Car reviews - Hyundai - Santa Fe - CRDi 5-dr wagon range
Styling, interior comfort and presentation, safety and value quotient, on-road refinement and ride, dirt-road stability, excellent packaging
Room for improvement
Expensive diesel option, base model safety kit cull, light and feel-free steering, unsporty to drive
3 Nov 2006
By LUC BRITTEN
IF you've just tuned into the Days Of Santa Fe's Lives, we've just seen the debut of the much-anticipated CRDi diesel.
Its job is to help the mid-sized Hyundai SUV range gain a foothold in tough times, against a whole bunch of equally desperate 4WD wagons with reputations for alarming thirst and flora-flattening footprints.
All seem out of step with the evolving demands of consumers, who – post record-high fuel prices – aren't interested in expensive, conspicuously un-environmental motoring.
So the diesel joins the recently released petrol-powered CM series Santa Fe, as Hyundai's new take on the whole SUV thing in Australia.
To begin with, the range has moved away from being a Toyota RAV4 rival, by growing in every dimension.
So besides being much, much prettier than before, this second-generation Santa Fe is far more family friendly, with lots more space, a smart and accommodating interior, noteworthy refinement levels and the flexibility of taking on up to seven people at once.
The diesel itself is also a new-age sort of engine – clean living, light drinking, but still able to pack a punch despite being short on the cubic centimetre count.
So while many may laugh at the 2188cc package, the truth is – as the old saying kinda goes – it ain't how big it is that matters, but how it gets used that matters.
And, sure enough, the diesel instantly addresses the three biggest problems of its V6 Santa Fe sibling in one fell swoop.
For starters, there's a handy 343Nm of torque at a very low 1800rpm, resulting in livelier launch acceleration and more responsive mid-range urge compared to the petrol version.
In fact, despite the two cylinder shortfall, the diesel is appreciably quicker across the range, suffering none of the lethargy or inertia at speed of the V6.
Furthermore, since it has a greater spread of gear ratios to call upon, the five-speed automatic CRDi sampled is smoother and more relaxed than the four-speed petrol unit.
But let's face it. The promise of more parsimonious fuel consumption is probably the diesel's biggest drawcard.
And although we only drove the CRDi over a 250km-or-so course, the trip-meter readout certainly proved more compelling than the V6 petrol's frankly alarming 17L/100km result, recorded over some very hard driving roads, admittedly, several months earlier: 9.3L/100km, to be precise.
Little wonder too, since you don't have to wring the living daylights out of the CRDi like you need to in the smaller V6 (a 3.3-litre V6 petrol arrives early next year) to get anywhere in reasonable time.
About the only time the lack of engine size becomes apparent in the diesel is when you are cruising at around the national speed limit and a spot of instant overtaking oomph is required.
But the CRDi will still perform, revving extremely well for a diesel, and not sounding at all – on the inside at least – like a bucket of bolts when doing so.
Complaints? We do have a few – namely regarding the light and feel-free steering.
In the Santa Fe you will never enjoy the same planted-down, interactive feedback from the tiller like you do in the Ford Territory.
So while the Hyundai's handling is pretty stable and competent for a tall and heavy SUV, you would never seek to extend your stay behind the wheel if a set of seductive curves suddenly presented themselves.
A bit more body control would be appreciated too, since there does seem to be a fair mount of lean through corners. This also undermines the Santa Fe's inherently unfussed cruising ability, since the car is susceptible to gusts of wind.
Not that anybody would have expected otherwise, but there is just no way you could mistake this for anything other than a family-focussed 4WD wagon.
Still, the CRDi, in SLX and Elite guises at least, acts out this role with absolute competence.
A question mark does hang over Hyundai's decision to delete a large slab of the base SX model's safety gear found compared to the V6 petrol versions – namely stability and traction control, as well as thorax and curtain airbags.
While we applaud its desire to make the CRDi more affordable, this undermines some of the painfully slow and very hard-fought progress Hyundai is making as a credible, first-rate mainstream vehicle brand.
So if you cannot stretch to the $43,490 SLX diesel, we recommend you think about safety first and forego all the SX CRDi virtues for the safer base V6s for $35,990. After all, it will take some years and lots of kilometres for the diesel to repay the $7500 price difference, although the diesel's resale value will probably easily outstrip the petrol's.
But if you can afford it, the SLX CRDi is the pick of the Santa Fe litter.
Check out the plus points: ample room for adults in five of the possible seven seats available, in an attractive, professionally executed and surprisingly refined cabin that benefits from plenty of interesting attention to detail.
Combined with the Hyundai's still-striking styling (the sheer unoriginality of the design strikes many for a six), a superb warranty, and easy driveability, the CRDi ticks all of the family-friendly boxes with total ease.
The new diesel editions are interesting plot twists that make staying tuned to the Santa Fe worthwhile.
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