HYUNDAI has launched its third-generation Santa Fe in Australia, aiming to capture a bigger chunk of the booming large SUV segment Down Under.
Designed in North America with input from Australian designer Casey Hyun, the more macho Santa Fe is longer, wider, lower and 70kg lighter, and loaded with more safety equipment and standard features plus improved fuel economy from its petrol and diesel powertrains.
Available in three trim levels, the Santa Fe will be available only in all-wheel-drive only, as Hyundai claims its Korean factory is running to capacity and a suitable front-drive version can't yet be sourced.
The new Santa Fe nevertheless retains an identical $36,990 starting price to the model it supersedes.
In a manner of speaking, the release of the new Santa Fe also marks the closing of a chapter for Hyundai in Australia, because it brings the car-maker's entire passenger range into line with its global 'Fluidic Sculpture' styling language premiered on the ix35 small crossover in early 2010.
The new Santa Fe is being launched into a market segment where sales are up almost 30 per cent this year – three-times higher than the overall market.
Three-quarters of these sales have been to private buyers (including business 'user-choosers'), and of those buyers, 70 per cent have children – a figure higher than any segment bar traditional people-movers such as the Toyota Tarago.
According to Hyundai Australia marketing director Oliver Mann, these figures suggest that large SUVs have become, by default, the “family wagon of choice” for Australian buyers.
Reflecting this, the company is projecting sales of 550 units per month of the new Santa Fe for the remainder of this year, up from an average of around 350 for the old model.
This figure is still around half the monthly average of the segment's biggest players – the Ford Territory, Toyota Kluger and Holden Captiva 7 – and less than the Grand Cherokee from a resurgent Jeep.
However, the company believes it can further increase this number next year when supply is projected to improve.
As we reported earlier this month, the Santa Fe range kicks off with the four-cylinder petrol-powered Active variant at $36,990 plus on-road costs (an extra $2000 with the six-speed automatic), with turbo-diesel versions to cost an extra $3000.
The other two specifications – Elite and Highlander – are available only with the 2.2-litre turbo diesel engine carried over from the previous model matched exclusively to a six-speed automatic transmission.
The mid-range Elite will retail for $45,990 (up $2000 on the previous version) while the flagship Highlander will start at $49,990 (up $1500).
Hyundai projects around half of total sales will be the base Active variant (40 per cent of these will be petrol), with the two higher-specified variants accounting for 25 per cent each.
The petrol engine used on the Active is the 'Theta II' 2.4-litre GDi unit from the i45 sedan (replacing the 3.5-litre V6 from the old model), which produces 141kW/242Nm while consuming a claimed 9.0L/100km on the combined cycle with both transmissions.
The revised R-Series diesel engine produces 145kW/436Nm (421Nm with the manual gearbox) – the same as the old model – with combined fuel consumption claimed to be as low as 6.6L/100km.
Braked towing capacity for both engines is 2500kg for the automatic and 2000kg for the manual.
The seven-seat Active comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, a rear-view camera and rear-park assist, a 4.3-inch touch-screen, automatic headlights, USB and Bluetooth and a 40:20:40-split second seat row that also slides and reclines, along with a 50:50 flat-fold third row seats.
The mid-range Elite gets 18-inch alloy wheels, a seven-inch touch-screen satellite navigation system, electro-chromatic rear-view mirror with, rain-sensing wipers, a cooled glove box, leather and leatherette seats and premium audio with 10-speaker sound system.
The flagship Highlander adds 19-inch alloy wheels, heated front and second row seating, electrically adjustable driver and front passenger seat, HID Xenon headlights and a panoramic glass sunroof.
Cargo space in the rear with the third row folded is 516 litres, expanding to 1615 litres with the third row folded flat into the floor.
Standard across the range are seven airbags, plus a host of safety aids such as Vehicle Stability Management, hill descent control, brake assist with electronic brake-force distribution and hill-start assist.
As with the recently introduced i30 small hatch, the Santa Fe also includes electric power steering with three-mode Flex Steer (with comfort, normal and sports settings progressively adding artificial steering weight) and premieres Hyundai’s Advanced Traction Cornering Control system.
As with all Hyundai models, the Santa Fe will get Australian-specific suspension tune with its front MacPherson strut and rear multi-link set-up tested at length in the Victorian highlands.
The AWD system features a button-operated lock that sets the torque distribution between the front and rear axle to 50:50.
The slinkier new body design (0.34 aerodynamic rating) features eight per cent more high-tensile steel (38 per cent total), improving torsional rigidity by 16 per cent and helping shave 70 kg from the dry weight.
The Santa Fe also gets a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty for private buyers, three years of Navteq map updates and up to seven years of free roadside assist. Also included is the company’s newly-launched three-year capped price servicing plan.