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.
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SANTA FE 'ACTIVE' STANDARD FEATURES
(Click to enlarge)
SANTA FE 'ELITE' STANDARD FEATURES
(Click to enlarge) These are additional to those above for Active
SANTA FE 'HIGHLANDER' STANDARD FEATURES
(Click to enlarge) These are additional to those above for Elite
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.
Click the image below to download full Santa Fe specs in PDF format
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.