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Car reviews - Hyundai - Santa Fe - Highlander

Our Opinion

We like
Great ride, high level of standard features, value for money, Smart Tailgate, good looks, hushed cabin
Room for improvement
Paddle shifters would be a good addition, Smart Tailgate can open when you don’t intend for it to open, jarring lane departure warning


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7 Nov 2014

A NEW chrome-effect grille with a darker tint, daytime LED running lights and new cornering headlights are the only exterior changes to the 2015 Santa Fe range.

And although the Active entry model retains its previous starting price of $38,490 the top of the range Highlander – tested here – is up by $1250 to $53,240.

The bump in price comes with an increase in kit for Highlander with Hyundai adding its Smart Tailgate which opens when the key is detected, lane departure warning system, automatic parking, plus heated and ventilated front seats.

The price point is still below many of its large SUV segment rivals with Toyota’s Kluger Grande AWD selling at $67,520 and Nissan’s Pathfinder Ti at $65,090.

Undercutting Highlander is Hyundai’s cousin Kia with its same-platform Sorrento Platinum CRDI AWD at $50,790, plus on-road costs.

Standard features from the 2014 Highlander carry across and include leather upholstery, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, seven-inch touchscreen with navigation, premium audio sound, rain-sensing wipers, heated wing mirrors, dual-zone climate control, power front seats, panoramic glass roof and 19-inch alloy wheels with a full-sized spare.

Suspension is MacPherson struts up front and a multilink system in the rear and Hyundai’s Australian engineering team has refined it for 2015 with 85 different damper and spring combinations being evaluated to attain the new set-up.

But the proof was in the drive route from Byron Bay to Nimbin on the undulating and winding rainforest roads peppered with potholes.

With a ride so close to a premium German you could call it Austria, the Highlander remained composed even on the worst surfaces while rolling on 235/55/R19 Hankook Ventus Prime tyres. Bumps were leveled out and high-speed dips were absorbed in its stride.

Handling is good for a 1.69 metre-high, seven-seat SUV weighing 1968kg, having been refined with stiffer rear springs for improved turn-in and redesigned lower arm bushes helping with lateral stability.

While understeer is still present if the vehicle is pushed harder into a turn, it has been reduced with changes to the rear upper arm.

The Highlander is powered exclusively by the 145kW/436Nm 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine which serves the rest of the Santa Fe range.

A six-speed automatic transmission swaps cogs.

While there’s plenty of torque on tap and power is more than adequate, the six-speed auto is keen to change up soon and drivers will need to flick the shifter into manual mode to hold gears for sporty driving. Shifting paddles would have been nice to see in this update.

As with the rest of the Santa Fe range, the Highlander is all-wheel drive.

There was an opportunity to take it down a track which would be challenging to a front-wheel drive vehicle.

Engaging the centre diff-lock and using the hill descent system, the Highlander crawled down a steep gravel track with ease. A ground clearance of 185mm should get most buyers in and out of most soft-road situations.

We registered an average fuel economy of 7.7 litres per 100km consumed over 200km of country roads, highways and town-centre traffic jams, which is not far off Hyundai’s official figure of 7.3L/100km.

The cabin carries over from the previous model. Seats are comfortable and supportive even after hours at the wheel while the second row is spacious enough for this 190cm test pilot to sit behind his driver’s seat with room to spare. The third row is fine for children or to ferry adults over short distances.

With a premium feel, the cabin is well appointed with wind and road noise almost totally silenced.

The new Lane Departure System does its job well, but it seems very sensitive and a vibration in the steering wheel as used by other more premium brands would be preferable to a jarring audible alert.

The Smart Tailgate is a great idea – it opens the hatch automatically if somebody with the key on them stands behind the car for more than three seconds.

It will also open when you don’t want it to but just happen to be standing close enough for too long. The automatic function can be turned off and the tailgate opened by hand if desired.

The new automatic parking is excellent and is especially useful on a vehicle this size in the hands of drivers who might not feel confident squeezing into a parallel parking space.

With its great looks, excellent ride, functionality and high level of standard features, the 2015 Santa Fe Highlander is a good value-for-money package even as the most expensive offering from Hyundai.

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