What's the Best 7 Seater SUV for my Family?

Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander

Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander

Hi John,

Just wanted to say a big 'thank you' for your open and honest car reviews, especially the Top Six 7 seater SUVs >> review you did a little while ago. I've spent five months researching various vehicles to replace my family's ageing BA Falcon. Deciding that a seven-seater SUV would best suit our needs.

I eventually narrowed my list down to Mazda CX-9, Toyota Kluger, Hyundai Santa Fe or Kia Sorento. After sampling a few of these vehicles and, asking my wife's feedback on which car she felt most comfortable with, the Santa Fe was becoming a clear favourite. Watching your videos convinced me to go with the Santa Fe Highlander. One month ago, I bought a late 2014 model Santa Fe with low kms that I purchased. End result is a very happy wife and kids.

See also:

So far I have only done a short amount of time driving the Santa Fe, but have to say it quite impressive. I did have a challenge fitting our kids forward facing capsule and two child seats across the back row. Thankfully my two oldest ones are almost ready to switch to a booster seat as with the youngest.

One minor complaint I have is that when setting up my ideal driving position I find the pedals are little too far forward. I don’t know if these can be adjusted back a little. If I move the seat back further than my arms reach to the steering wheel is not ideal. Maybe I just have long legs.

Thanks, Dan.

Hi Daniel,

Thank you very much for the kind words, and your interest in the reports.

I’m glad they were able to assist you selecting a good vehicle - and Santa Fe is good. As you say, it’s impressive to drive and a great ownership proposition.

My advice on the ergonomics: unless you’re outside the 95th percentile of humanity, you’re doing it wrong. (If you’re six-foot-eight, you might have a problem. Otherwise, not.)

Advanced driving 101: How to adjust the seat for the right driving position.

  1. Move the seat base back to allow easy maximum brake application without having to slide forward.
  2. Adjust the backrest and steering position (tilt and reach) so your elbow is bent about 15 degrees gripping the top of the arc of the wheel.
  3. Make sure you can see the instruments inside the arc of the wheel.

Sounds to me like the base isn’t adjusted correctly for you - from an engineering perspective it’s absurd to adjust the pedals fore/aft when that’s what the seat base fore-aft achieves (relative distance from hip to pedals). So the solution is: Base back/forward, or up/down, or both, backrest up/down (or wheel in/out and up/down) or all three.

Bear in mind also that if you are sitting with the backrest too reclined it reduces the protection offered by the airbags in a serious crash.

Hope this helps,
John Cadogan

Hi John,

Thanks for your reply and advice.

Thanks for the tips. I will spend more time adjusting my seating position. I'm only 5'11" so your suggestion that I have not adjusted the seat position is correct. I think I could afford to move the seat back just a little bit more, I do tend to have my reach to the steering wheel perhaps a little to close (inline with your point 2 above) and will also try adjusting the tilt and reach. I think that the missing part in my adjustment. I already prefer to have the seat back quite upright.

In my younger years the thought of me ever owning a Hyundai, or an SUV or ever driving a diesel powered vehicle was ridiculous and, here I am, happy with my purchase of a Hyundai SUV powered by diesel. Eventually when I get a chance to upgrade my daily driver, I won't hesitate to choose the Hyundai i30 over a Toyota Corolla. 

Thank you very much,

Daniel's Testimonial:

Hi again John,

Following on from other Santa Fe testimonials: I also would like to say how great these cars are!

Purchased a 2015 Santa Fe Highlander in May for my family. We recently took our first holiday in a long time and decided on a road trip from Sydney to Hervey Bay QLD. A total of 2,550km of driving with our three kids in the rear and lots of luggage.

This image I took shows average fuel consumption which we managed to keep under 6.0 for the trip. Not only is the fuel consumption very respectable, the diesel tackled the hills with ease. 

Very happy Santa Fe owners

Hello Daniel,

Sub-6.0 is pretty impressive for a big machine, loaded up. Very happy to hear you’re enjoying the Santa Fe - brilliant SUV. How’d you go with the ergonomics? Last time we spoke, you were having a bit of difficulty getting it to fit properly.

Sincerely, JC

Hi John

Yeah, I took your advice and spend a bit of time adjusting the seating position and it's still not spot on. 

Can I be annoying and ask for your feedback on an observation. I notice when driving the car that there is a slight hesitation during the initial acceleration of the vehicle. Not quite sure how to describe it, but almost like the auto transmission has a high stall converter. I usually accelerate gently and after the initial lurch it winds up and then rockets off (its very brief but noticeable, at least for me). If I am more aggressive with the throttle then I don't notice it as much. I am certain its not a problem but wondering if what I am describing makes sense and if this is by design. Your thoughts are very much appreciated.

Two observations I have from my trip to Hervey Bay are:

1. Ride a little nervous and twitchy on bumpy roads. Almost like the rebound settings on the dampers are a little high. Not to much of an issue as I prefer the ride setup to be firm and most of the roads traveled are quite good so generally not a problem. My previous two cars both had aftermarket coilovers that were quite tight and I never complained. Cudos to Hyundai for actually being a little aggressive with the setup.

2. Tyre noise on the country style roads (larger aggregate used in the bitumen) was a little high, though to be fair any car with as much footprint on the road would be noisy, so its kind of moot. Would be interested to compare to something like a BMW X5.

Thanks and have an awesome day.

Hi Daniel,

Take it to the dealership and get them to plug it in - just to make sure there’s not a fault that’s been logged. That hesitation is not normal for a Santa Fe. They might be able to identify a fault in the inlet air plumbing, which is a common cause of hesitation. (Not sure if this is as applicable to diesels, which run wide-open throttles continuously.)

Suspension setup is something Hyundai spends a lot of time on here in Australia, and as such we get a special state of suspension tune. I know some of the guys who do this and they definitely go for a somewhat tauter setup than some other markets where that floppy loungeroom ride is preferred (Asia).

Big, wide tyres make a lot of noise. It’s pretty well attenuated in Santa Fe - but it would want to be better in an X5, given the extra cost (double). All carmakers struggle with our coarse chip roads - which are uncommon compared with other developed markets. Acoustic insulation is not commonly tuned for this.

Let me know how you go with the hesitation issue.