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Car reviews - Hyundai - Santa Fe - Highlander 2.2 CRDi

Our Opinion

We like
Really hard to pick faults, effortless and refined engine, ease-of-use, comfortable interior, supple ride, superb dynamics
Room for improvement
Central seating row could have a bit more legroom, compromised rear visibility

Hyundai logo27 Jun 2016

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Price and equipment

NOTHING says more about how far the Hyundai brand has elevated above its humble roots than its ability to command top dollar for the seven-seat Santa Fe SUV.

Some may see Hyundai as ambitious in its Santa Fe pricing, but almost half of people opting for the model go for the $55,990 (plus on-road costs) Highlander tested here with all the fruit and around 10 per cent of buyers pay even more for the sporty $60K SR flagship.

Some $17,500 north of the entry-level petrol-manual Active and $12,000 more than the least expensive diesel automatic, the Santa Fe Highlander is commensurately loaded to the gunwales with standard features in typical Hyundai fashion.

Connectivity and safety are among the highlights for the mid-life Santa Fe facelift, with the Highlander tested here adding to the pre-existing lane departure warning with autonomous emergency braking and forward collision warning, which use the new active cruise control’s radar and lane departure camera between 8km/h and 70km/h for pedestrians and between 8km/h and 180km/h for vehicles to avoid or lessen an impact. The system also provides audible and visual warnings for the driver.

Voice activation for both Apple and Android phones is also added, covering both safety and connectivity, while the blind spot, lane departure and rear cross-traffic warnings are firmly in the safety camp.

A 12-sensor automated parking system is capable of both parallel and perpendicular parking, as well as having an ‘exit’ mode to assist when leaving a space.

The 8.0-inch touchscreen provides access to the reversing camera and a revamped infotainment system with SUNA traffic alert-equipped satellite navigation, a 550-watt Infinity Logic7 surround-sound system with 10-speakers and compatibility with USB, auxiliary audio input and Bluetooth streaming. Most functions are accessible from the steering wheel.

Beneath the panoramic glass sunroof is leather upholstery for all three seating rows, with heated and ventilated power-adjustable front seats (memory settings on the driver’s side), heated centre-row seats, climate control with vents for all three rows and separate third-row AC controls, a cooled glovebox, keyless entry and ignition, rain-sensing wipers, an electric park brake, self-dimming interior mirror and insulated, tinted rear windows with manual sunshade and matte carbon-look trim strips.

Xenon headlights, LED tail-lights, LED daytime running and position lights, 19-inch alloys, power-folding heated auto-dipping door mirrors, LED puddle and front door handle lights, an electric tailgate and luggage net round out the specification sheet.

Interior

The facelifted Santa Fe’s cabin changes include revamped instrument clusters, a larger touchscreen and interior trim updates. Nothing here has moved the game forward in leaps and bounds, but everything just works and feels solidly put together using quality materials.

Well-matched control weights, comfortable seats, logical and easy to use on-board technology – from the driver’s seat we had nothing to grumble about.

Further back, it is easy to move and adjust the second-row seats into their numerous combinations of fore/aft sliding, reclining and tilting forward to allow access to the third row, which provides an acceptable amount of room for taller adults to travel, provided the middle row is slid as far forward as it goes.

Then again, doing that makes the already slightly lacking centre-row legroom even tighter for tallies but this exercise demonstrated the level of versatility on offer. Isofix child restraint anchors and well-located top tether points were also easy to use. Loading an infant in and out of the Santa Fe was also easy due to the wide, tall doors. Hyundai has thought about families here.

From the boot a simple pull-lever instantly folds the 40:20:40 split centre row flat to expand the boot capacity from 516 litres (with the third row stowed) to 1615L with both rear rows down.

Among the space beneath the boot floor where tyre-changing apparatus and a cargo net are stored is a slot for the retractable cargo blind to fit when not in use or when the rearmost seats are deployed.

Storage is a strong point, with big bottle-friendly door bins all round, map pockets, various cupholders and beverage vessel cut-outs, a generous glovebox, sizeable space between the front-centre armrest with another small pocket in front of that and a large centre console recess with multiple audio and device-charging sockets.

Opening the panoramic sunroof lets the outside in without getting too blustery at higher speeds, while the thick blind blocks light and heat as well as any metal roof could. Likewise, the rear privacy glass and in-built sun-blinds shielded our little one from the blazing Queensland sun.

Rear visibility is not great and the small, upward-sloping rear-side windows make the third row a bit of a cave. Hyundai has clearly designed the Santa Fe to rely on its (excellent) rear camera and plethora of sensors that made the car a breeze to park and slot into tight spaces.

Centre-row air-conditioning vents are located in the B-pillars, while the independently controlled third-row AC is activated via a panel in the back and can also be activated by a dashboard button. With the cargo blind in place and a boot full of fresh locally-grown groceries, we had the rear AC blasting to keep the produce cool on a particularly hot journey back from the farmer’s market.

Up front, we enjoyed the cooling air pumped through the perforated leather seats.

Passengers and driver alike were happy during every Santa Fe journey, with the comfortable seats, smooth ride and hushed environment – even on the worst coarse-chip surfaces we could find, save for a little whistle around the mirrors when driving into a headwind.

The Infiniti audio system sounds great and would easily drown out any unwanted external noises, though as a family wagon, it’s the internal noises that are most likely to annoy those in the front – it really was hard to pick faults with the Santa Fe.

Engine and transmission

The Santa Fe’s 2.2-litre common-rail direct-injection four-cylinder turbo-diesel has an extra 2kW compared with the pre-facelift model, with peak power of 147kW at 3800 rpm. Official combined fuel consumption of 7.7L/100km is around 0.5L/100km better than before.

