 is $91,500 plus on-road costs, in Australia. How does it compare against other criteria? You decide:

Power-to-weight ratio is within three per cent of the Santa Fe Highlander (so: slightly in Audi’s favour). But even Victoria Beckham’s arse - finely calibrated instrument though it is - would not be able to identify a three per cent disparity in straight line performance by touch alone. They’re close.

But the Santa Fe is impressively equipped. By the time you option up the Q7 to the point of rough objective equivalence with Santa Fe Highlander - $1600 price difference for premium paint, almost $3000 for 19-inch alloys, almost four-and-a-half for a panoramic sunroof and just under a grand for heated seats - the Q7 will knock you $101,293. Plus on-road costs, in Australia.

(I’m pretty sure if you dropped $101k on the front counter of a Hyundai dealership, they’d hand you the keys to two 2015 Santa Fe Highlanders.)

But I’m not blind: one of these SUVs is an Audi. One’s a Hyundai. Frankly, though, it seems to me the law of diminishing returns is well in play, at the very least. That’s being kind. The Audi offers four-star crashworthiness, a scummy space-saver spare tyre (Hyundai: full-sized alloy), and a three-year Audi warranty capped at 100,000 kilometres is up against the Hyundai’s five-year/unlimited distance warranty.

Remember when 'premium' meant paying disproportionately more, and actually getting a little more? That’s hardly the case here. That probably applied back in the good old days. It’s certainly a brave new world now, though. One hundred grand - it’s enough for the Highlander, and a Veloster, a home theatre system with 4K TV, and a nice holiday somewhere warm.

In the next instalment I’ll be looking in depth at driving and using the Santa Fe, and we’ll check out its versatility as well - in terms of transporting people, recreational gear, and the all-important trip to the hardware store.