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Car reviews - Hyundai - Santa Fe - 5-dr wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Styling, interior comfort and presentation, safety and value quotient, on-road refinement and ride, dirt-road stability, excellent packaging
Room for improvement
2.7 V6’s lack of low-down oomph, light and feel-free steering

19 May 2006

PLAYING spot the influences in the second-generation Hyundai Santa Fe is a game the whole family can play.

And not just because there’s now a seven-seater model available, as well as the usual five.

The exterior design reveals an overwhelming whiff of VW Touareg, with a helping of Lexus RX and just a hint of Volvo XC90 for good measure.

In fact, the South Koreans claim that onlookers who spotted prototypes testing in Australia sans badges thought that the new Santa Fe might have been the next-generation BMW X5.

Speaking of being wide of the marque...

Actually, judging by the smooth and stylish surfaces and very-European detailing – particularly around the Touareg-style headlight and tail-light treatment – this particular tale isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound to many.

Mind you, anything would look good after the gargoyle-evoking last model, with its vulgar bulges and almost gothic angles. Appropriately enough, that was known as the SM Santa Fe.

And inside, well, it’s Hyundai at its modern, self-proclaimed quality-obsessed, invitingly ambient best – along with a soupcon of VW in the blue dash and console lighting that’s bordering on the overkill.

The old car’s fascia was a mess of cheap smelly plastics and utterly off-putting design, undermined by space and comfort issues for larger passengers stuck in the rear – this was a five-seater in theory only.

By contrast the new Santa Fe’s dash is pleasing to the eye, with a neat symmetry to the console’s layout and controls, backed up by soft-feel plastics, nice metallic trim and tasteful wood inlays in higher-end models.

Weirdly, the instrumentation – properly thorough and completely legible – employs a very old-fashioned font that is reminiscent of 1960s Holden Special dials.

But that’s no criticism, and there’s plenty to please any family in the Santa Fe.

The outgoing model’s space issues are history, with decent room for four adults (and a littlie in the rear centre) in the five-seater.

All seats seem supportive, with the rear-most duo in the seven-seater delivering more room and versatility (and backed by face-level ventilation outlets) than what Ford’s Territory or the Toyota Kluger can manage.

There are storage outlets galore, airbags for all outboard passengers, a high level of standard electronic driver and safety aids – principally and laudably ESP stability control – and a very high level of insulation from road and engine noise.

Now all of this is probably music to Hyundai’s ears, as it intended the CM Santa Fe – as the new car is known as – to evoke "premium" SUV luxury and refinement.

And – to a point – it succeeds admirably on the road too.

The heavily revised 2.7-litre V6 is truly a smooth operator, revving effortlessly to its 6000rpm 138kW power peak. It never sounds strained, and adds a classy veneer to the mechanical sides of things.

And thank goodness it loves a rev, because you really need to cane this engine to get a decent move-on.

Pedal to the metal is a way of life in the CM Santa Fe 2.7, because otherwise you simply don’t get anywhere quickly enough. You must rev it past 4000rpm before the engine comes alive.

With two people on board hills and overtaking manoeuvres require time and patience. And judging by the Santa Fe’s own trip computer, flooring the throttle throttles the fuel economy – we recorded 17.4L/100km over an admittedly very spirited country run.

At least the V6 doesn’t complain for all the times it’s asked to hustle.

And adding to its woes is the four-speed automatic gearbox, which simply doesn’t have the breadth of gearing to properly respond to instant acceleration requests.

There’s a handy sequential-shift function that – for a change – really is useful for selecting the right gear when extra oomph is needed. But even this function has a change-up override to prevent over-revving.

If you’re an urban potterer and instant power or scintillating performance isn’t a priority then the 2.7 V6 will suffice. Expect anything more and you’re likely to find yourself frustrated all too many times.

The only other driving-related bugbear is the steering, which is light and lifeless. Jumping from a Territory you’ll really notice how vague it is.

But don’t go thinking the handling isn’t anything other than sharp or linear, the roadholding tenacious, the ride absorbent and supple, or the overall body control extremely composed.

On dirt roads the Hyundai held its head up high, with impressive grip and a high degree of security around fast tight corners – although the stability control did intervene with the subtlety of a sledgehammer in the way it re-distributed power to and from slipping wheels.

The Hyundai’s ability to absorb deep ruts and big bumps with consummate ease should win it widespread popularity too.

This Santa Fe is more of a driver’s car compared to the sloppy old one, and one that deserves a look-in just for how easy it is to drive. A tight turning circle is another feather in its cap.

So the 2.7 V6 is impressive – maybe even the best vehicle Hyundai sells in Australia today – and a tantalising entrée to the potential of the 173kW-odd 3.3-litre V6 version due here in the first quarter of next year.

That car – as a quasi luxury alternative – should be more convincing than the still-too-soft dynamically Grandeur.

Along with the promising 2.2-litre CRDi due in September, the bigger and newer-generation V6 will feature more torque down-low than the 2.7 V6 unit, as well as a five-speed automatic gearbox option that is sure to make the most of the power and fuel-economy potential available.

Never mind the V6’s performance shortcomings. Even as it stands the second-generation Santa Fe promises to be a smooth, safe and spacious family 4WD hold-all, and one that budget mid-sized SUV buyers would be foolish not to take very seriously indeed.

Especially since this Hyundai has already duped some with its above-its-station (wagon) prestige SUV styling.

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