When it comes to SUVs the Hyundai Santa Fe has traditionally been the king of the swingers, the urban jungle VIP. Recently, however, SUVs have become ubiquitous and the Santa Fe has become just another face in the crowd.
So Hyundai’s timing in releasing the all-new version of its flagship 4WD couldn’t have been better, but does it have what it takes to claw its name back out from the rank and file of CX-7s, Outlanders, RAV4s and Muranos?
On first look it seems there’s nothing new, with minimal updates to the exterior making the Santa Fe resemble a face-lift more than a whole new beast, but once you get inside and press the start button you realise the new Santa Fe simply doesn’t wear its heart on its sleeve.
I tested the 2.2 litre CRDi Elite and after experiencing what’s under the bonnet I can only conclude that you’d have to have a serious, nay ethical aversion to oil-burners to opt for the 2.4 litre petrol or even the mighty V6.
Why? Well, the phrase “oil-burner” just doesn’t do justice to the new R-Series Diesel, it’s like calling an F-16 fighter jet a very sharp stick. Yes, technically, both are means to the same end, but one does the job, shall we say, a lot more efficiently, quickly and a darnsight effectively than the other.
I’d even go so far as to say its pretty much the best diesel I’ve tested, or at least a match for the 2.7 litre “Lion” V6 diesel in the Jaguar XF TDV6. Of course, its not as quiet as the manor-born Englishman’s lump, but considering the weight it carries on its back that’s no small consolation in return for this much thrust, responsiveness and economy.
That said, 145kW doesn’t exactly break the bank, but as with any diesel it is the torque which counts and in the R-Series it plateaus early at 436Nm and continues on pretty much to the horizon. Okay, in reality its peak performance range is 1800-2500rpm, but it is in exactly the right place to make even city traffic driving seem like its natural habitat.
And that’s no mean feat, especially when Hyundai is claiming 7.5L/100km economy and just 197gms CO2 per km for a car which weighs 1900kg at best.
It is this cutting edge of diesel technology that makes the Santa Fe, dare I say it, a fun-to-drive SUV. Sure, it is also well-balanced, with a nice feel from the wheel which isn’t dead on tarmac like most 4WDs, but it is that mighty beating heart that actually makes it come alive.
It even makes up for a clawing feeling from the traditional, planetary six-speed automatic which tends to cling on to gears for a little too long when decelerating.
Detailing that delights
Fortunately, the Santa Fe isn’t just a great engine wrapped inside a so-so car. The interior hardly stands out from the crowd by design, but unlike some more expensive Europeans its use of quality materials is matched by quality workmanship. You never lose that sense of strength or durability anywhere in the cabin, from the switchgear to the cup-holders, with the steering wheel-mounted buttons even having a nice, crisp action to them. That’s the sort of detail I love and, incidentally, also saw in the Hyundai i30.
The South Koreans then follow that up with technology. For example, as soon as you select R on the transmission a rear view LCD camera display appears in the left third of the rear-view mirror itself.
Incidentally, above that sits what appears to be two sun-glasses holders, but one is in fact a pop-down, fish-eye lense mirror which gives you panoramic, God-like views of the two rear benches — perfect for those “Don’t make me come back there!” moments with the urchins.
Speaking of all things practical, what would the Santa Fe be without space and flexiblity?
It comes in five and seven seat models, with the third bench being easy to lock in place on the latter, but overall it is quite deceptive with the dimensions.
The Santa Fe doesn’t look it, but its boot capacity is not far short of 1000 litres (969 to be precise). I didn’t quite believe it, so I volunteered to shift my sister-in-law’s iron and timber queen-sized bed head from her old flat to the new one. All I’ll say is, next time you watch Doctor Wholook out for a Hyundai badge on the Tardis.
Naturally, features and technology come at a price, and this is the Santa Fe’s achilles tendon.
The range starts at $59,990, with the Elite seven-seater CRDi featuring the rear-view camera and other options costing $65,990.