We achieved impressively close to the official claim with 8.2L/100km during our week of mixed driving. And we drove the Santa Fe at every opportunity because we loved it.

Peak torque of 440Nm is up 4Nm and available across a slightly broader spread than before, from 1750 to 2750rpm. We really felt and appreciated this effortless, muscular surge of more-than-ample propulsion and in many ways it defined the overall Santa Fe experience.

There was always power on tap when we wanted it, regardless of driving scenario and the drivetrain’s responsive nature never failed to impress.

Even better, the engine is as smooth as many premium European offerings and while nobody would ever mistake it for a petrol – particularly not from cold – but it is impressively quiet and refined.

Although it is possible to tell the six-speed automatic transmission is changing gears, it is so effective in its operation that we had to actively think about it to make an assessment. We had a go in manual mode and were pleased by its quick-fire responses. Likewise, kick-down happens when you want it – but never when you don’t.

Hyundai has nailed this part of the Santa Fe as well.

Ride and handling

As one of the first touch-points in a car, the Santa Fe steering impresses. Its well-judged weighting, smooth operation and good-to-grasp multi-function tiller set the scene for an enjoyable drive.

What we were not expecting was how much feel there is through the rack when pressing on along a twisty back road.

The sensory experience and the direct, crisp accuracy provided heaps of confidence, even on greasy recently-rained-on surfaces – and made the big Santa Fe remarkable fun to drive fast.

With the commanding high driving position and overall refinement, plus the low sensation of speed combined with the confidence-inspiring dynamics found us looking at the speedometer and not quite believing how fast we had just gone around a corner.

It’s safe to say the Santa Fe Highlander has large reserves of grip from its 19-inch tyres and while we know few people would drive theirs as hard as we did for the purposes of this road test, it is comforting to know that the car will be stable in an emergency manoeuvre.

This sense is backed up by the powerful brakes that pull the Santa Fe up straight and true with plenty of feedback through the sweet-feeling pedal.

For some, it is also comforting to know parenthood doesn’t necessarily preclude fun behind the wheel.

Somehow, all this dynamic sparkle is backed up by a superbly supple ride that just shrugs off terrible road surfaces and along with the effortless drivetrain, makes long journeys melt away with the Santa Fe’s relaxed, loping gait.

The respectable 10.9-metre turning circle and light urban-speed steering weight earned more top marks for the Santa Fe.

Safety and servicing

ANCAP testing resulted in a maximum five-star rating, scoring the Santa Fe 15.63 out of 16 for the frontal offset test, 16 out of 16 in the side impact test, 2 out of 2 in the pole test and whiplash protection deemed ‘good’.

Pedestrian protection was ‘marginal’. Overall it got 35.63 out of 37.

Standard Santa Fe safety includes seven airbags – dual front, side, curtains covering all three rows and a driver's knee bag – anti-lock brakes with emergency assistance, stability and traction control, hill start and descent control, Hyundai's Active Locking Operation, automatic projector beam headlights, LED running and position lights, front and rear fog-lights, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors.

Service intervals are 12 months or 15,000 kilometres, with the first 1500km service free of charge. At the time of writing, Hyundai’s iCare lifetime service plan website quoted between $379 to $499 for scheduled maintenance over the first five years, depending on whether it was a minor or major service interval.

Hyundai provides a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, three years of sat-nav map updates and up to 10 years of roadside assistance when the vehicle is serviced by the official dealer network.

Verdict

The Santa Fe is the sort of car we looked forward to driving, because it just makes life so easy and therefore more pleasant. It even provides quite an emotionally gratifying experience on fun roads as a bonus.

It is effortless to drive, thanks in no small part to the muscular diesel engine and well-tuned transmission.

Ease-of-use, perfectly calibrated control weights that ensure nothing jars the senses, excellent comfort and refinement, great ride quality and an overall feel of solidity – the Santa Fe barely puts a foot wrong.

A large sedan used to be the family transport of choice and the traditionalists among us lament the trend towards SUVs.

But when SUVs are so good – as is the Santa Fe – that we have to think hard to find a sedan we’d rather drive instead, we know Hyundai has put together something pretty special. Put it this way, we’d rather drive this than the similar-sized but far more expensive and five-seat-only Lexus RX. Regardless of badge kudos.

With the excellent Tucson and updated Santa Fe, Hyundai has almost scored a 1-2 victory in the SUV stakes. Ironically the classy Sorento from sister brand Kia provides a serious competitor, leaving the decision down to styling preference and whether you are swayed by Kia’s two year longer warranty.

We look forward to seeing how Mazda, which has grown accustomed to fielding class-leaders, responds to the killer Korean duo with its upcoming CX-9.

Rivals

Kia Sorento Platinum from $55,990 plus on-road costs
Mechanically related to the Santa Fe but with a decidedly classy European-feeling interior and greater sense of space, the Sorento is the best road-oriented seven-seat SUV on sale today. And it has a market-leading seven-year warranty. You’d only buy the Santa Fe over this if the styling swings it.

Ford Territory Titanium AWD from $57,740 plus on-road costs
The tired Tezza interior and inefficient, laggy diesel drivetrain highlight the model’s age but the way it still drives and rides beautifully is testament to the talents of Ford Australia’s engineering talent. Sadly not long for this world due to Australian Blue Oval production coming to an end.

Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo from $59,000 plus on-road costs
Ignore if you need seven seats, but this Yank tank is a masterful blend of on-road luxury, off-road skills and top-tier towing abilities. Suffering a reliability and aftersales image problem but Jeep promises it’s working on that.

Toyota Kluger GXL 4WD from $55,190 plus on-road costs
Mid-spec Toyota for top-spec Hyundai money and despite this, plus the thirsty petrol-o

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