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Car reviews - Hyundai - Santa Fe - range

Our Opinion

We like
Value, styling, spacious front and middle seats, quiet and punchy diesel, warranty and servicing costs, class-leading multimedia system
Room for improvement
Handling not as sharp as Territory, pokey rear seats, high window-line for children in the back

13 Sep 2012

AUSTRALIA’S love affair with large SUVs seems to know no bounds, with sales growth of 30 per cent this year prompting Hyundai to call vehicles such its Santa Fe the new ‘default’ family wagons.

More young families – almost all of whom are private buyers – are drawn to these vehicles by the high driving position and the promise of adventure intrinsic to an SUV, even if most rarely venture off the beaten path.

Judged on this basis, as a family weekday runabout that can be taken away for the weekend, the new Santa Fe scores a swag of kudos.

Let’s start with the chunky styling – Hyundai calls its new design ‘Storm Edge’ – that would look the part in the average suburban driveway. All variants, especially the flagship Highlander with its 19-inch wheels, could be mistaken for a European wagon.

First impressions of the cabin are equally impressive, with soft-touch surfaces on most contact points, a logical layout and comfortable front seats. The plastics feel cheaper lower down, but then this is also true of an Audi Q3, so it’s hard to criticise too much.

Hyundai reckons half of all sales will be the base Active variant, but buyers who opt for the higher-specified Elite and Highlander will be rewarded with Hyundai’s logical satellite navigation and multimedia interface.

Higher-spec variants also get soft leather seats, wired up with a heating system in the front and middle rows on the Highlander. The roof-length panoramic sunroof adds extra allure to forking out the extra coin for the flagship.

Moving further back, the middle row of seats are roomy enough for three adults, although the sunroof impinges on headroom for taller-than-average occupants (like your 194cm correspondent).

The second-row seats slide forward or back to improve legroom or luggage space in the back, and each seat back can also recline or fold almost flat.

Hyundai has not allowed sufficient movement for entry and egress to the third row, however, and the high window-line could frustrate smaller occupants by inhibiting their visibility. This is the trade-off for those alluring looks.

This window-line also has ramifications for rearward visibility, but at least Hyundai has had the good sense to make a reversing camera and parking sensors standard across the range.

The third-row seats are pokey and best used only for children, while the fat C-pillar and sharply raked window line makes visibility from the rear pews all but impossible. We suspect most buyers will leave them folded flat into the floor and only flip them up for special occasions.

Commendably, all three rows get their own set of air-conditioning vents.

Cargo space is plentiful with the third row folded (and mammoth with the second down too), although the tailgate opening is slightly narrower and the loading lip slightly higher than the old model. There are also plenty of cabin hidey holes front and rear.

Behind the wheel (not the sportiest or most comfortable of numbers), the new Santa Fe is an improvement on the old model on the road, eclipsing the ageing Captiva 7, but falling short of the dynamic Australian-built Territory.

Like the new i30, all variants feature a three-mode Flex Steer electric steering system that progressively adds weight, but the common denominator with all modes is a lack of feedback through the wheel.

Not likely to be a major point of contention for most buyers, this lack of steering feel is still a let-down.

Better is the ride quality, which thanks to extensive local tuning in the outback and Victorian highlands is first rate. The spring rates are different from petrol to diesel to handle the diesel engine’s extra weight over the nose.

Road noise has also been kept to a minimum, although the Highlander’s 19-inch wheels intrude a touch on coarser surfaces.

Our first drive took in extensive gravel tracks over which the car felt composed and relaxed, with decent suspension travel and good underbody sound-deadening.

In terms of engines, the carried-over 145kW/421Nm diesel offers plenty of punch, torque and real-world fuel economy, within sight of its claimed 6.6L/100km figure.

But while this engine was a known quantity, the real surprise was the Theta 2.4-litre direct-injected petrol engine lifted from the mediocre i45 sedan, which was both quieter and punchier than we expected, and made the car feel sharper through the corners courtesy of its lighter weight.

Figures of 141kW and 242Nm are modest (and well below the old model’s big V6), but for average city driving it felt fine. The few hills we encountered required the transmission to kick down, however, suggesting it could struggle with a full load of passengers and gear.

Our initial impressions suggest Hyundai will have no dramas filling its monthly quota of 550 units for the rest of this year.

The new Santa Fe is big, comfortable and full of features, and looks the part in the driveway.

On top of this, it comes standard with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty for private buyers, three years of Navteq map updates, up to seven years of free roadside assist and servicing capped at $299 ($379 for diesel) for the first three years.

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