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Car reviews - Hyundai - Santa Fe - 3.3 V6 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Smooth and quiet 3.3-litre V6 engine, competent automatic, well balanced handling
Room for improvement
The removal of ESC in base 2.7 model, engine could still do with more torque, price premium for 3.3

Hyundai logo1 Aug 2007

By JAMES STANFORD

THE new 3.3-litre V6 Santa Fe provides more evidence the South Korean brand must be taken seriously.

Smooth and refined, this powerplant represents how far the car-maker has come since it started foisting its cheap and often less than cheerful small cars upon us in the mid-1980s.

At a $2000 premium above the smaller-capacity V6 when compared spec for spec, the new variant will provide a test for the brand that is still struggling to completely emerge from the bargain basement.

The new 3.3 Santa Fe price range starts at $37,990 for the SLX. That is exactly the same price you will pay for the entry-level Ford Territory, which dominates the segment.

The Territory is bigger, 10kW more powerful, has 74Nm more torque and has a Ford, rather than a Hyundai, badge.

It also uses about 1.5 litres more fuel for every 100km, weighs an extra 50kg and doesn’t have side or curtain airbags as standard in the base model.

The base Territory is a two-wheel-drive and so is the new 3.3 Santa Fe, except that it drives through the font wheels, while the Ford is a rear-driver.

On its own, the 3.3 Santa Fe is an impressive machine.

This engine is a big step forward from the 2.7 V6, which will meet the needs for many on a budget, but effectively has power and torque levels of smaller capacity four-cylinders which use less fuel.

The new 3.3 works well with the standard five-speed automatic, with subtle gearchanges going largely unnoticed.

The 3.3 engine is very quiet at idle and remains quite composed even when revved fairly hard.

It is much more responsive than the 2.7, but at 1941kg this is still a heavy car and it still feels like it could do with an extra serving of torque.

We drove the car with just two people and no luggage, so we imagine this would only be exaggerated when full of people and their gear.

Unless you had driven a Territory, this might not be an issue, but the Ford’s low-down pull can’t be ignored.

Customers will also shop the 3.3 Santa Fe against the Holden Captiva.

From a first impression, the Hyundai engine is far more refined than the V6 in the Captiva.

It should be remembered though that the Captiva’s lower price means it will also be rated against the cheaper Santa Fe with the 2.7-litre V6, which is not as good as the Holden engine.

The 3.3 Santa Fe we tested at last week’s launch also rode and handled quite well.

It provided a quite comfortable ride and although it will never be confused with a sportscar, didn’t lean too much in the turns either.

Steering is well-weighted and there is no sign of rack rattle that can sometimes spoil a front-driver.

The seats are comfortable and supportive and there is plenty of head and legroom.

It is quite cramped in the optional third row of seats, which Hyundai advises are best only used for pre-teens.

A bit more interior space would come in handy here.

The fact that the 3.3 Santa Fe is only front-drive is unlikely to worry many customers.

Hyundai said anyone wanting to go off-road or tow was likely to buy the all-wheel-drive diesel and that does make some sense.

The 2.7 petrol model being available only as an AWD only doesn’t make all that much sense. Surely this would work best as a two-wheel-drive, which would also bring purchase price and running cost benefits.

At the same time Hyundai introduced its 3.3 Santa Fe, it announced a new entry-level 2.7 SX model that misses out on ESC and side airbags which were standard when the model was launched in 2006.

This is a backwards step for a car that is such a family-oriented machine, at a time that governments are promoting ESC as life-saving technology.

If Holden and Ford can make stability control standard across their medium SUV ranges, why can’t Hyundai?

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